Last summer I went to NC State’s Garage while touring Centennial Campus. I was impressed with the blending of technical and entrepreneurial programs. At the same time, I wasn’t familiar with any of NC State’s student-led startups, making it difficult for me to really judge the success of the Entrepreneurship Initiative program. Now I have some proof.
Spitter Spatter, an NC State spinout, launched its first line of antibacterial, stain-resistant children’s clothing earlier this month. If you’re a parent, you already see the value here.
Imagine visiting a preschool at pick-up time. If it’s been a good day, what you see is a group of kids that are kind of a mess. They’ve been running around, playing, and generally finding ways to get dirty. They’re kids—that’s what they’re supposed to do.
But all of this activity and interaction involves germs spreading and clothes taking a pretty good beating. Can’t we have the fun and minimize the germs, wear and tear?
Zach Shabot, father of two, was asking this question over two years ago when he saw Angela Hollen showcase at an NC State entrepreneurial textile show. He wanted a solution for the ridiculously short half-life of his children’s clothes, and she was interested in textile performance technology. The pair ended up founding Spitter Spatter.
Raleigh-based Spitter Spatter adds an FDA-approved polymer to their children’s clothing that physically alters germs and viruses—from E. coli to salmonella to swine flu—effectively deactivating them. The polymer additive is molecularly bonded to the fabric of Spitter Spatter’s tiny T-shirts, dresses and hoodies, so it doesn’t wear off when clothes are washed and dried. The same additive also helps prevent stains and makes the company’s clothes last longer.
What’s interesting to note is the story behind how Spitter Spatter was funded and developed.
Keep in mind that the company is really a nanotechnology startup that went through years of R&D. While the polymer additive they use has been around for a while, they developed a proprietary process for manipulating it.
The company is bootstrapping 100%. Surprised? I was. Granted, Spitter Spatter went from concept to product launch in a few years, not the 10 plus years that it takes for many companies in the sector. But I repeat: nanotech, self-funded.
To me, the answer to how they did it goes back to NC State.
NC State Roots
While talking to Hollen about her background and the story behind the company, NC State was mentioned again and again. Hollen and Shabot met when Hollen was an undergraduate in the NC State College of Textiles, and was already focusing on textile performance technologies and entrepreneurship. After graduating, she enrolled in the Master/PhD program at NC State’s College of Textiles, which allows students to design their own curriculum.
Hollen designed a curriculum that helped her build both business and textile performance expertise. She used research space in NC State’s Garage and competed in the eGames, which provided her with business plan feedback. Spitter Spatter was also selected to participate in the Office of Technology Transfer’s Fast 15 program, which provides mentorship and business development to companies affiliated with NC State.
What stands out is how NC State effectively blended the entrepreneurial and the technical in their support, resources, and programs. And that there was flexibility granted in how Hollen used what NC State had to offer.
I’ve attended working groups with UNC’s Minor in Entrepreneurship, a program designed to blend entrepreneurship with other university curricula. I’m a strong supporter of the UNC program, which played a significant role in the development of my company. I also know that those behind the program—as well as leaders in at least one UNC technical department (Computer Science)—are trying to create more effective intersections of the technical and entrepreneurial sides of campus. They know this is often how entrepreneurship thrives.
NC State knows it, too, and what I saw on Centennial Campus last summer is a successful program. I’m hard-pressed to think of a more definitive measure of how successful a technical-entrepreneurial curriculum is than the products or companies affiliated with it. A self-funded nanotechnology company demonstrates that academia can play a valuable role in startup development.
I will say, though, that Hollen seems like the type that was going to find a way to do this regardless of how much support NC State provided. But that’s not my point. My point is that the next time you hear about yet another tech startup founder dropping out of college to start a company, remember that it can go the other way, too.