Phytoption, LLC Wins ACS's 2019 Entrepreneur Pitch Competition

Industry Matters Newsletter

By: Katie Dirks, ACS Industry Member Programs

Yuan Yao of Phytoption, LLC is awarded a $5,000 cash prize for winning ACS’ 2019 Entrepreneur Business Plan Pitch Competition.

Phytoption, LLC took first place in ACS’s business plan pitch competition at the Fall 2019 National Meeting & Expo in San Diego. ACS awarded Yuan Yao, principal investigator at Phytoption, a $5,000 cash prize, one year of free ACS Membership, and six months of complimentary access to ACS’s SciFindern database tool to support Phytoption’s continued growth.

The competition marked the culmination of an intensive NSF I-Corps training for five pre-selected entrepreneur teams at ACS’s 2019 Fall National Meeting & Expo. Team business plan pitches were scored by six judges from industry, many of whom are successful entrepreneurs, themselves.

Dan Daly, director of Alabama Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs (AIME), facilitated the I-Corps training. “This program was designed to help scientists advance their ideas into commerce,” said Daly. “Its focus on engaging in customer discovery using the scientific method seemed to help the teams in assessing their opportunities through the eyes of the customer.”

In addition to Phytoption, LLC, which uses natural or naturally derived biomaterials to produce highly potent solubilizers for hydrophobic active ingredients including drugs, as well as novel emulsifiers and surfactants for pharmaceutical and personal care applications, teams included:

  • Boydston Chemical Innovations – Which developed a photoinitiated metal-free ring-opening metathesis polymerization process to create materials used in the production of high-performance thermosets, fiber reinforced composites, lightweight high-toughness plastic components, and photo-resins for 3D Printing applications; 
  • ProfProtects - Whose DrugReveal wipes and swabs can alert emergency first responders to the presence of opioids without interrupting their work flow;
  • RenewCO2 - Whose first carbon-negative product will be monoethylene glycol (MEG), a plastic building block, produced from water, CO2, and renewable electricity; and
  • WiSE Labs – Which developed a process for fabricating superconducting films/coatings via electroplating of the relevant metal/alloy onto a conductive substrate, which reduces production costs and produces higher-quality films

Judges included: 

Vreeke commented on the importance of effective science communication in the entrepreneur space, “The presenting teams attempted to address a challenge confronted by all inventors: to convince the audience and investors of a market need for a product requiring their technology that is sufficiently large to justify the sizable investments required to commercialize that technology. Today's startup investors and especially professional investors are technology savvy. There is the expectation that the science behind the technology is communicated.  The investors can and will make their own judgement on the validity of the science.” 

Vreeke’s advice resonated deeply with the participants. "Participating in ACS’s Entrepreneur Training and Pitch Competition taught me how to better structure a pitch to investors, and the feedback received from the judges provided important insight into how different types of public receive the information presented,” said Karin Calvinho of RenewCO2. “I believe this feedback will significantly increase our chances of getting funded in the future."

“ACS’s Entrepreneur Training and Pitch Competition is a highly needed event for both the industry and the academic community,” Yao of Phytoption said following the event. “It encourages scientists to gain hands-on experience to commercialize their innovations. With highly experienced educators and judges, the program provides a cutting-edge opportunity that empowers science-based entrepreneurs to deliver their ideas and plans to serve the needs from the real world.”

ACS is currently exploring options to continue the Entrepreneur Training and Pitch Competition in 2020.