Biotechnology / Competitions / Pitches / Startups

After winning UMSOP’s inaugural ‘pharmapreneur’ contest, this founder is tackling research waste

Meya Ngundam earned $100,000 to support LabConnection, which she created to help old laboratory electronics find a home beyond the trash.

Meya Ngundam poses inside a University of Maryland School of Pharmacy facility. (Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy)
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the correct name of Meya Ngundam’s company is LabConnection. (8/29/2023, 5:10 p.m.)
While working through her pharmacy doctorate program at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy (UMSOP) in Baltimore, Meya Ngundam uncovered an issue impacting research labs well beyond her field of study.

Equipment like centrifuges, ventilated storage containers and refrigerators quickly become antiquated, Ngundam told The structure of the lab’s ongoing funding, as well as the coinciding need to inform new research with the best equipment possible, compels these devices’ replacement every few years.

“The lifespan of a lot of these pieces of equipment is about five years,” Ngundam said. “It’s not like our cell phones, for example: These are huge pieces of equipment like centrifuges and refrigerators that are pretty much industrial-grade, that don’t have anywhere to go. They can either end up in a landfill or end up in storage.”

Ngundam, who is based near DC in Prince George’s County, Maryland, saw a need for sustainability in the way this old technology gets disposed of. So, she created LabConnection, a startup that connects labs replacing their equipment with other possible users — for instance, entities in developing nations that might depend on donations, or others closer to home without capital to purchase that equipment.

Ngundam’s idea landed her the top prize at the UMSOP’s first-ever Pharmapreneur’s Market competition, which took place in May — the same month she completed her Pharm.D. degree. That particular competition grew out of the entrepreneurship education priorities that Magaly Rodriguez de Bittner, a UMSOP associate dean and professor of pharmapreneurship (a term she says the school trademarked), and colleagues helped establish at the university.

Rodriguez de Bittner said that the competition grew out of a desire to fund and support students who were on the school’s entrepreneurial track and had ideas worth funding.

“Part of what we kept seeing is that students who were part of this pathway, this [entrepreneurship-focused] concentration of study within the school, were coming up with great ideas,” Rodriguez de Bittner told, adding: “We felt that one of the things we needed to do was come up with a mechanism for us to be able to finance some of these great ideas, and give students and opportunity an opportunity and leg up to at least develop this minimum viable product.”

Rodriguez de Bittner’s supervision of UMSOP’s entrepreneurial concentration meant she worked closely with Ngundam over the roughly two that the then-doctoral student was developing LabConnection. Ngundam also worked with UMSOP lab equipment coordinator Pam Crowe throughout this process. As part of the competition’s terms, Rodriguez de Bittner and associate dean Ken Boyden will serve on LabConnection’s board of directors. UMSOP will also own a share of the company that Rodriguez de Bittner estimates at about 40%.

Ngundam’s idea ultimately convinced a panel of Pharmapreneur’s Market judges that included John Gregory, a UMSOP alumnus who founded King Pharmaceuticals and leads Gregory Pharmaceutical Holdings, Inc. as CEO and board chair. Gregory also seeded the $100,000 that Ngundam won, according to Rodriguez de Bittner.

This award is the first funding that LabConnection, which Ngundam works on part-time alongside a retail pharmacy job, has ever received. Going forward, Ngundam plans to grow the company through other state and university funding sources; after generating some profit, she would like to seek venture capital. She also hopes to reach beyond UMSOP as an equipment donation source and company hub, spreading to other schools like Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

“After all, this is an environmental initiative at the end of the day,” she said. “The impact that we can make can really reduce the waste footprint that the university creates. Hopefully, that can inspire the State of Maryland or some outside funder to say, ‘Hey, this is worth the investment.’”

Companies: University of Maryland, Baltimore

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