In anticipation of the final round of the 2020 Pitch Dingman Competition, the Dingman Center is interviewing each of the five startup finalists about their progress and upcoming challenges as they prepare to compete for the $15,000 Grand Prize on March 10th in the Grand Ballroom of Stamp Student Union. Learn more and register to attend the competition here.
Dan Fucich, PhD ’20 (presenting), Marine Estuary and Environmental Science
Kelsey Abernathy, PhD ’20, Environmental and Molecular Biology (UMB)
DC: Tell us about your startup.
AlgenAir: AlgenAir is a photobioreactor company in Baltimore, MD that creates functional algae installations to improve the public’s health. We developed the aerium, the first natural air purifier that uses algae to clean the air we breathe. The aerium works as efficiently as 25 house plants reduce carbon dioxide and increase oxygen in your home and office space. It is available for sale on our website.
DC: Have there been some key decisions or milestones along the way that have led you from an idea to now pitching for $15K?
AlgenAir: There have been many key decisions and milestones over the past year and a half. Initially, the project was to design algal green roofs for nutraceutical production. After learning more about the problem of indoor air quality decreasing with energy efficiency, we recognized an opportunity to reduce indoor air pollution to help people live healthier lives. In August of 2018 we wanted to make this technology available to the public so we began development of the aerium. After using non-dilutive funds, we completed product development and launched pre-sales shortly before the semifinals. Recently, AlgenAir has delivered on the pre-sales and customers are happily growing algae in their homes to improve their air quality.
DC: What have you learned from the semifinals that will help you better prepare for Finals?
AlgenAir: The questions and feedback we received from the judges during the semifinals has been incredibly valuable for preparing for the finals. We have focused on defining a clearer market size, highlighting our marketing strategy, and predicting potential questions from the judges. During the months since the semifinals we have also gained valuable feedback from our customers which has enabled us to make iterative improvements on the product, the instruction manual, and the packaging. All of these will help us prepare a stronger pitch for the finals. From working with our mentor, Phil Masiello ’92, we have been working to imagine the larger vision for AlgenAir, beyond our single room solution, the aerium, to how an algal installation would clean the air for an entire commercial building; what it would look like, how it would function, how many tons of carbon dioxide it would remove, and ultimately, how it would improve the lives of the people that use it everyday.
DC: What has your startup been working on since Pitch Dingman Competition Semifinals?
AlgenAir: After the semifinals in November, we continued shipping our first round of aerium units. We have been thrilled to hear feedback from our customers about how they noticed a difference in their air quality almost immediately. We have also started development of an application that will pair with sensors we are integrating into version two of the aerium in 2021.
DC: What are some goals you are looking to reach before Finals?
AlgenAir: We have some exciting things in the works for the finals. We are looking to finish pre-sales, launch a new website, and start gathering real-world data in a nearby hotel.
DC: If you win Pitch Dingman Competition, what will you do with the $15,000?
If we win the Pitch Dingman Competition, we will use the money for marketing the product. These funds will enable us to engage with a wide audience with multiple online media outlets and work with influencers to promote the aerium. Additionally, we can also use funds to continue data collection on efficiency in several real world applications.