Lori Dars, associate director in the NJAES Office of Economic Development and Innovation, was a mentor to the students, helping them to better understand customer base and needs, as well as how to market their product. Dars is the director of Rutgers I-Corps, an NSF-supported program designed to assist in the transition of technology concepts into the marketplace.
A group of former Rutgers students who developed a pacifier-like device that delivers medication and nutrients to malnourished infants are working to see their project put to use for the first time at a major hospital system.
The concept was born six years ago during the first Honors College mission course, which teaches students how to transform ideas into action as they address issues related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The group continued their work over the next several years through the Honors College Innovation Lab and became one of the first teams from the program to bring their social innovation to the public sphere. Through the process they formed a company called Nutrivide to develop and market the device – called a Nutrifier – which stores and dispenses micronutrients and medicine vital for infant survival and development. Along the way they expanded the team to include younger, current Honors College students. Collectively, they have won more than $90,000 in prize money to advance the project, including a total of $63,500 this spring as part of the Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge.
“This experience taught me that storytelling is the most important skill entrepreneurs can learn to have their audiences follow their visions for and journeys to impact,” said Akshay Kamath, a 2019 Rutgers Honors College and Rutgers-New Brunswick School of Arts and Sciences alumnus and co-founder and CEO of Nutrivide who was selected as and named a Forbes Under 30 Scholar in 2018 highlighting the nation’s trailblazers. “While our story isn’t linear, the tough moments have made this path all the more rewarding.”
The Nutrivide team, which also includes Joseph Bajor (SEBS’19), Yash Dave (ENG’19), Juliet Petillo (PHARM ’24), Clairisse Whang (SAS’22), Harrison Zhang (RBS’22), and Alyssa Krisinski (RBS’22), as well as Casey Speer, a Georgetown graduate whom Kamath met in the industry, is poised for a soft launch. The team has set their eyes on working with an innovative health system in New York to test the device as they continue to attract more funding and to help bring it to the vulnerable populations that need it the most.
“It’s amazing to think that all of this started as a class project just a few short years ago. I’m super proud of the team and everything we have been able to accomplish since then,” said Bajor, co-founder and CTO for Nutrivide.
“Thanks largely to the support of the Rutgers Honors College, Nutrivide has enjoyed a plethora of opportunities for growth. Events like the Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge have given us validation and momentum as we work to bring our vision for a unique medication and nutrient delivery product for infants to fruition,” said Petillo, head of R&D for Nutrivide.
Paul Gilmore, administrative dean of the Rutgers Honors College, says students’ success transcends winning prizes. “The real goal is the tremendous impact that our mission-driven curriculum has had on shaping hundreds of students who can take an idea and bring it to life in the real world to make meaningful change, even after college.”
“At the core of the Rutgers Honors College, we believe that students can help address the world’s problems by learning in an environment that emphasizes diversity, interdisciplinary team-based problem solving, and a commitment to improving the communities around us,” said Gilmore. “Nutrivide exemplifies the kind of impact engaged, high-achieving students can have if given the sustained support they need to transform their ideas into action, including mentoring and funding through their work in the Rutgers Honors College Innovation Lab.”
Nutrivide is one of many success stories from the Honors College, which draws its students from across the six admitting schools at Rutgers–New Brunswick to the living-learning community. Sulis, a solar-powered water sanitization system that was designed for communities without access to clean water, is another. In 2018, Sulis surpassed approximately 25,000 teams to place among the top 10 in the world for honorable recognition at the London Accelerator in pursuit of the $1 million Hult Prize, often called the “Nobel Prize for Students.” They continue to compete and place among the very top teams nationally and globally, and are forming joint ventures with private firms and universities in India to commercialize their technology and develop further applications.
“We provide an ecosystem that empowers students to grow through real-world experience, catalyzing their human and intellectual capital as they bring their ideas to life,” said Mukesh Patel, director of innovation at the Rutgers Honors College. “Students learn transferable skills like hiring key staff, understanding the legalities of a startup, analyzing investment opportunities, and proofing various concepts.”
Students agree that their time at the Honors College has a lasting impact.
“Being a part of the Nutrivide team over the past two years has been an amazing experience,’’ said Petillo. “From our humble Honors College roots to winning at major pitch competitions and earning national recognition, it’s been an exciting journey and I can’t wait to see where our product takes us next.”