Kailey Shara, ATLAS PhD student and a member of the Emergent Nanomaterials Lab, won two top prizes within several days in support of her company, Chembotix, taking home a total of $11,000 in prizes.
On March 18, Shara’s team won $5,000 during the highly competitive New Venture Challenge 14 Female Founder Prize after presenting Chembotix in a virtual pitch session to a panel of NVC judges. Then on March 22, Shara’s team won another $6,000, the top prize in CU Boulder’s New Venture Launch class. The class, taught by Jeff York, associate professor in the Leeds School of Business, is funded by the Robert & Kathleen Dobkin Intuitive Foundation, which partners with CU Boulder.
“For a fully-remote team that was almost entirely assembled during the pandemic, it’s an exciting moment for us to see our work starting to pay off,” Shara said. “Chembotix is based on my PhD work at the ATLAS Institute, so this win also helps to validate a problem I care deeply about—widespread adoption of laboratory automation.”
The prize money will be used to pay for materials to finalize the team’s prototype hardware, she said.
Through Chembotix, Shara is developing a robotic automation platform to dramatically speed up chemistry research and development. Shara’s laboratory automation research is the premise for the company, and Shara is the company’s CEO.
The company has received support from VEX Robotics, and CU Boulder students are assisting with mechanical, electrical and software engineering. Chembotix’s first provisional patent is in progress with Venture Partners and a second is on the way. This is Shara’s second time as an NVC participant: Last year she and her advisor, Carson Bruns, made it to the semifinals. This year her team has expanded to include eight teammates and three advisors, Robert Dobkin, founder of the Intuitive Foundation, Kevin Noble, founder of Red Rock Rebels, and Bruns.
For 14 years, the New Venture Challenge has been CU Boulder’s premier, cross-campus entrepreneurial program and competition, giving aspiring entrepreneurs the chance to build a startup through outstanding support and mentorship. Participants represent majors and departments from across the university.
NVC connects the CU Boulder campus with the Boulder community to develop and fund innovative ideas. Participants attend year-round events, network and collaborate with mentors to refine their ideas and form startup teams to pitch for funding (up to $100,000!) at the NVC Championships.
The goal of the New Venture Launch class is to translate an existing product, service or opportunity into a real, functioning venture. Over the course of the semester, New Venture Launch teams have been competing for more than $25,000 in non-equity funding. The Robert & Kathleen Dobkin Intuitive Foundation, which is providing the funding, pairs up “young, bright entrepreneurs in business and science to help them achieve greatness together.”
Shara emphasized that she hopes her success will inspire more women to enter entrepreneurship. “There are many brilliant women out there who can and will achieve great things through their work,” she said. “Always put yourself out there. You never know when an idea in a lab can become something more.”
ATLAS students who have successfully competed in past NVCs include the EdBoard Technologies team co-led by Cody Candler, MS-CTD ’20, and Ruhan Yang, MS-CTD student, winning fourth place and taking home $12,500 in NVC 12. Ted Thayer, MS-CTD student, and two team members won fourth place and $7,500 at the NVC 11.