UConn Today – Did you know that the prescription you picked up at the pharmacy likely once contained a host of toxic materials that were used as a catalyst for its creation?
Don’t panic. In the development process, the toxins are stripped from the medication, and the FDA has stringent guidelines ensuring its safety.
But UConn chemistry professors Eugene Pinkhassik, Sergey Dergunov, and Ph.D. candidate Kevin Rivera have an innovation that they believe can offer a better, safer, less expensive, and more environmentally sound alternative.
UConn Today – Since he was identified as one of the most promising entrepreneurs at UConn this summer, Elijah Taitel ’22 (BUS) hasn’t rested on his achievements.
His company, Extra Base Sports, is preparing to launch a new youth-sized version of its popular baseball/softball training device called the ProVelocity Bat next month, targeting players between 8 and 13.
UConn Today – As a former special education teacher, and a mother of two, Shaleighne “Shay’’ Cantner is well acquainted with the deluge of paperwork required to get supportive, special-education services for children.
“I recognized how difficult it was for parents to move forward and get their children the help that they need,’’ said Cantner, the CEO of a startup called Engagement Solutions and an alumna who earned her Sixth-Year Degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from the Neag School in 2013.
UConn Today – When grocery giant Whole Foods allowed Raina Jain ’24 (BUS) the chance to sell her Queen Bee health-support supplement at the grand opening of its new store in Avon, she couldn’t say no—even though it was the first week of classes.
Those companies have ranged from consumer products to mobile apps to medical technologies. CCEI supports entrepreneurs and coaches them through everything from ideation to pitching their business idea to preparing to launch their ventures.
“We would not have a startup ecosystem without Jen consistently going above and beyond to meet all of the entrepreneurs’ business-development needs,” said Professor David Noble, director of UConn’s Werth Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. “Her attention to their individual growth is essential to the success of the programs.”
“There is no magic wand that suddenly makes a startup investable or finds product market fit. Through hard work and perseverance, Jen supports the entrepreneurs she works with at each inflection point with a genuine concern for their success,” he added.
“One of the elements of my role that I enjoy the most is being able to work with so many incredible individuals that are striving to be their very best every day. I love creating and bringing new things to fruition. So, naturally, I enjoy supporting entrepreneurs that are doing the same,” she said. “It fuels my fire.”
Entrepreneurship is really just warming up, particularly over the last year and half when people were forced to make the most out of their own personal and professional situations, Mathieu said. Younger adults are particularly enthusiastic about starting their own businesses and choosing a career trajectory that affords them more control.
“We’re just at the tip of the iceberg and there is so much still to come. Innovation breeds innovation. And people are striving to start businesses to change the world, have a social impact, and create a more positive future,” she said.
Mathieu said people often underestimate the knowledge and the assistance that entrepreneurs can tap into in Connecticut. There really isn’t a better place to grow a business, she said.
“I never once understood the negativity around Connecticut. We’re in a perfect location. We are a small state and so connected, and a place where people really care about each other,” she said. “From UConn, we have caring alumni everywhere who are passionate about our students, our university, and our state’s potential. Being in a small state with such a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem is tremendously advantageous.”
Mathieu, who majored in psychology as an undergrad, worked in the MBA/EMBA office as a student employee during her four years at UConn, and helped graduate students navigate their applications. That’s when she realized she enjoyed helping others and wanted to work in higher education. “To me there’s nothing better than supporting people who are making their dreams a reality,” she said.
An entrepreneur herself, Mathieu owns Jennifer Elizabeth Design Studio, an inspirational, carded jewelry company.
“What started as a creative outlet for me has now turned into a business. My designs being available in more than 130 retail locations, included in subscription box services, featured in magazines, customized for brands, and selling to customers worldwide,” she said. In her free time, Mathieu loves to run road races, go for hikes, and enjoys cooking using new recipes.
“I love adventure and trying new things. I’m a lifelong learner. I’m bored with doing the same things over and over,” she said. “During the pandemic, I read 100 books on business and leadership as well as fiction set in different parts of the world and reflecting various times in history. I couldn’t travel, so I found another way to explore.”
The best advice she offers future entrepreneurs is to be curious.
“Ask questions, do research, connect with people,” she said. “There’s so much to learn and so many insights to be gained. Learn about the problem you are trying to solve and do whatever you can to understand your customers. Let go of trying to be perfect. Don’t let fear of the unknown ever hold you back.”
UConn Today – From business to nutritional sciences, engineering to the arts, the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation has distinguished itself as a dynamic and multidisciplinary environment where all UConn students can find an opportunity to learn, connect, and innovate alongside their entrepreneurially minded peers and with the help of seasoned educators and mentors.
Senior Elijah Taitel loves baseball, and has spent the last few years creating the ProVelocity Bat, a unique training device designed to improve the swing of everyone from Little Leaguers to MLB players.
Sophomore Raina Jain’s passion revolves around the environment, and, more specifically honey bees. Her Queen Bee startup is preparing to sell an immunity- boosting beverage that contains honey and other all-natural ingredients.
Although their startups are vastly different, their business drive is well aligned. The two aspiring entrepreneurs began an eight-week entrepreneurship program this week, offered by the School of Business’ Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CCEI). They are joined by eight other business teams.Continue Reading
Santander Bank, N.A., through its Santander Universities program (“Santander”), has awarded a $100,000 grant to the UConn Foundation, to support initiatives that will benefit both minority business students and minority-owned small businesses.
The grant marks a new relationship between UConn and Santander, one of the country’s largest retail and commercial banks.Continue Reading