with a C.E.O.
Meet 20 entrepreneurs — young alums and current students, many of whom have successful businesses that were well off the drawing board before the ink on their diplomas was dry.
Brian Kelleher ’17 (SFA), CTO; Case Polen ’17 (SFA), Senior Designer; Jeffrey Santi ’18 (ENG), Chief Architect; Andrew Ginzberg ’16 (SFA), CEO (shown left to right)
Loki, Hartford, Connecticut; loki.live
Frustrated with the limited perspective offered by traditional newscasts, digital media and design students Ginzberg, Kelleher, and Polen teamed up as undergrads with Santi, an electrical engineering student, to create a revolutionary new live-streaming platform called Loki. The company’s proprietary technology gathers the myriad points of view an audience of smartphone users can capture at live events — concerts, breaking news, Husky basketball games — and lets viewers knit the streams together into unique, personal video feeds. Winner of the School of Business’ 2017 Innovation Quest, Loki makes viewers the editors, directors, and producers of their own content, right down to which camera angles they choose. How we receive our news may never be the same.
—Kevin Markey; Photo by Peter Morenus
Ashley Kalinauskas ’12 (CAHNR), Founder and CEO, with Dave
Torigen Pharmaceuticals, Farmington, Connecticut; torigen.com
This year in the United States some 8 million pets will be diagnosed with cancer. Half of all dogs over the age of 10 will die from the disease. Kalinauskas hopes to change all that. Founder and CEO of biotech startup Torigen Pharmaceuticals, which is supported by the UConn Technology Incubation Program, she and her colleagues have developed a highly customizable vaccine that uses an animal’s own cancer cells to induce an aggressive immune response. Called VetiVax, the experimental treatment has produced eye-opening results and shows great potential as the company continues nationwide clinical trials. “Few adverse events,” reports Kalinauskas, who majored in pathobiology and veterinary sciences with a minor in business. “We are extending lives.” Millions of pet owners rejoice.
—Kevin Markey; Photo by Peter Morenus
When Dashride rolled out its automated dispatching software five years ago, some 200,000 taxi and limo companies operated in the United States — and every last one of them was under pressure from new ride-sharing apps. “Many had been using the same practices for 20 or 30 years,” says Ullman. “They didn’t have the technology to meet customer needs.” Dashride hooks them up with cutting- edge tools like advance booking capabilities; full back-office support of billing, customer management, and accounting; and detailed mapping and routing services. It is now the leading provider of software for taxi, medical, corporate, and driverless fleets across the United States and in Europe and Asia. For an enterprise that Ullman and Bachant started at UConn to provide safe rides to classmates after nights out on the town, it’s one heck of a ride.
—claire hall; Photo by Nathan oldham
Fareed Rasheed ’08 (CLAS) Co-founder (left), Jason Ellis ’08 (CLAS) Co-founder
TNB (There’s Nothing Better), New Britain, Connecticut
Fun is serious business for these friends and four-year UConn roommates. Through TNB, Rasheed and Ellis bring young professionals together at venues around the state to share ideas, make social and professional connections, and add excitement to the life side of the work-life balance. The company’s popular “Network and Chill” and “Connecticut Daybreak” events have featured virtual reality sets, vintage video game consoles, and photo booths along with dance music and drinks. But all a party really needs to be successful, says Rasheed, is a critical mass of people ready to have a good time. The outgoing impresarios have been engineering fun since undergrad days, when their “Late Night at the Student Union” sober events (karaoke, bounce houses) and “Get on the Bus” outings for the Black Student Alliance drew loyal followings. Both earned MBAs, and Ellis went to work in the financial industry, while Rasheed turned to a career in sales. TNB grew out of the frustration they and friends felt at limited nightlife options available to urban professionals in and around Hartford. “If there isn’t a space there for us, let’s create it,” says Rasheed, who believes everyone should make it a practice to talk to five strangers at any social gathering. “What have you got to lose?”
—Kevin Markey; Photo by Connecticut daybreak
Kiersten Tupper ’12 (CLAS), ’15 MA, Co-founder (right); Karlyn Tupper ’14 (CLAS), Co-founder and CEO
Tenacity, Syracuse, New York; tenacityjeans.com
“We couldn’t find the jeans we wanted,” says Karlyn, “so we made them ourselves.” What the Tuppers wanted were jeans to fit their athletic curves (Karlyn and Kiersten played lacrosse at UConn; older sister and business partner Kendall played at Cornell). Standard-issue cuts were always too big in the waist and too tight everywhere else. After a pitch for athletically engineered real jeans (no jeggings or leggings, please) earned positive feedback at UConn’s CCEI Business Plan Competition during Karlyn’s sophomore year, the sisters took time to refine patterns, test prototypes, and source materials. This past March, they officially launched Tenacity. Grown and sewn completely in the United States, the flattering garments are made in Texas from cotton harvested and milled in Georgia and Alabama. Active women everywhere can easily breathe a big sigh of relief.
—Kevin Markey; Photo by Skerpon Photography
While still in high school, Ben Grosse launched MXERS Audio, a maker of bespoke earbuds. He and friend and business partner Bharat Pulgram built the prototype by hand in a suburban Minneapolis basement. Today, their growing company produces a full line of devices that are customizable by color, style, and fit, and are specifically tuned for different genres of music. “What’s undervalued by prospective entrepreneurs is the why factor,” says Grosse, who serves as a student advisor to UConn’s Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “Why should you buy our earbuds — or any other product?” For MXERS fans the answer is crystal clear: cool design and quality audio that cuts through the noise of a crowded market.
—Claire Hall; Photo by Nathan Oldham
Winner of the 2013 Innovation Quest competition, Smith designs, manufactures, and markets the Macropod, a microscope imaging system that produces astonishingly detailed pictures of the hidden natural world. NASA uses a Macropod to study microbes present in the closed environments of spacecraft. Other customers include the United States Geological Survey, Harvard University, the Department of Agriculture, and natural history museums the world over. “The Smithsonian is one of our top clients,” says Smith, who runs the business with his wife, Annette Evans, a Ph.D. student in evolutionary biology at UConn. One key to the company’s success? Its drive to constantly upgrade both technology and customer service. “What can we do better?” Smith asks. “What features would clients like to see? That’s what we’ve been able to do pretty well, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”
Brittany Molkenthin ’17 (NUR), CEO
Lactation Innovations, Hartford, Connecticut
Inspiration for the device that Molkenthin has already secured a provisional patent for came to the recent nursing grad during her junior year, while she was spending a day at a hospital shadowing a lactation consultant.
“I saw a lot of new mothers struggling, upset, even tearful,” she says. They were frustrated and asking, “How do I even know if my baby is getting enough breast milk? She seems like she’s fed, but then she’s crying as though she’s still hungry.”
Later, in a Healthcare Innovations Program class, professors Christine Meehan and Anna Bourgault asked students what they would design if they could improve something in the medical field. Molkenthin began collaborating with several UConn biomedical engineering students and before the end of her senior year had a working model for her device. A sensor on the infant’s stomach calculates breast milk consumption based on reflection and absorption and transmits that data via Bluetooth to an app that a mother can track to figure out what works best for her baby. “It takes something that’s so subjective right now and makes it objective,” says Molkenthin.
—Jesse Rifkin; Photo by Peter Morenus
For millions of patients worldwide, the best hope for recovery from traumatic bone injury or joint disease is an autograft — the use of bone harvested from the patient’s own body to repair the defect. Unfortunately, complications from bone transplant surgery include graft rejection and chronic pain. Enter OrteoPonix, a company focused on developing a novel biomaterial for bone and cartilage regeneration. Born of research conducted by Dr. Mei Wei, professor and associate dean for research and graduate education at the School of Engineering, the start-up has achieved success with small animal models and has been able to demonstrate the feasibility of scaling up its technology from laboratory levels. Plans are in place for large animal studies, says Kramer, who joined the company after earning her doctorate as a member of Dr. Wei’s lab in 2014 and became CEO two years later. “By replacing autografts in clinical applications, OrteoPonix’s material for bone repair will result in less pain for the patient, shorter hospitalizations and surgery times, and lower medical costs.”
—Kevin Markey; photo by Pete Morenus
Tony Bachiochi ’15 (CAHNR) (right)
Grounded Coffee Company, Willimantic, CT; groundedcoffeecompany.org
As a resources economics major, Bachiochi (left, with Nick Bentley) crunched data on the production and consumption of natural wealth. Now he puts what he knows to use on behalf of one of the world’s most precious commodities: coffee. At the cheery bistro he co-owns in a renovated 19th-century building on Main Street, loyalists line up at reclaimed wood counters for nuanced brews that are as carefully sourced as they are prepared. “We work with roasters all over the East Coast who make exceptional coffee,” he says, “and who are also 100% invested in making sure the process of getting those coffee beans is ethical and the farmers are well paid,” says Bachiochi. The formula has made the shop a go-to spot for the community. “It’s more than buying a cup of coffee,” he says. “It’s a meeting place.”
—Kevin Markey; photo by Winter Caplanson
John Schauster ’14 (SFA), co-owner; Anthony Calamusa ’14 (CLAS), general manager
The Hop Knot, Middletown, CT; thehopknot.com
Matching a love of good food and drink with a nose for business, co-owners Michael Boney ’03 (CLAS) and John Schauster ’14 (SFA) opened their first Hop Knot craft beer joint on Main Street in Middletown in 2016. The combination of lovingly curated microbrews (they keep a rotating selection of 24 on tap), house-made stuffed pretzels (BBQ chicken and Monterrey jack is a fave), and a friendly, festive atmosphere proved an instant winner. “A beer and pretzel bar had never been done in Connecticut,” says Schauster. “It just seemed like an obvious choice.” A thirsty public agrees: to keep up with demand, the partners launched new locations in New Haven and Southington last year, are planning additional ones in Manchester and Bethel, and project to franchise 37 Hop Knots nationally within the next five years.
Growing up on a small farm on the Connecticut shore, Dang “saw firsthand the time and energy that went into growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food.” Flash forward to UConn, where the economics major couldn’t believe how many uneaten salads, slices of pizza, and panini got tossed each day in the dining halls. Spurred to action, he developed software that tracked and measured waste, aggregating data so managers could plan meals more efficiently. He then convinced Dining Services to give his system a spin in one of its eight kitchens. Result: $30,000 in savings. With help from UConn’s Innovation Quest (iQ) and faculty advisors Kevin Bouley and Joseph Renzulli, Dang turned his idea into a startup. “At the time I couldn’t have told you the difference between common stock and livestock!” he says. Today Phood counts Cornell, Tufts, Brown, Yale, Smith, and, yes, UConn, among its nationwide roster of clients, saving them as much as $100,000 a year as it helps reduce the country’s food waste problem.
Serving up heaping sides of social good along with pork dumplings and pad thai, the New York City food-delivery platform Sharebite donates meals to children with every order placed. Launched by Saber and co-founder Mohsin Memon in 2015, the company works like Grubhub with a conscience: a user chooses from among more than 2,000 restaurants available on the Sharebite app, places an order for pick-up or delivery, and Sharebite donates a portion of the meal's cost to City Harvest, New York’s leading food rescue nonprofit. Available for free download from Apple and Google Play, the company to date has fed more than 200,000 children – and is on target to hit a million meals next year. In a city where one child in five experiences food insecurity, that's a big bite out of hunger.