BioBandage began as a biodesign class project. Sabah, Nealah, Nadiah, and Elisa were grouped together based on shared industry and product interest. Care was also taken to diversify backgrounds as much as possible. BioDesign (DES 128) is a two-quarter course. Midway through the course, Team BioBandage submitted a proposal for the project they would complete to apply the science they had learned. They would prototype a bandage using bacterial cellulose. Eli’s and Nealah’s experience growing kombucha was valued.
Nadiah says the class used the design thinking principles they had learned in other design classes. Nealah recalls the scientific nature of their project requiring significant work: “There was a lot of consulting with grad students and professors. A lot of reading on our own….we don’t have PhDs, so we had to figure it out.”
“We went through this constant cycle of testing out our new bandage materials,” Nadiah says. Sabah remembers looking for a backing that was flexible and felt good on the skin and glue strong enough to hold on to the skin.
The team was selected to represent UC Davis in an international biodesign contest. After returning from the competition, the team began looking for funding opportunities. They wanted to keep their idea alive. Throughout the process of transitioning from a class project to a business venture, it was important to the team that their company be based on their core values of using greener materials and taking care of the planet. It was important to transform from responsible designers and biologists into responsible entrepreneurs.
Entering the Student Startup Center’s PLASMA accelerator kept their idea alive and provided a new perspective. In PLASMA, directors Aaron Anderson and Tanvir Kaur and PLASMA mentors helped Team BioBandage see how to become a successful startup without sacrificing their values. “PLASMA helped us see it was possible to pursue the best of both worlds,” Nealah says.
Eli says PLASMA forced them to shift from their science and research orientation to consider the business aspects of their project. “The program pushed us all, on some level, out of our comfort zones.” She enjoyed talking to mentors in different fields and receiving feedback on BioBandage.
In addition to gaining public speaking practice through PLASMA, Nadiah most enjoyed the opportunity to bring awareness to the environmental impacts of plastic products such as bandages. It was important to find a balance between the science, the business, and the environment. As members of the 2020 PLASMA cohort, Team BioBandage used their Demo Day video to educate others about the environmental issues that were an important motivation behind BioBandage.
Two members of the team graduated in spring 2020. The remaining members are looking for additional teammates so they can continue to develop BioBandage. Eli, one of the graduated members, says that she wishes BioBandage had grown to a point at which she could afford to work on the project full-time after graduation. In fact, all members of the team would like to continue working on BioBandage if it takes off the way they hope. They don’t want to rush the project, however. “This is something we’re putting on people’s skin,” Nealah emphasizes.
Team BioBandage points to time management and having the right team as keys to student entrepreneurship. Eli continues, “You do have to sacrifice some things. You have to prioritize some things. And also rely on your team. On the team there was a balance, filling in for others when needed because we understood that we’re not just entrepreneurs, we’re also students, so we have different responsibilities.” Nadiah says the time management was a struggle for her, but it was worth it in the end.
Team BioBandage encourages students who are interested in solving a problem they feel passionate about to form a team, get started, and take advantage of the university’s resources. “Find somebody with similar interests, Nadiah says. “They will be on board with what you’re trying to accomplish and they will make the journey that much easier. If you fail, you fail together and that’s okay because you can just keep trying. I’m so glad I had my team. I’m going to miss them so much.”
“The university has a ton of resources; the Student Startup Center has so many resources,” Eli says. “Sometimes it’s hard to start something because it looks so big. Just start. Even if it’s sketching your ideas out. Or writing it out. You have to start at some point, somewhere. I think maybe a lot of people don’t start because they’re afraid to fail. You’re probably going to fail. A bunch of times. You have to go with it. You fall 10 times, maybe the 11th time you actually make something….You have this wonderful university that has so many resources. I guarantee whatever idea you have, you can bring it forward.” Eli did not begin her university career thinking she would become an entrepreneur, but she leaves knowing the entrepreneurial path is inevitable for her.
Sabah Khan, ‘21
Biological Sciences, Technology Management minor, Pre-Med
Nealah Lee, ‘20
Design, Nutrition Science and Technology Management minors
Nadiah Mohammed, ‘21
Design, Communications minor
Elisa Morillo ‘20
Design, International Relations