"At the end of 2016, my sister-in-law, Kalyn, discovered she was pregnant.
The news was joyous for the whole family but also frightening because
she lived in Wynwood, Miami—the epicenter of the Zika outbreak."
When Andrew Rothaus and Abraar Karan were randomly paired as freshman roommates in 2007, their interests were very different. Andrew was from New York and wanted to go into finance. Abraar was from California and wanted to go into medicine. Nevertheless, they quickly became best friends. Now, over a decade after their first meeting in the Lawrance Hall, they’ve combined their disparate skillsets to tackle the same problem—preventing insect-borne disease around the world. We asked Andrew to tell us more about the roots of both the project, and the partnership.
What project are you working on right now?
Hour72+ has developed a unique insect repellent technology. Our patented molecule allows for long-lasting, skin-bonding properties resulting in an insect repellent that is:
effective for up to 3 days
not absorbed into the bloodstream
imperceptible to touch when applied to skin
Our technology uses only natural active ingredients (i.e. no DEET!) and is completely safe to wear every day.
What impact do you hope to have on your community? The world?
Over half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting an insect-borne illness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2015 there were over 210 million malaria cases alone and nearly 430,000 malaria deaths. Numerous protection options exist in or around the house (nets, coils, residual spraying, etc.), but there is currently no satisfactory option for protection outside the home.
Domestically, those most at risk include pregnant women and their children (Zika, West Nile virus, Lyme disease, etc.). Abroad, many of those most at-risk are either subsistence farmers or children who spend most waking hours outdoors (malaria, yellow fever, Dengue fever, etc). Thus, we hope that our more effective protection solution will prevent thousands of tragic deaths, illnesses, and disabilities.
What kind of response have you gotten to your research?
We won the grand prize at Harvard Business School’s New Venture Competition. In addition, we’ve garnered interest from various investors and corporations.
What is your favorite aspect of your research?
The favorite conceptual part of my research is the possibility of improving the lives of so many people. The favorite physical part is the mosquito testing—people actually put their arms in cages full of mosquitoes and measure how many of them land and bite!
What legislation or public policy initiative would improve how work in your field is done?
Currently, most funding goes toward the treatment of vector-borne illnesses. We believe that allocating funds toward prevention would be a more effective solution to the growing issue.
The road to development can be long and winding. Tell us about how your most recent project came to be?
At the end of 2016, my sister-in-law, Kalyn, discovered she was pregnant. The news was joyous for the whole family but also frightening because she lived in Wynwood, Miami—the epicenter of the Zika outbreak. I was already working on long-lasting technology for a hair product, but witnessing Kalyn’s fear made me change gears to try to ensure she, and others like her, would no longer need to fear the deadliest animal on the planet—the mosquito. I then connected with my Yale roommate, Abraar, who is now a practicing global health physician, and we made the commitment to protect millions from vector-borne disease.
What business pressures have you felt in your career? What is the role of mentors in your field?
We are at the point now where we are finalizing our go-to-market strategy, but we have had to make a lot of important choices along the way. For example, should we focus on developed or developing markets first? Should we take funding now and grow quickly or should we take it a bit slower? Should we find a corporate partner or try grow organically?
While I can’t currently disclose our exact plans, we relied upon invaluable advice from mentors along the way. During the New Venture Competition, for example, we had the opportunity to pitch our business plan to numerous judging panels, which consisted of venture capitalists, successful entrepreneurs, and academic experts. Both the immediate feedback and the subsequent one-on-one conversations have helped us pick our future path and hone our business model to where it is today.
Share a turning point or defining moment in your work.
A major turning point that stands out to me is when we received our second round of testing results back from an independent mosquito lab. We had spent the previous month completely overhauling our formulation to combine our two most effective prototypes, and the results blew us away. Our formulation was significantly more effective than existing mosquito repellents, maintaining 99% efficacy for 24 hours—what this means is that after 24 hours, 98% of mosquitos didn’t land and among the 2% that did land, 0% bit! For comparison, 100% DEET is 0% effective by that point.
What is your best advice for recent grads?
Work as hard as you can for the first few years after college so that you’re free to take some financial risks while you’re still young.