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Startup Continues to Grow as it Started, Through Senior Design

In 2013 a group of biomedical engineering seniors developed a product for their senior design course and started a company. Today, as alumni, they're working with current BME seniors to improve that same product.

Suraj Makhija, Nishant Mehta, Daniel Min, and Anirudh Sharma, who all graduated with B.S. degrees in 2014, spent senior design—a required course where students work in teams to solve engineering problems on behalf of real companies and products—working on a material to improve cell culture-based biotech research.

Growth factors, an important component of the cell culture media, are a significant expense for scientists and researchers. A milligram of a particular growth factor can cost up to $10,000, and because of their rapid degradation rates in cell culture media, scientists are not getting much efficiency out of these expensive molecules.

Building on a patent from a former University of Texas at Austin professor, the student team felt that if they could provide a viable option to help researchers extend the life of cell culture media, there would be a market. To explore the business side of their idea, they also enrolled in Longhorn Startup Lab, a program that pairs students who have business ideas with mentors to help them set up companies.

They named their company MicroMulsion, and they received mentorship from entrepreneurs and scientists. Laura Suggs, professor of biomedical engineering, advised them on the science side of things and currently acts in an advisory capacity as the company's Chief Technology Officer. Through Longhorn Startup Lab they received mentorship from Bob Metcalfe, professor of innovation in the Cockrell School of Engineering, inventor of the Ethernet, and current member of MicroMulsion's Board of Advisors.

At Longhorn Demo Day, they pitched their company idea to Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, tech entrepreneur, and an investor on the television series Shark Tank. Cuban was so impressed, he gave MicroMulsion $75,000.

micromulsion team

Left to right: Daniel Min, Anirudh Sharma, Mark Cuban, Nishant Mehta, and Suraj Makhija.

Remember, MicroMulsion is four guys fresh out of college—but not to worry—these guys are serious, focused on engineering a product where there's a real business need.

"I give him weekly updates on our progress," Sharma, MicroMulsion's CEO, says of Cuban, "and I'm constantly gaining business insights from him on how we might one day sell our product."

Cuban's $75,000 is paying for administrative fees that come with the process of patent filing as well as more materials. MicroMulsion has a provisional patent and the company's next step is to develop a prototype, test it, and gather supportive data. To do this, MicroMulsion is enlisting the help of current biomedical engineering students through the course where the four started work on their idea as students: senior design.

While the current team is focusing on business strategy and licensing technology, they are also providing a learning opportunity for current biomedical engineering students.

"We have a senior design team to help finish the prototype and continue building on the science and engineering," says Anirudh Sharma, MicroMulsion's CEO, "and we're there to serve as advisors and help with problem solving, much like the help we received as students."