Sustainable Dinosaurs, Seaweed, and Accessibility: Diverse Cohort Selected for CCEI’s 2024 Summer Fellowship – UConn’s Startup Accelerator

'Because the accelerator is open to students, faculty, staff, and alumni across all schools and colleges at UConn, we receive a really impressive mix of applications every year'

At each finale of CCEI's Summer Fellowship, startups present their final pitches to a crowd of mentors, investors and industry experts. Five startups are chosen to advance to the prestigious Wolff New Venture Competition. (Contributed Photo)

Atlantic Sea Solutions is a startup that develops edible coatings from seaweed that can extend the shelf life of fresh produce.

Another startup, Webquity, is working to ensure that students with disabilities and neurodiverse learners have equitable access to online content.

Yet another startup – Happy Dinosaur – is looking to grow and scale a line of sustainable and handmade plush dinosaurs that, up until now, have all been made by the startup’s founder individually and by hand.

Logo for the Summer Fellowship program.

These three companies – and the seven others that will be joining them for UConn’s signature summer startup accelerator program – could not be more different, but they all share a similar goal: To gain the new skills necessary to bring their product, service, or technology to market.

“This year’s Summer Fellowship cohort is very diverse in terms of the types of startups that were selected and the backgrounds of the participants,” says Alycia Chrosniak, the assistant director of brand and venture development for UConn’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, or CCEI.

Launched in 2016, the Summer Fellowship is an annual eight-week immersive experience. Participants meet three time per week and receive funding; one-on-one mentoring from industry experts and experienced entrepreneurs; pro-bono legal, accounting and branding services; workshops and master classes; and the potential to advance to the Wolff New Venture Competition, where startups compete for more than $50,000 in funding.

This year’s Summer Fellowship received a record number of applications, according to Chrosniak. Cohorts are capped at 10 startup participants each year, and participants are chosen by a selection committee comprised of instructors, mentors, and industry experts.

“Because the accelerator is open to students, faculty, staff, and alumni across all schools and colleges at UConn, we receive a really impressive mix of applications every year,” Chrosniak says. “We have faculty members who are experts in their field, alumni who are looking to pivot their career paths, and students looking to take charge of their future.”

Participants should expect to be challenged by the program, she says, adding that Summer Fellowship is redesigned each year based on prior participant feedback and on the unique needs of the incoming cohort.

“Participants will spend time working through pitch coaching, financial analysis and go-to-market strategy with our core instructors,” Chrosniak explains. “Then, they’ll have weekly mentor hours with members of our network, hear from panels of entrepreneurs, attend master classes with industry professionals who are experts in their fields, and receive pro-bono services from our program partners Digital Surgeons, Wiggin and Dana, and Fiondella, Milone and LaSaracina CPAs.”

It’s a challenge that participants in the cohort seem eager to face.

“I’m excited to start scaling Happy Dinosaur this summer,” says Lyla Andrick ’24 (CAHNR), an undergraduate animal science major who describes herself as a serial entrepreneur and who initially launched her startup in 2020 as a fundraiser for COVID relief. “The biggest inhibitor of my company’s growth in the last four years is that I have been making all the dinosaurs by hand and as a solo entrepreneur, it’s very difficult to grow when you’re wearing all the hats.

“I’m expanding my team with an operations manager and product manager – thanks to them I can focus on being the CEO and building the brand through marketing.”

“We are excited to participate in the CCEI Summer Fellowship to further ensure that we are meeting the needs of who we serve while prioritizing innovation,” says Webquity founder and CEO Kianjai (Kia) Huggan ’20 (ENG). “The Summer Fellowship will provide the mentorship and resources to fuel our efforts of leveraging tech for positive change. As a UConn alum, UConn is truly a gift that keeps on giving with opportunities to participate in programs such as the CCEI Summer Fellowship. I am personally grateful for the support provided to achieve impactful work.”

“Our team aims to develop a cogent pitch deck and improve its communication methods with different stakeholders in the broad farm-to-fork supply chains related to agriculture using the resources offered by the Summer Fellowship,” says Anuj Purohit, a research associate in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, about Atlantic Sea Solutions, the startup he launched with Mingyu Qiao, an assistant professor of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The additional participants in this year’s Summer Fellowship are:


Vamos Corp. – Niko Zurita ’10 (CLAS) and Luciano Diaz ’08 (CLAS)

“Vamos is a group planning and booking tool that makes it easier to find the best time and place for Group Travel. Our goal is to make the entire booking experience easier, by understanding your preferences to make the best trip recommendations, reducing the mental load so you can focus on the details that matter. Our diverse team is composed of engineers, innovators, and product enthusiasts with experience working at early stage companies. We are passionate about building disruptive technology and are grateful to have the opportunity to join the CCEI Summer Fellowship.”


Transcend Bicycle – Ethan Wicko ’24 (ENG), Alexander McLeod ’24 (ENG), and Zach Wisnefsky ’23 (BUS)

“Transcend Bicycle is a student-founded startup that is making bikes smarter through a revolutionary transmission invention. We’re incredibly excited to be a part of CCEI’s Summer Fellowship. It’s one of the top entrepreneurial programs offered at UConn and in the state overall; the opportunity to learn from experts and the other startups in our cohort is really invaluable. We can’t wait to get started.”


Toribio Labs, Inc. – John Toribio, Ph.D. candidate, CLAS; Kyle Mahoney, Ph.D. candidate, CAHNR; and Josué Martínez-Martínez, Ph.D. candidate, ENG

Toribio Labs is developing a wearable continuous health-monitoring system that provides actionable insights for athletics and health care, based on smart clothing and AI.


Opti-moo – Alaa Selim, graduate student in the College of Engineering and research assistant with UConn’s CREATE Lab, and Intisar Rouabhia

An agri-tech startup, Opti-moo is leveraging cutting-edge technologies to optimize irrigation practices.


Alevia Pharma – Sophie Takmopoulous ’25 (IMJR); Sam Nanayakkara, adjunct faculty in the School of Business Boucher Management and Entrepreneurship Department; and Rajesh V. Lalla, associate dean for research at the UConn School of Dental Medicine

Alevia Pharma is dedicated to pain management with its product, Oraspray, specifically designed to relieve pain from oral ulcers that arise after cancer treatment, known as oral mucositis.

“The product formulation was developed in collaboration with the laboratory of Distinguished Professor Diane Burgess of the UConn School of Pharmacy so the formulation development represents an innovative collaboration between the Schools of Dental Medicine and Pharmacy. Now with the involvement of Sam and Sophie and our participation in the CCEI Summer Fellowship, the School of Business is also involved in moving this towards commercialization.”


EndoDyne – Dr. Lakshmi Nair and Dr. Yusuf Kahn, associate professors in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at UConn Health and members of The Cato T. Laurencin Institute for Regenerative Engineering

EndoDyne is working to commercialize a long-acting local anesthetic formulation for medical, dental, and veterinary applications.

“The Summer Fellowship will provide invaluable insight into how promising laboratory research can find its way into the hands of doctors and patients.”


Wheelprice – Wally Namane ’13 (BUS), ’18 MBA; Kyle Mayers ’13 (BUS); and Kirk Vanderheijden ’15 (SFA)

“WheelPrice is a marketplace designed for enthusiasts to buy and sell automotive parts. We unite car enthusiasts through a strong community, building trust and offering a seamless user experience. Our founding team met at UConn, and we are incredibly proud to be part of this program years later.”


This year’s Summer Cohort officially kicks off on June 3.

For more information about the venture building and entrepreneurial support opportunities available through CCEI, visit

If you’d like to be involved with Summer Fellowship as a mentor, or program partner, or would like to apply to next year’s cohort, please email