When Jayme Coates ’07 MS, ’10 MBA was about to be discharged from the hospital with her first-born child, she discovered that her breastfed son was malnourished and dehydrated.
The experience both terrified and motivated her.
On Monday, the startup that she co-founded, Lactation Innovations, won the School of Business’ Wolff New Venture Competition and a $25,000 prize. Lactation Innovations’ Manoula Sensor is a device to help breastfeeding mothers know exactly how much milk their baby is receiving,
“This is a big win for new moms and babies,’’ Coates says. “All the competitors did an amazing job, and I’m honored to have been selected. I’m very happy that we were able to show the judges one simple way that we can help mothers who need our support.’’
Lactaction Innovations offers an easy-to-use, non-invasive technology that involves putting a small, button-like device in the pocket of a baby t-shirt over the child’s belly. The device uses infrared technology, similar to what is used for a pulse oximeter, to detect the amount of protein from the milk that is in the child’s stomach and calculates how much the baby consumed. The results can be read on a mobile device.
More than 3 million mothers breastfeed in the United States, but some 50 to 60 percent of them quit by the second week, primarily over fears that their child isn’t receiving enough nutrition. Other companies offer solutions, but they involve wiring and other contraptions to monitor breastfeeding success.
“I would say the major differentiator for Lactation Innovations is that we’re moms and we’ve designed this for other moms,’’ says Coates. Her startup co-founder is Brittany Molkenthin ’17 (NUR). The product is expected to be on the market in 2024.
Hundreds of Businesses Have Launched Because of CCEI
All five of the startups competing in this year’s Wolff competition participated in the School of Business’ Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation’s (CCEI) Summer Fellowship, which helps prepare UConn-affiliated startups for market.
“This year is a bit special for CCEI as we are celebrating our 15-year anniversary,’’ says Jennifer Mathieu, executive director. “As I was reflecting on the pitches at the Wolff New Venture Competition, I couldn’t help but think back to the hundreds of businesses we have helped to launch, and, more importantly, the thousands of entrepreneurs we have had the privilege of working with. I am grateful to be a part of this ecosystem and to have a hand in the success of our startups.’’
“The five teams that pitched at the Wolff New Venture Competition this year are a great showcase of the startups we have supported over the years. We have heard pitches from undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and alumni entrepreneurs. They ranged in industry from consumer products to software to medical technologies,’’ Mathieu says.
“They have come a long way in the time that they have been working with CCEI, both with their businesses and individually,’’ she says. “I am proud that at CCEI we don’t just build companies, we inspire the next wave of entrepreneurs who are going to change the world.’’
The other UConn-affiliated finalists in the competition included:
- RiboDynamics, a new medical technology that detects pathogens in biological material based on the presence of specific RNA biomarkers. Today, it can take 36 hours for a lab to determine if someone has sepsis, a life-threatening infection. Professor Dan Fabris, Harold S. Schwenk Sr. Distinguished Chair in Chemistry, believes his startup can cut that time to two hours, speed up the delivery of proper treatment, prevent ICU stays, and save up to $70,000 per patient in medical expenses. The software technology, in development for the last 10 years, also holds promise for other illnesses, including HIV, Hepatitis C and COVID-19. His business partner is Limin Deng, a post-doc student, who has played a pivotal role in developing the company. “The earliest possible diagnostic results can improve the overall outcome of virtually any kind of disease,’’ Fabris says.
- ShadeSnap, created by undergraduates Brian Peng ’24 (CLAS) and Shivam Patel ’24 (ENG), which is focused on creating on-demand eyeglasses that would turn into sunglasses with the push of a button. Transition lenses take too long to adjust and “it looks dumb to be walking around inside with the sunglasses activated,’’ says Peng, who has worked for the National Institutes of Health studying retinal anatomy. Patel has a background in product design and development. Peng says the new glasses would be welcome in an industry that is ripe for disruption, with few technology changes since 1991. The new eyeglasses will provide ‘visual freedom’ for users, he said. The UConn entrepreneurship programs have helped the team develop a new network of advisors, including patent lawyers and other mentors. “Without people telling us how to access those resources or letting us know what was available, we’d have taken much longer to get to the next stage of our company,’’ he says.
- Appoint is designing a new software that makes it easier to match nursing students with their needed clinical rotations. Created by alums, including Hunter Bowden ’20 (BUS), ’22 MSBAPM, it will simplify the process for college staff who often are using pencil and pen to plan rotations around students’ college course schedules, athletic commitments and family responsibilities. The startup began as a college capstone project by Bowden, Michael Greco ’20 (BUS) and Hailey Altobelli ’20 (BUS). Their business partners now include OPIM professor Jon Moore and alumna Michelle Saglimbene ’10 (NUR). “Nurses are great and smart people, but often not ‘tech people,’” Bowden says. “We wanted our software to be simple and allow our algorithm to do the bulk of the work automatically.’’
- Genesist, a biomedical startup, is working on a new cancer treatment, adapting lessons learned from animals. When cows and horses develop a cancerous tumor, it remains localized and doesn’t spread. Based on their knowledge of animal well-being and disease prevention, Professor Kshitiz Kz and Ph.D. candidate Ashkan Novin are working on ways to fortify healthy human cells near a tumor site, to fight off any cancer cells that linger after a surgery, and prevent metastasis. They hope to initially target breast cancer and eventually ovarian, colorectal, melanoma and soft-tissue sarcoma cells. “Unlike other cancer treatments, we’re focusing on the ‘good guys,’ the local healthy cells,’’ Novin says. “For us researchers, cancer has been a ‘black box’ and we’re trying to learn different angles to solve it. One day there will be a cure, and I hope that we will play a part in that.’’
In celebration of its 15th Anniversary, CCEI is planning a day-long event on Dec. 2 at the GBLC campus in Hartford. Speakers will be announced shortly. More information will be available in the coming weeks at ccei.uconn.edu.