Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Entrepreneurism & Leadership Programs Spotlight: Jennifer Kaehms, Bioengineering '14

Only months after her graduation from UC San Diego, Jennifer Kaehms – Bioengineering ’14 – co-founded BioLoop, Inc., a startup focused on sustainable production of custom textiles.

While studying at UC San Diego, Kaehms was a tri-athlete and a resident advisor for Eleanor Roosevelt College. In fall 2014, Kaehms founded and led Gecko Project as a participant in the von Liebig NSF I-Corps Program. Though Gecko Projects and BioLoop, Inc. are very different on the surface, Kaehms explains that both are striving to make the world a healthier place.

BioLoop, Inc. addresses the impact of textiles on our environment with a sustainable model that can reduce waste and improve the allocation and use of resources. The production of cotton alone currently uses 67 trillion gallons of water annually, while also requiring the use of pesticides. Kaehms points out that a 300-acre plant can product the same amount of cotton equivalent–synthetic textile as a 600,000-acre cotton farm. After she graduated, Kaehms met her co-founder, Alex Necklemann, at a Berkeley BioLabs meet up.

“Alex had been working on growing cellulose to see if he could grow his own clothes,” Kaehms said. “I found the project to be inspiring and wondered if you could modify cellulose to contain different properties. Later, Alex asked me if I wanted to co-found a company, [and] I said yes.”
Now, Kaehms is hard at work with BioLoop, Inc. at the Indie.Bio Incubator in San Francisco. The company is looking to expand by this summer, and hopes to hire a lab technician and a biochemical engineer.
“I spend somewhere between 60 to 90 hours a week on the company,” Kaehms said. “The most difficult facet about being in the accelerator is also the most useful: the idea that you will run out of time. We are using our difficulties as opportunities and the lack of time to quickly move forward with the design process.”
Kaehms connected with the von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center’s I-Corps program after a recommendation from Professor Schmid Schonbein to apply with her senior design project. Kaehms said that the program’s emphasis on hands-on experience was a great way learn the lean startup methodology and she enjoyed the support she received from her mentors in I-Corps.
“If you are starting your first company, it is going to be hard work. There is no hack to start a company cheaply and easily (if you invent this, hats off to you because you will make a good VC),” Kaehms said. “My advice: surround yourself with people that inspire and mentor you.”

For more information on BioLoop, Inc.'s day to day proceedings at Indie.Bio, follow them on Twitter at @jennykaehms or @bioloopinc and @indbio.

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