This Harvard MBA Wants To Disrupt Insect Repellent

Andrew Rothaus and Abraar Karan created a mosquito repellent that was 100% effective in lab tests after 24 hours

NOT MUCH INTEREST AT 2017 COMPETITION

The hour72+ repellent has benefits that reach far beyond mosquito repellency, Rothaus says. In particular, it’s waterproof and it can’t enter the blood stream, and it doesn’t include any synthetic molecules. “Ours just uses natural molecules,” Rothaus explains.

He pitched the product at last year’s New Venture Competition, but at the time the company had just completed the initial persistence testing. The formulations were still very much conceptual. “We had the science-backing that it should work, but not yet the proof that it would work,” Rothaus says. They also pitched in the social enterprise track of the competition.

The product didn’t attract any prize money or much attention from the judges, but Rothaus was convinced it had potential. He applied to and was awarded a Rock Summer Fellowship through the Social Enterprise Initiative at Harvard Business School, which funded the summer for Rothaus so he was able to continue to develop formulations of the repellent and have them tested in the lab.

BECOMING THE ‘TOMS OF INSECT REPELLENT’

By the time this year’s New Venture Competition rolled around, Rothaus and team were ready. They switched to the Student Business Track and won the $75,000 grand prize. They also took the $5,000 audience choice prize. Rothaus’ persistence had been rewarded.

He says going forward, hand Karan plan to sell the repellent in the U.S. on a get-one, give-one model, similar to Toms Shoes, where for each product sold in the U.S., one will be donated in a developing country where mosquito-transmitted diseases are more common. “Our long-term goal is to be the Toms of insect repellent,” Rothaus says. But for now, he adds, they are working to get the product in the hands of governments and non-governmental organizations in some of those countries.

“We really want to get it to the people who truly need it most,” Rothaus says. The team hopes to begin product testing in Brazil and Nigeria by the end of the year.

IMPROVING THE REPELLENT-WEARING EXPERIENCE

Mosquitos have two broad species — anophelinae and culicinae. Rothaus says the same technology they’ve created could be used in repellents against ticks, flies, and other insects, but for now they are focused on the mosquito, which can transmit such deadly sicknesses as malaria, yellow fever, dengue, and chikungunya. “We would like to do both pilots simultaneously to see if there are any differences in efficacy based on the species of mosquito,” Rothaus says.

They also hope to change the overall insect repellent experience.

“Right now, no one likes wearing insect repellent. It’s something that you put on but turn your nose to it. It’s a necessary evil,” Rothaus says. “But we want something that is going to be a pleasant experience — that it at least doesn’t bother them for being on their skin. And we want them to feel good about buying it.”

Rothaus’ sister-in-law, who gave birth to a health baby boy, approves of him using his Harvard MBA to develop a mosquito repellent.

“She has been one of the most supportive people around me and actually has another baby on the way now,” he says. “So she seems to feel safer now that she knows someone has been working on it.”

DON’T MISS: HBS SEES SLOW FACULTY DIVERSITY GAINS or HBS KICKS OFF 2018-2019 APP SEASON