When Jayme Coates ’07 MS, ’10 MBA was about to leave the hospital with her first child, she discovered that her breastfed son was malnourished and dehydrated.
The experience scared and moved her.
On Monday, the startup she co-founded, Lactation Innovation, won the Business School’s Wolff New Entrepreneurship Competition and a $25,000 prize. Lactation Innovations’ Manoula sensor is a device that helps breastfeeding mothers know exactly how much milk their baby is getting,
“This is a huge win for new mothers and babies,” Coates said. “All the entrants did a great job and I am honored to be selected. I am delighted that we were able to show the judges an easy way we can help mothers who need our support.”
Lactaction Innovations offers an easy-to-use, non-invasive technique that involves placing a small, button-like device in the pocket of a baby’s T-shirt on the child’s tummy. The device uses infrared technology similar to a pulse oximeter to detect the protein content of the milk in the child’s stomach and calculate how much the baby is consuming. Results can be read on mobile devices.
More than 3 million mothers in the U.S. breastfeed, but about 50% to 60% of them quit within the second week, mostly because of concerns that their children are not getting enough nutrition. Other companies offer solutions, but they involve wiring and other devices to monitor breastfeeding success.
“I would say the main difference in breastfeeding innovation is that we are moms and we designed this for other moms,” Coates said. Her entrepreneurial co-founder is Brittany Molkenthin ’17 (NUR). The product is expected to be available in 2024.
Hundreds of businesses start up due to CCEI
All five startups participating in this year’s Wolff competition participated in the Business School’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI) summer fellowship, which helps UConn-affiliated startups prepare for the market.
“This year is a bit special for CCEI because we are celebrating our 15th anniversary,” said Executive Director Jennifer Mathieu. “As I look back at the promotion for the Wolff New Venture Competition, I can’t help but think back to the hundreds of businesses we’ve helped launch and, more importantly, the thousands of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs we’ve had the privilege of working with. I’m excited to be part of this ecosystem part of the system and help our startups succeed.”
“The five teams participating in this year’s Wolff New Venture Competition are a great showcase for the startups we’ve supported over the years. We listened to advice from undergraduate, graduate, faculty and alumni entrepreneurs. Their industries range from consumer products to software to to medical technology,” Mathieu said.
“They have come a long way in working with CCEI, both on their business and personal side,” she said. “I’m proud that at CCEI, we don’t just build companies, we inspire the next wave of entrepreneurs who will change the world.”
Other UConn-affiliated finalists who entered the competition include:
- ribodynamics, a new medical technology that detects pathogens in biological materials based on the presence of specific RNA biomarkers. Today, it can take a lab 36 hours to determine if someone has sepsis, a life-threatening infection. Professor Dan Fabris, from the Department of Chemistry, believes his startup can reduce the time to two hours, speed up the delivery of appropriate treatment, prevent ICU admissions, and save up to $70,000 in medical bills per patient. The software technology, which has been in development for the past 10 years, is also expected to be used for other diseases, including HIV, hepatitis C and COVID-19. His business partner is postdoc Deng Limin, who has played a pivotal role in the company’s development. “The earliest possible diagnosis can improve overall outcomes for almost any type of disease,” Fabrice said.
- shadow capture, created by undergraduate students Brian Peng ’24 (CLAS) and Shivam Patel ’24 (ENG), focuses on creating on-demand glasses that transform into sunglasses at the touch of a button. The transition lenses take too long to adjust, and “walking around in sunglasses looks silly,” says Peng, who has studied retinal anatomy at the National Institutes of Health. Patel has a background in product design and development. Peng said the new glasses would be welcome in a disruptively mature industry with little technological change since 1991. The new glasses will give users “visual freedom,” he said. UConn’s Entrepreneurship Program helped the team build a new network of advisors, including patent attorneys and other mentors. “If no one tells us how to access these resources or let us know what is available, it will take us longer to move to the next phase of the company,” he said.
- reserve A new software is being designed to make it easier for nursing students to match their required clinical rotations. Created by alumni including Hunter Bowden ’20 (BUS), ’22 MSBAPM, it will simplify the process for college staff who often use pencils and pens to rotate around students’ college schedules, athletic commitments, and family responsibility programs. The startup started out as a college capstone project for 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 not usually ‘techies,'” Bowdoin said. “We want our software to be simple and allow our algorithms to automate most of the work.”
- Genesis, a biomedical startup, is working on a new cancer treatment and learning from animals. When cattle and horses develop a cancerous tumor, it remains localized and does not spread. Based on their knowledge of animal welfare and disease prevention, Prof. Kshitiz Kz and Dr. Candidate Ashkan Novin is studying how to strengthen healthy human cells near the tumor site to fight any cancer cells that remain after 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 focus on the ‘good guys,’ that is, the local healthy cells,” said Norvin. “Cancer has always been a ‘black box’ for us researchers, and we’re trying to tackle it from different angles. There will be a cure someday, and I hope we can play a role in that.
to celebrate its 15thth On the anniversary, CCEI is planning a one-day event in December. 2 at the GBLC campus in Hartford. A spokesperson will be announced shortly. More information will be provided in the coming weeks at ccei.uconn.edu.