Student Innovator of the Week
Founder and Owner of ChemiCube LLC
Please provide your 30-second pitch about your company.
ChemiCube LLC is a pumping system manufacturer. Recognizing that high school students and teachers waste roughly one third of lab time setting up for science experiments, I decided to create an automated pumping system that is not only faster than traditional measurement methods, but also accurate to an impressive 47 thousandths of a milliliter. The ChemiCube can streamline setup measurements, dilutions, and titrations, making it a time saving addition to any high school science classroom. ChemiCube has already met huge success through the New Hampshire Science and Engineering Expo, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and the UNH BizGen Competition. One of ChemiCube’s primary goals is impact; using profits from my first round of prototype sales, I founded a STEM education club at a local middle school. Furthermore, I plan to have an option to buy the ChemiCube as a kit, so that students can learn the basics of electrical and mechanical engineering while assembling it. I have designed an effective product and proven my market, now I am ready to give every high school science classroom a serious upgrade.
What was the inspiration behind your company idea?
Throughout my entire life, I have always looked for ways to use engineering and automation to make tasks easier. As early as sixth grade, I was writing programs to do my math homework and making robots to cut paper for art projects. When I took chemistry as a high school junior, I could not believe how inefficient and tedious the current measurement techniques and devices were. I asked my chemistry teacher what he thought was the most painstaking measurement process was, and almost immediately he said “titration!”, which is the process of adding a base to an acid with extreme accuracy. That summer I set out to create a titration robot. Driven by my love for engineering and problem solving, I created an extremely affordable and cost effective pumping system. I quickly realized that the system had the potential for much more than titration, and decided to start designing a product around my pumps. ChemiCube was born out of my drive to automate tedious tasks and make life just a little bit easier.
How was BizGen a valuable experience and what discoveries did you make through the competition process?
In addition to the grand prize of $4500, BizGen armed me with critical business skills and knowledge. After spending about six months on developing ChemiCube’s technology, it was critical to dedicate a few months to solidifying a go to market plan and revenue model. In preparation for BizGen, I performed thorough analysis of my competition and looked extensively into how to lower material costs. It was an eye opening experience to get a glimpse of the true complexity of the world of business. Furthermore, I made several valuable connections with UNH faculty and Wasabi Ventures employees that will all be extremely helpful as ChemiCube moves forwards.
What’s the best advice you have received?
The best advice I have received was from one of my mentors, Mr. Sean Muller, when he told me “Matt, don’t worry. It is all going to be fine”. ChemiCube’s journey so far has been a difficult one, and I’m sure it is not going to get easier any time soon. Mr. Muller has constantly encouraged me and helped me through ChemiCube’s many stressful moments and failures. I’ve found that he was completely right; as long as I focused on progress and moving forward, everything just fell into place. No single piece of technical or business advice can hold a light to Mr. Muller’s pure optimism. He has shown me that if I follow my passions for engineering and entrepreneurship and believe in myself, anything is possible.
What was the most challenging part of developing and pitching your startup idea and how did you overcome it?
ChemiCube’s biggest challenges have been technical ones. Primarily, developing an extremely accurate and fast pump that is affordable enough for high schools to purchase. It took four months of testing and five different prototypes to finally reach a design that was satisfactory. After trying out numerous types of pumps and control systems, I eventually settled on a peristaltic pump and a simple encoder that I designed myself. This pump system coupled with a custom microcontroller board allows the ChemiCube to be fast, accurate, and affordable. Once I had a functional prototype on my hands, the business pitch practically made itself and I was ready to talk to judges and investors.
What are your thoughts now about starting your own company, either now or later?
I could not be more happy that I decided to take the leap to start my own company in November 2015. At first, I was very worried that I would get lost in the bureaucracy of business and miss some important deadline for federal or state paperwork, but with a little bit of research, I was able to figure it all out. While it’s very cool just to say that I own a business as an 18 year old, the best part of the experience has been being forced out of my comfort zone. By entering the business world, ChemiCube stopping being one of my desktop hobbies and suddenly became a product. I had to quickly step away from engineering and learn the basics of marketing, website design, and investment. If I had to sum it all up, I would say that starting a company is a way to grow up really fast; from the moment I signed the official LLC paperwork, I no longer felt like a high school student. Of course, it is intimidating and stressful to have to compete and work with expert adults, but I am and always will be up for the challenge!
What does the future look like for your company?
ChemiCube is ready to progress out of the prototype stage and start to be professionally manufactured. News of the ChemiCube is spreading quickly throughout New England, so it is imperative that a finalized product is ready for sale while schools are most excited about the device. By the end of the summer I hope to have finalized the microcontroller board and plastic enclosure designs, so that the first units can be manufactured during early Fall. Additionally, the ChemiCube’s new design invites a myriad of add on products, such as specialized stock bottles, spill catchers, and beaker hose clips, to be designed and sold separately. Once the finalized product is being produced, our focus will shift towards spreading news of the ChemiCube to high schools around the United States and encouraging sales. Fortunately, once a teacher sees the value that an affordable ChemiCube brings to a class, it is often an easy sell. Due to the interconnected nature of public schools and their teachers, I expect the demand for ChemiCubes to skyrocket once a few dozen are functioning in classrooms.
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