Imagine a technology that could protect first responders and law enforcement agents from dangerous chemicals.
Not only would the technology protect agents from such chemicals, it would actually block the chemicals from clothing, turn them into water and cause the toxic chemicals to evaporate before even having a chance to touch agents’ skin. That is what the technology behind DC-area startup, Grey Matter, claims to deliver.
The venture, co-founded by part-time Smith MBA student Tommy Luginbill, recently secured $75,000 in federal grant funding to bring this potentially lifesaving, self-decontaminating clothing technology to agents in the field.
How did Grey Matter get its start?
Tommy Luginbill is no stranger to entrepreneurship. A part-time MBA student, Tommy comes from a line of entrepreneurs and even helped to start a family-run solar contracting business before business school. Given his strong interest in startups, Tommy started hanging out at the Dingman Center (one of the resources that drew him to UMD) and even pitched an idea to an EIR for an energy software venture.
As Terps are known to do, Tommy worked tirelessly and fearlessly dove into the courses available around the Smith School, including the Fearless Founders program. He learned of a new pilot program at the time on campus called iCorps, which matched business students with lab innovations to identify viable commercialization paths. It was here that Tommy met inventor Dr. Brandy Johnson, a Ph.D. working in the Naval Research Lab.
Dr. Johnson was developing smart anti-decontaminating materials made from chitosan, a biopolymer made by treating recycled crab shells. Tommy knew about the lean startup methodology, how to create a business plan, and how to conduct customer discover and identify markets.
And Grey Matter was born.
How did Grey Matter become the company it is today?
The decontaminating technology was originally designed for use by the U.S. Army to be used as a protective agent on equipment and uniforms.
Through UMD’s tech transfer program and iCorps, Tommy had the opportunity to license the technology from the Navy. Tommy applied everything he learned in his MBA courses to develop a commercialization plan for the technology. He saw a huge potential to pivot from its intended use and take this protective material to the public sector.
UMD Opens Doors.
After getting involved with iCorps, Dingman, and professors around the Smith school, including Jonathan Aberman, the managing partner of Amplifier Ventures, Tommy starting noticing a domino effect.
As a student he realized that many people were willing to help him and open doors for him and his company. Tommy was paired with mentors via Accelerate DC, a venture mentoring program for technology-based businesses in the DC area. He was introduced to TEDCO, which grants funding to Maryland-based startups. Tommy was able to secure a workspace at DC incubator 1776, secured a board of advisors, and received the license on two patents for the personal protective equipment industry.
Because of the planning and approach he learned through Dingman and classes at UMD, everything was in place to grow his venture. Tommy secured a $75,000 grant from TEDCO designed to specifically help fund federal technology applications to help homeland security, the DoD, and first responders.
Today, Grey Matter is utilizing the funding to conduct third party verification with the U.S. Army to validate the technology. In other entrepreneurship speak, Tommy is using the MVP method (minimal viable product) for customer discovery and prototyping in the beta stage of his venture.
Tommy’s tips for student entrepreneurs?
Self-awareness is vital. It takes a while to learn, but you don’t know everything. It takes a while to learn that sometimes you are wrong. It’s not always easy but self-awareness is key to being a successful entrepreneur.
Tenacity is key. The little victories will come. Most of your time is spent working, but the little victories will come. Persist, persist, persist.
That said, balance is also important. You can easily become caught up in work, but it is important to take breaks and refresh.
Please visit the Dingman Center website for more information about resources at the Center and the Smith School’s entrepreneurship courses.