Pitch Dingman Competition finalist startup AlgenAir has been invited to participate in the semifinal round of the Arizona State University Innovation Open on January 31, 2020, which only invites the best collegiate-led tech startups to compete and showcase for a chance to vie for $300K in grant funding, including two $100K cash prizes. They will be one of twenty-eight startups to compete, having advanced from a preliminary round that included over 100 student entrepreneurs from around the country. The Dingman Center has provided the co-founder’s of AlgenAir, Dan Fucich, PhD ’20, a marine estuary and environmental science PhD candidate, and Kelsey Abernathy, an environmental and molecular biology PhD candidate at UMB, with an E-Fund Award to cover expenses to compete. The Dingman Center reached out to Dan Fucich about AlgenAir’s flagship product, the “aerium”, an algae-powered air purifier; their experiences with Pitch Dingman Competition; and their hopes for the ASU Innovation Open.
DC: Tell us a little about AlgenAir. What is the “Aerium” and how is it better than regular air purifiers?
Fucich: AlgenAir is the company that has designed the aerium™ which is the first natural air purifier that uses algae to clean the air we breathe. The aerium is unlike any other air purifier because it removes both particulate matter as well as CO2 from your home or office. It is as efficient as 25 house plants for carbon dioxide removal and oxygen production (this is something that traditional air purifiers cannot solve). And, it removes particulate matter, like dust, pollen, mold, or bacteria from the air as well (which is something that terrestrial plants cannot absorb either). The aerium does both of these jobs orders of magnitude more efficiently than houseplants or traditional air purifiers and for a fraction of the cost, time and space!
DC: How do you collaborate as a team?
Fucich: Kelsey and I collaborate quite well as our talents and interests are complementary. Kelsey is a fantastic planner and is very well organized and does a very good job of keeping the AlgenAir team (only the 2 of us) on pace to hit deadlines and fulfill our responsibilities. She is capable of steering the ship and refocusing our energy and time to be productive and useful. She keeps business plan competitions and events on the radar and writes extensively for those events. My collaboration dovetails nicely here as I add any sections or make any suggestions or edits to the existing work. As far as any graphic design, logo design, “distributable” layout, video editing and most importantly; product design, I have taken an active responsibility for things of this nature. Additionally, algae is my primary field of study, so day to day questions about algal growth curves, media, and general biology can be handled with speed and efficiency before being exported to our algal expert collaborator. When it came time for rapid prototyping, I was principally in charge of product development. We made a functional prototype that I designed using CAD, printed with a desktop 3D printer, made iterative adjustments, and finally once we were happy, brought the aerium to a small Maryland based manufacturer.
DC: You participated in Pitch Dingman Competition Semifinals in 2018 and 2019 and now you’re a Finalist. How have you grown since then and was your approach different the second time around?
Fucich: Unfortunately, we were not selected last year for the finals. In our pitch in 2018 we failed to clarify that any IP was separated from the University and wholly retained by AlgenAir. I believe we made that abundantly clear this year and were lucky enough to advance to the finals among a field of very talented and promising companies. Since 2019, we have advanced in many ways: we have cleared our COI, all potential IP is retained by the company, we have filed a provisional patent for the aerium in May of 2019 as well as trademarks on our logos, and are actively working with our legal team to work towards filing a non provisional patent for the aerium this Spring 2020. In general we have advanced as a company, in the time since the semifinals at Pitch Dingman Competition in 2018, we were able to bring a product to market in less than 1 year with under $45 K in non-equity non-diluted funding. Failure to advance in Pitch Dingman in 2018 did not spell the end for AlgenAir, but only motivated us further to develop and introduce a valuable product that is useful to the market.
DC: You’ve been accepted into the 2020 ASU Innovation Open in Tempe, AZ. How will AlgenAir stand out from the crowd?
Fucich: AlgenAir is thrilled to be apart of the ASU Innovation Open! Our passion for algae and our company will allow us to stand out from the crowd as we showcase the first consumer natural air purifier that uses algae to clean the air we breathe. We have developed a device that puts the power of algae in the hands of consumers. Through our pitch and demos we will showcase a never before imagined product to the judges and investors. We can share our vision for functional algal installations improving people’s lives in a measurable way. Further we can show them why we have the skillset and team to execute our unique business model and create a new market category.
DC: What’s next for AlgenAir?
Fucich: AlgenAir is in the process of shipping out the aerium units purchased during our pre-sales. We are shipping across the country to California, Texas, Illinois, and more! We are working towards our goal of 200 units as part of our limited release. Once those units are in the hands of consumers we will begin to seek outside investment to scale production, ramp up marketing, and bring algae to as many people as possible. During this period we will also be iteratively honing the design of our units and algae media so that we can continually improve upon the product. Lastly we are actively working to protect our IP by filing our non-provisional patent in the Spring of 2020.