Undergrads’ Eyewear Startup Could Take Students from ‘Cool to School’ In Mere Seconds

As an eyeglass wearer, one of Brian Peng ’24 (CLAS)’s biggest complaints is the time it takes for his transition lenses to transition from sunglass to clear mode when he enters a building.

“Like 80% of the US population, my eyes are very sensitive to light, which causes eyestrain and headaches. Sunglasses are essential for me,” says Peng. “But the traditional transitional lenses just don’t adjust fast enough.”

“Walking around indoors with your sunglasses on looks silly, and it prevents you from engaging with what’s going on around you,” he says. “It can also be a real hazard for elderly people at risk of falling or motorists.”

He and his friend and roommate Shivam Patel ’24 (ENG) started discussing the issue two years ago. They did some research and when they couldn’t find an alternative technology, they decided to create their own solution.

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Their startup is called ShadeSnap, and they’re experimenting with an on-demand eyeglass lens that can quickly toggle the sunglass option on and off with the push of a button. They are working to get a provisional patent for their technology.

Peng is a junior majoring in Life Sciences with a minor in Entrepreneurship and Technological Innovation. He has worked for the National Institutes of Health and studied the anatomy of the retina. Patel is also a junior major in mechanical engineering with an aerospace major. He brings a background in product design and development to the company.

Over the past two years, the student team has participated in a number of entrepreneurial development programs hosted by the School of Business’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CCEI), including Get Seeded, Traction, Accelerate UConn and most recently Summer Fellowship. This program helps UConn affiliates grow and get closer to market.

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“The CCEI Summer Fellowship was truly the best summer experience,” says Peng. “Everyone was so helpful and supportive. I realized how interconnected the entrepreneurial ecosystem is and how willing other entrepreneurs and experts are to help.”

He left the program with a new network of advisors, including patent attorneys and mentors. “Without people telling us how to access these resources or letting us know what’s available to us, it would have taken us a lot longer to reach the next level of our business,” says Peng.

This fall, they will create new proof-of-concept models and delve deeper into product research and development, seeking additional technical expertise to refine the product.

ShadeSnap did so well in the Summer Fellowship finals that Peng and Patel were invited to compete in October’s Wolff New Venture Competition for a $25,000 prize. The competition is the highest business challenge hosted by CCEI. If they win the Wolff competition, Peng said they hope to use the money for advanced prototyping, renting lab space, and buying more materials.

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Although Peng has long considered himself a scientist, the experiences he has had in building a business have broadened his perspective.

“I actually noticed a lot of similarities between science and entrepreneurship. Both start with a question like “Do people need this product?” or ‘How does this phenomenon come about?’ In either case, testing your hypothesis will give you a definite answer or solution,” he says. “Now I see myself as both a scientist and an entrepreneur with a future.”

The 2022 Wolff New Venture Competition will be held on October 3rd from 5pm to 7:30pm on the observation deck of the Graduate Business Learning Center in Hartford. It will also be broadcast live : https://ccei.uconn.edu/wolff-new-venture-competition/. This event is public.

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