If you love the outdoors but hate mosquitoes, there is hope. A natural mosquito repellent that is as effective as stinky, solvent-based formulas is on the horizon.
Sensorygen, a startup founded by UC Riverside molecular, cell and systems biology professor Anandasankar Ray based on his discovery of natural mosquito repellent compounds, won $50,000 in seed funding from Vertical Venture Partners in a competition between entrepreneurs from the University of California system.
Ray studies how insects smell their targets, and ways that they can be fooled into leaving them alone. His lab ran 500,000 chemicals through software that uses artificial intelligence to quickly isolate the desired properties. In a long list of potential mosquito repellents, the researchers found six that occur naturally. They used these to create a sweet-smelling, non-toxic repellent that works as well as conventional repellents that use N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, or DEET.
“We extensively test our natural chemicals to prove that they work as well as the existing synthetic chemicals. We have found that nearly every large corporation wants their products to be safer and as natural as possible to meet the preferences of today’s consumer," said Sensorygen CEO Tom Stone.
DEET, the active ingredient in most mosquito repellents, is a solvent capable of dissolving car paint and many other substances. DEET can penetrate human skin and its potential health effects are not fully known. Unfortunately, natural mosquito repellents in the market today that use citronella oil instead of DEET are strong-smelling, like conventional products, but less effective. Sensorygen blends the safety of a natural product with the effectiveness of a conventional, along with a pleasant scent.
The achievement earned Sensorygen an initial investment by the Office of Technology Partnerships’ Highlander Venture Fund. The “Highlander Fund” was founded in 2017 in collaboration with Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Vertical Venture Partners to help UC Riverside researchers and inventors commercialize their discoveries.
Sensorygen competed in an exhaustive, five month, UC-only Startup Showcase culminating in a pitch competition for the 18 finalists in November before 75 Fortune 500 CIOs and CTOs at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, California. Sensorygen was selected as one of three companies to split the $150,000 prize.
FarmSense, another startup with UC Riverside roots, was a runner-up in the competition and was invited to make an investor pitch directly to Vertical Venture Partners.