spotLESS Materials experiences growth selling super slippery coating technology
Penn State startup spotLESS Materials, which sells its super slippery coating technology as an assistive cleaning product, has raised over $1.3 million of total venture capital funding to date, including a recently closed seed round of $900,000 in venture capital funding which closed on December 23, 2021. Their total funding raised including investments, the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I and Phase II awards, and prizes, is over $2.8 million since their launch in May 2018.
spotLESS Materials was cofounded by Birgitt Boschitsch, who earned her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Penn State’s College of Engineering, and Tak-Sing Wong, associate professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering and the Wormley Family Early Career Professor of Engineering at Penn State.
The spotLESS Materials signature coating makes any surface super slippery, making it difficult for dirt, grime, and waste to cling to surfaces. The team started off marketing the product as a way to make cleaning toilets easier, but has since expanded to other applications, including mirrors, car windshields and more.
“Our technology is called LESS – Liquid Entrenched Smooth Surface, and it started back in 2015 when my research group was approached by a collaborator tasked with developing a sewerless, waterless toilet for the developing world,” Wong said. “One challenge the researcher faced is that human waste is very sticky, and there was no existing coating that could repel human waste. My research group was known for developing slippery surfaces inspired by the pitcher plant, a carnivorous plant that can repel insects with a super slippery surface, and so that’s how we got started on developing a new type of non-stick coating product.”
LESS can be easily sprayed onto a variety of surfaces, including glass, ceramic, porcelain, plastics, and metals, allowing those surfaces to stay cleaner for longer.
“A big reason we made this technology was to be able to remove waste with little to no water and to make surfaces stay clean longer,” Boschitsch said. “We want to reduce time, effort, cost, and water and chemical waste. We hope our coatings make it possible to use various products for longer periods of time.”
spotLESS Materials is mainly focused on selling its products to industrial partners, but products are also available for consumer purchase on their website, which launched in November 2019 right before World Toilet Day. Consumer products available include the toilet coating, a sink and fixture coating, a glass and mirror coating, and a windshield treatment kit.
As a small business with a pre-established online store and cleanliness messaging, the spotLESS Materials team has been able to stay efficient and agile with sales throughout the pandemic.
“When people are working from home, they are spending more time looking at their environment, and are probably doing laundry, cleaning the dishes, and cleaning the bathroom, so we say, ‘Why don’t we make this part of your home life easier?’” Boschitsch said. “People became very aware of keeping things clean during the pandemic, so, being able to say that we’re the cleaning product for people who don’t like to clean, it made sense to focus on the opportunity we had at hand and focus on selling and shipping out these consumer products.”
She said what isn’t seen on the spotLESS consumer website is the industrial side of their business, which involves building and maintaining industrial partnerships.
“We’re excited to announce that we have recently launched our industrial website to engage our industrial customers,” Boschitsch said. “We believe that our biggest pathway to growth is through industrial partnerships.”
spotLESS Materials has already garnered multiple business-to-business partnerships, including a contract with the Office of Naval Research to explore marine anti-fouling coatings.
In the past three years, SpotLESS Materials grew its team to six people, participated in the Y-Combinator program which provided $150,000 in seed funding, was named a finalist in the Biomimicry Institute’s 2020 Ray of Hope Prize Competition, received the 2021 TechConnect Innovation Award, and was showcased by Aisin Corporation and pitched as a finalist at the Procter and Gamble Innovation Challenge both at the 2021 CES conference, one of the largest consumer goods tradeshows in the country. More recently, spotLESS Materials has been named one of the top 29 Cleantech Startups in Pennsylvania.
While building spotLESS Materials, Boschitsch and Wong received support from the Penn State entrepreneurial ecosystem, including the Office of Technology Management, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, 1855 Capital, the Penn State Law Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic, and the Startup Leadership Network.
“We were one of the pilot companies going through the Board of Advisors program within the Startup Leadership Network, and I really appreciated that experience,” Boschitsch said. “It’s geared towards equipping founders to become better business executives. Adding this skillset to my toolbox has been key to managing a growing business.”
Boschitsch and Wong are looking forward to exploring new potential applications of their technology and continuing to grow industrial partnerships internationally.
“I hope more researchers view entrepreneurship as a hugely impactful career direction,” Boschitsch said. “I really do think it’s the inventors who have a deep understanding of the technology, and so can see where it can make the biggest impact. There are so many resources that the Happy Valley ecosystem has to offer to get you started, so take advantage of those, and surround yourself with the advice that you need to get started and take off effectively.”
About the Office of Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (OEC)
A strategic unit of the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Commercialization leads Penn State’s entrepreneurship and economic development programs, including management of the University’s startup portfolio, development of programs for the LaunchBox/innovation hub network, and administration of the Invent Penn State initiative.