A novel swimsuit design, a healthier food for the fish we eat, and an app that could assist teenagers in their quest go to college are the inspiration for some of the five UConn startups vying for a prestigious entrepreneurship award.
“This year’s Wolff New Venture Competition finalists are some of the best startups we have ever had participating in this annual event,” says Jennifer Murphy, director of the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CCEI).
The entrepreneurs spent the summer in CCEI’s Summer Fellowship business accelerator. Half of the 10 participants were offered an invitation to the Wolff competition on Oct. 19. This year’s event will be virtual.
“The Wolff competition is meant to celebrate the success of not only these five startups, but of our entrepreneurial ecosystem here at UConn that has guided, mentored, and supported these entrepreneurs and helped to get them to where they are today,” Murphy says. “While only one team will walk away as the ‘Wolff Winner,’ with an additional $20,000 in startup funding, each of the teams has the opportunity to build a connection from this program that can help them take their venture to the next level.”
The finalists include:
Fish-Food Entrepreneur is Swimming in Opportunity
Peter Goggins ’21 (CLAS) sometimes wades through fish-food dust that’s as deep as snow, but that hasn’t derailed his enthusiasm for his new company Pisces Atlantic, which is creating a healthier, less expensive and more environmentally friendly fish food.
Recently relocating his business from his parent’s home to a production facility in East Hartford was a big step in his journey to become a significant disruptor in the commercial fish-food industry. He is motivated by the belief that the fish we eat should be fed high-quality ingredients, because ultimately it will be humans ingesting those nutrients.
“It’s not hard for me to stay focused and motivated,” says Goggins, 21, an environmental science major. “I’m continually thinking about my business and what I want it to look like two or three years down the line.”
Making a Splash: Alumna Entrepreneur Creates Flattering Swimwear
Alumna Hayley Segar ’17 (BUS) would like women to look forward to shopping for swimwear, instead of dreading it. Segar has created ‘onewith,’ a swimwear company that features lightweight fabrics and a seamless design for a more flattering look.
“For so many women, swimwear has been a massive pain point,” says Segar, whose work features an East Coast aesthetic. “Swimsuits are all made the same way, even the so-called ‘figure flattering’ brands. They may say they offer compressing fabric but that often means they have elastic and tight seams that are uncomfortable and not particularly flattering.”
Segar, 24, who previously worked in the bridal industry and has a popular YouTube channel, says she knew from the time she was young that she would become an entrepreneur.
“I didn’t know what it would be, but I felt I was on a path to build something of my own,” she says.
Junity Creator Hopes to Make a World of Difference for Teens
Strong test scores and a determined grandmother helped Janoye Williams attend a prestigious magnet school that prepared him for a successful life. But many of his friends struggled in underperforming high schools-without the resources or guidance to chart a new life.
Williams – who works at Pratt & Whitney and is earning his second graduate degree at UConn – and two friends have created a mobile app startup called Junity that can connect ambitious teenagers with the support they need to succeed, whether educational, employment or mentorship programs. All they’ll need to do is enter their zip code to be connected with local resources.
“I felt like society gave up on my friends,” says Williams, 28. “Our goal is to eliminate the disparity that exists today by becoming a bridge between students in need and the resources that can help them!”
A Wheelchair-Dependent Grandma Inspired ‘SedMed’ Startup
More than half of the injuries suffered by people over 85 occur in the bathroom. Two UConn mechanical engineering alumni are hoping to prevent some of those mishaps with their startup called SedMed, a toilet-lift/assistance product designed to make it easier for the elderly and disabled to get on and off the toilet.
The company is the brainchild of Jeremy Bronen ’20 (ENG) and Tim Krupski ’15 (ENG), who is currently a graduate student in business and engineering. When Krupski was in high school, his grandmother suffered a stroke and became wheelchair dependent. That’s when he recognized the need for an assistive device.
“This company and this product were founded on the principle of caring for and helping the people we love-our families,” Bronen says. “I’ve always loved creating things. The idea of creating a novel product and building a company around that product is really something that gives me joy-even through the challenges.”
No More Worry Warts: Medical Resident May Revolutionize Patient Care
The problem with warts is they are not only disgusting, and contagious, but they are also extremely stubborn and can linger for up to five years on those unlucky enough to get them.
UConn Health dermatology medical resident Reid Waldman has helped devise a new treatment, delivering precise wart-busting medication via a microneedle patch that looks like a bandage. His startup, VeraDermics, would initially target school-age kids, who typically protest conventional treatments, including a painful process of freezing warts to eliminate them.
“Pharmaceutical startups are a high-risk endeavor and much harder to initiate than others,” he says. “I believe this idea, if executed right, will be kid-friendly and can help a lot of people.”