One resource instrumental in helping Benhabbour get the company started was the KickStart Venture Services Commercialization Award, which is part of Innovate Carolina’s campus-wide effort to translate discoveries made in Carolina’s academic laboratories into products and services that can benefit people in North Carolina and around the world.
“KickStart Venture Services gave us a ‘kickstart.’ You may have an idea, but no funding. KickStart helps make connections and gets things moving, while serving as an ongoing resource,” she adds. “The main hurdle has been to find business leads. KickStart helps faculty launch and carry their startups, because we’re too busy in our academic lives to be the lead of a company. We need that support with the business know-how. That support has been tremendous.”
A critical source of funding came from the Eshelman Institute for Innovation (EII) at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy. EII provided a $200,000 grant titled “Fabrication of Geometrically Complex Intravaginal Rings by Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) 3D Printing Technology” that helped Benhabbour initially create the technology. Such financial backing, along with the additional entrepreneurial support from EII in partnership with KickStart and the broader Innovate Carolina team, bolstered Benhabbour’s early efforts to bring her concept to life.
The UNC Office of Technology Commercialization team – also part of the Innovate Carolina initiative – assisted with guidance on patents and licensing, while helping Benhabbour navigate conflicts of interest. Benhabbour also participated in the Faculty Entrepreneurship Workshop, an annual, invite-only event for UNC-Chapel Hill faculty hosted by Innovate Carolina. Nominated by deans, workshop participants are invited based on the promise they show toward entrepreneurial thinking.
“As scientists, we like to have the ability to think and get our brains to the point of thinking through new things. Because of the workshop, I’m now implementing design thinking in my lab,” she says. “I used to have a journal club meeting with my lab, selecting two people to pick a news article or journal publication. They present those along with what the labs did well and what they could have done better. After the workshop, we now focus on design thinking. We ideate on new ideas and new technologies.”
For Benhabbour, it’s gratifying to see the many female student scientists who work in her lab contribute to solving the health issues of other women, while applying the design thinking principles she brought back from the workshop.