LUPD therapy dog Grace

Detective Lieutenant Dave Kokinda uses a TiCK MiTT on Grace, one of Lehigh University Police Department's therapy dogs.

Outside the Box: Lehigh Ventures Lab Helping Ideas Take Flight

Meet the entrepreneurs whose ideas could change the way people date, bank, protect their dogs from ticks, and more.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Christa Neu

At 8 years old, Olivia Abrams ’21 was diagnosed with Lyme disease, an illness that she said had manifested in arthritis in her knees as a young child. She remembers missing classes in first grade because she had found it too painful to walk.

Ever since, she and her family have been more mindful of ticks, which carry the disease, than perhaps most people. And as a family that always owned large dogs, they found keeping ticks out of their house was no easy task.

Abrams and her father wondered if the towels they were using to clean up dog drool could also be helpful to remove burrs, leaves and insects, including ticks, from their dogs. While Abrams was still a student at Lehigh in 2018, she and her father began working with a tick scientist they knew to develop a tick-removing glove that can be used on both people and pets.

TiCK MiTT officially launched in March 2023 and has since been featured nationally on “Good Morning America” and “The View.”

Olivia Abrams with her father and their TiCK MiTT

Olivia Abrams ’21 and her father worked with a tick scientist they knew to develop TiCK MiTT. (Audrey Tappan)

“Our product fits in a lot of different categories,” Abrams says. “Obviously a huge portion of it is pets, but it's also designed for gardeners, hunters, hikers, campers, golfers, people who are spending a lot of time outdoors where they may encounter ticks. … It's a very diverse product because a lot of people need tick prevention. The population of ticks is only increasing, and the amount of cases of Lyme disease and other tick-related diseases is also only increasing.”

Abrams is getting an assist from Lehigh Ventures Lab, a new Lehigh startup accelerator that supports founders who are working full-time to launch and grow early stage ventures.

Lehigh Ventures Lab, housed in the Business Innovation Building, provides entrepreneurs and startup companies with direct mentorship; content; access to students who could potentially become future interns, employees or even co-founders; and office space. A joint partnership between the College of Business and the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation, Lehigh Ventures Lab officially launched in 2023.

Lehigh has taken a bold new step with Lehigh Ventures Lab, making it clear that we are here to help real companies launch and grow, building upon the decades of work around entrepreneurship education.

Chris Kauzmann ’13 ’14G, interim director of Lehigh Ventures Lab

Lehigh Ventures Lab has 11 active ventures, including TiCK MiTT; fuse, an app with a different approach to dating; and Dot Inc., a financial solution for immigrant students in Africa. Other projects range from a ready-to-drink, canned cocktail brand to a redesigned pulse oximeter that reduces the current melanin bias. Three ventures—With Meraki Co. (urinary and vaginal probiotics), OcuTrap (smart animal traps) and Foli-Q (hair care analysis and products)—have graduated from the program.

“Lehigh has taken a bold new step with Lehigh Ventures Lab, making it clear that we are here to help real companies launch and grow, building upon the decades of work around entrepreneurship education,” Chris Kauzmann ’13 ’14G, interim director of the Lehigh Ventures Lab, says. “Our aim is to propel these ventures forward so they are ready for what's next in their growth beyond Lehigh, whether that be their next capital raise, an industry-specific accelerator, a sustainable customer-driven growth path or other venture-specific pathways.”

Abrams says Lehigh Ventures Lab has proven to be a great asset since launching TiCK MiTT, as she focuses on growing its market.

Chris Kauzmann ’13 ’14G talking with students

Chris Kauzmann ’13 ’14G, interim director of Lehigh Ventures Lab, meets with students in Lehigh Ventures Lab's physical space. (Beth Murphy)

“Having other entrepreneurs who understand what you're going through is really helpful,” Abrams says. “They say that entrepreneurship is a really lonely road, and it's definitely true, especially if you're working out of your own apartment or your parents’ house.”

Abrams developed the idea for TiCK MiTT outside of Lehigh, during her sophomore year. It was that year, however, when she met Kauzmann while taking Entrepreneurship 101. She stayed in touch with him throughout Lehigh as an entrepreneurship minor and after graduation, when he connected her with Lehigh programs that aided her in her venture.

Now as part of Lehigh Ventures Lab, TiCK MiTT was taken on as a case study in the Fall 2023 semester by Lehigh students in a social media and digital marketing course. The students helped with developing marketing strategies online.

This year, Abrams will host an intern at TiCK MiTT via the Lehigh@NasdaqCenter's SiliconValley Innovation Internship, which she had taken part in during her time at Lehigh, and work with an engineering Capstone program and one of Abrams’ former professors, Joshua Ehrig, professor of practice in the Department of Management.

As a student at Lehigh, Abrams had experimented with prototypes for TiCK MiTT on and off for nearly five years. She created much of the foundation for the product in a class with Ehrig, including a six-month business plan, the current logo for TiCK MiTT and brand colors.

Two TiCK MiTT gloves

TiCK MiTT, which comes in two different colors, has been featured nationally on “Good Morning America” and “The View.”

It wasn’t a linear progression, however. Abrams, a political science major who minored in entrepreneurship and marketing, spent two years after Lehigh working in finance.

“I eventually got, not just frustrated with the work I was doing, but working for someone else, because I came from a family of entrepreneurs and that was always the route that I wanted to go,” Abrams says. “I minored in entrepreneurship at Lehigh with the intention of eventually becoming an entrepreneur. And the longer I was working in corporate, the longer I kept thinking, ‘If I don't start a business at 23, when am I going to do it?’”

While there are many products on the market for dogs’ tick control—sprays, shampoos, topical ointments and chewable medication—she says many contain chemicals and don’t necessarily prevent ticks from entering households. Despite the lack of widespread studies, Abrams says the use of chemical products has been known to lead to issues such as fatigue, seizures and toxic poisoning in dogs. TiCK MiTT, however, is nontoxic and the only product specifically designed for people and pets, she says.

TiCK MiTT, which also differs from other fabrics that need to be used in the shower, is made of a scientifically engineered microfiber that works like Velcro. The glove is then placed in a mesh bag for the dryer, where the heat kills the ticks.

“The challenge is that our product is so different from other things on the market, we have to educate people on why the products they're currently using are unhelpful compared to ours or potentially dangerous,” Abrams says. “Our product is something that the entire family can use, and if you send it with your kid to school for recess or soccer or whatever, you should have absolutely no concern because it's just fabric.”

TiCK MiTT’s first national exposure came in May 2023, on ABC’s “The View,” which led to the sale of 8,000 mitts in a span of 24 hours, she says. After that, TiCK MiTT was featured on another ABC show, “Good Morning America.” TiCK MiTT can now be bought on Tractor Supply’s website and Amazon, which Abrams says is aiding sales.

“The next step we're working on with students at Lehigh is creating new products and figuring out how we can help the U.S. government prevent and control tick-borne diseases,” Abrams says.

Elodie Clowes and Amanda Karr

Elodie Clowes ’22 (left) and Amanda Karr ’22 used experience from past relationships to create fuse, a new dating app. (Alexander Milewski)

FUSE

As they prepared to graduate from Lehigh two years ago, Amanda Karr ’22 and Elodie Clowes ’22 commiserated about their past relationship troubles—their significant others and their friends just had not gotten along. The rift had put a strain on both their romantic relationships and their friendships. They thought, why not date people who your friends have approved of?

Though there are a number of mobile dating applications on the market today, none solved their issue. That’s when the idea for fuse was born.

Similar to other dating apps, fuse, when it hits the market, will have a “freemium” subscription model, meaning it will be free to use and match with other singles, while users paying for a subscription will receive additional features, such as more matches and interactions. But with fuse, the users’ friends, whether single or in a relationship, will be on the app and able to give feedback on matches.

fuse ad on a billboard

The initial marketing efforts for fuse will be focused in Philadelphia but the plan is to then expand to other cities, such as Washington, D.C., and Boston.

If any of the users’ friends are in a relationship, they won’t have to create a profile to use the app, Karr says, avoiding issues in which a person in a relationship would be on a dating app. They won’t connect with others either; they’ll simply swipe in a direction to indicate whether someone would be a good match for their friend. The users still will have the final say on whether they want to connect with someone, Clowes says. They’ll just have additional feedback from friends on their matches.

With Clowes landing a full-time corporate job and Karr taking time off after graduation, their idea had percolated for a few months. Eventually, Karr started looking into what it would take to create an app as she began applying for jobs. Clowes ended up quitting her job. In February 2023, the two decided to team up to work on fuse full-time.

Over the past year Karr and Clowes have worked with a team based in London, which has assisted with a range of tasks including app development, marketing, branding, finance and operation.

They are an approval away from Apple’s App Store officially launching fuse, which already has received approval from the Google Play Store. Nearly 400 users are on a waitlist. The app will be available for download throughout the country once it simultaneously goes live on both stores, but initial marketing efforts will be focused in Philadelphia. The plan is to then expand to other cities, such as Washington, D.C., and Boston, every three months.

We’ve established some pretty close bonds with some other students or recent grads who are in the program, and that’s been really helpful for Elodie and I because none of our friends work in the same space.

Amanda Karr ’22

Clowes and Karr, whose parents, David Karr ’90 and Kirsten (Kleine) Karr ’90, are Lehigh graduates and had always stressed the importance of networking through the university, had been wondering how to get Lehigh involved. Then, Karr saw a post on LinkedIn about Lehigh Ventures Lab. Within two hours, they applied, and eventually partnered with the venture support program for startups.

During the Spring 2024 semester, fuse is a case study for Dierdre Malacrea’s digital marketing class and Dale Falcinelli’s MBA consulting course. Karr says she and Clowes will receive many different reports and analyses on their business and marketing plans that they can utilize as they launch. Students in the digital marketing class will formulate a social media marketing strategy tailored to an assigned persona, Clowes says. In the consulting course, five student teams have each been tasked with presenting specific deliverables: customer experience, pricing models, business strategies, market expansion plans and financial projections.

They also have found value in working with others in Lehigh Ventures Lab.

“It's been really great to connect with other Lehigh students who are doing the same thing,” Karr says. “We've established some pretty close bonds with some other students or recent grads who are in the program, and that's been really helpful for Elodie and I because none of our friends work in the same space.”

Another perk is having Kauzmann as a sounding board.

“Sometimes it's really hard,” Karr says. “You're juggling three different CEO’s opinions of what you need to be doing. They’re all very valued and all so smart, and here we are, first-time founders not knowing what we're doing, and there are three different ways to answer the problem. But Chris always has a very good, level head of how to then take the advice and move forward with all of it.”

Abdulrasaq (Dulra) Amolegbe ’26

Abdulrasaq (Dulra) Amolegbe ’26 discovered financial hurdles immigrants experienced throughout Africa as he visited Kenya and studied in South Africa. To help, he created a cash-to-cashless platform for immigrant students within the continent.

DOT TECH INC.

Born in Nigeria, Abdulrasaq (Dulra) Amolegbe ’26 visited Kenya before attending the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa, for high school. It was then he realized how difficult it was for international students and immigrants to access electronic banking on a continent that includes 54 different countries and 42 different currencies.

While in high school, Amolegbe applied to open a bank account, bringing all the necessary documents. Now, as a sophomore at Lehigh, over two years later, he says he has yet to hear back about his account because of his foreign status in South Africa at the time.

“For immigrant students specifically that are coming to a new country for the first time, with no immediate relative or immediate support system to help them figure out all these bits and pieces, this can be really difficult,” Amolegbe says. “And that was me when I was schooling in South Africa.”

In speaking with other students at his international high school, he knew he wasn’t the only one facing issues. He says he also realized the prevalence of cash, estimating 90% of transactions across Africa are processed with cash. Amolegbe wanted to help students like himself, so he began working on Dot Tech Inc., a cash-to-cashless platform for immigrant students within Africa, during his senior year.

For immigrant students specifically that are coming to a new country for the first time ... to help them figure out all these bits and pieces, this can be really difficult.

Abdulrasaq (Dulra) Amolegbe ’26

Amolegbe says it gives students a cashless experience without visiting a bank. Through Dot, students will be able to enter over 1,500 stores, give the cashier cash and their account will be immediately funded on a virtual card that can be used for peer-to-peer transactions. Students can also then send and receive money as well as manage their personal finances. Amolegbe compares it to Venmo but with the ability to fund your account with cash.

In addition to being accepted into accelerator programs, including the Nasdaq Milestone Makers program, which featured Amolegbe’s photo on Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square, he says Dot has received significant angel investments and credits from Microsoft. He also was assisted by the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation, winning the Joan F. & John M. Thalheimer ’55 EUREKA! Award for Student Achievement in venture creation and the Thalheimer Grand Prize of $5,000.

Abdulrasaq (Dulra) Amolegbe ’26 on the Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square

The Nasdaq Milestone Makers program featured Abdulrasaq (Dulra) Amolegbe ’26 on Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square.

Due to his progress with Dot, Amolegbe says it was suggested that he apply to Lehigh Ventures Lab, which would be able to support him at the advanced stage of his venture. Lehigh Ventures Lab, he says, has supported him in many different ways as he nears the launch of Dot, providing workspace, collaboration and financial assistance.

For someone who is working with a team on the other side of the world, having access to a 24/7 physical workspace at Lehigh Ventures Lab has been an asset. Amolegbe also has received a $10,000 grant through Lehigh Ventures Lab and received coaching and mentoring. Kauzmann, whom Amolegbe began working with before joining Lehigh Ventures Lab, is his direct coach. And Amolegbe also praised the community support, specifically Founders Circle, a weekly facilitated peer group conversation.

Private testing of the Dot app will be conducted, and Amolegbe hopes to launch publicly by summer. Once established in Africa, Amolegbe says the plan is to expand beyond the continent and target immigrants—whether students, workers or asylum seekers—in other emerging markets, such as Latin America or Europe.

“We're not inventing anything new,” Amolegbe says. “We're just piecing together all the different technologies that are already existing and trying to form something new out of the credit system.”


Lisa Getzler

Lisa Getzler, newly named vice provost for entrepreneurship

A New Vision

Aligning with its new strategic plan, Inspiring the Future Makers, Lehigh has created an Office of Entrepreneurship to foster greater clarity and coordination of entrepreneurship-related programs across the university. It is headed by Lisa Getzler, newly named vice provost for entrepreneurship.

The office serves as a hub for the institutes, centers, programs and initiatives, such as Ventures Lab, that provide learners and founders with the entrepreneurial knowledge and skills needed to differentiate themselves and make an impact in the world. In creating an environment for innovation, the university aims to instill students with an entrepreneurial mindset, as well as aid students, faculty and alumni in venture creation and launch.

“Supporting founders as they grow their startup companies is an important addition to the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Lehigh, and at the same time, Lehigh encourages all to think entrepreneurially,” Getzler says. “Through programs like Startup Academy, the Hatchery, EUREKA! and Design Thinking for Future Makers, to name a few, Lehigh offers a variety of avenues to explore that way of thinking to students from all disciplines. In that manner, graduates will be able to approach real-world problems with creativity, generate bold new ideas and make a direct impact on communities, organizations and institutions.”

Read more stories on the Lehigh News Center.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Christa Neu

Related Stories

money photo with stethescope

Nursing Home Industry May Obscure Some of its Profits, Lehigh Researcher Finds

Andrew Olenski, assistant professor of economics, publishes finding in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper.

Campus scene

Lehigh Launches New Inter-college Undergraduate Degree in Integrated Business and Health

Student recruiting will begin in Fall 2024 for enrollment in Fall 2025.

Anna Sullivan and Randi Conroy with PDI students on Field Day

Lehigh Students Win 2024 Davis Projects for Peace Award

The team aims to fight malnutrition in Bududa, Uganda, through a sustainable poultry program and education campaign.