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With a unique motivation to enable a safer and healthier drinking culture, industrial engineering graduate Owen Works, biomedical engineering graduate who is now pursuing his Master’s of Science (MS) in Biomedical Engineering Camden Ford and psychology senior Aynsley Ramsaur are joining forces to address irresponsible binge drinking.
Their startup, DrinkWise, is developing a non-invasive, one-time-use SmartPatch that uses chemical sensing based on sweat to measure and estimate Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) levels. Their SmartPatch continuously monitors BAC over time which allows users to simply look at their arm and track their level of intoxication.
Works first had the idea for DrinkWise while taking Innovation and Entrepreneurship Through Disruptive Technologies (BUS 408), where he learned about Smart Tattoos.
Smart Tattoos are sensing interfaces that users place on their skin to help monitor different health metrics.
Works was preparing to attend an upcoming music festival at the time which is considered a high-risk setting for high levels of alcohol consumption, according to the National Library of Medicine.
“I had this idea: What if my friends and I had something we could put on our arm that monitored our alcohol levels?” he said. “It would help keep us safer.”
Works decided to pitch his idea at the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Elevator Pitch Competition (EPC). EPC is a competition where students pitch startup ideas for a chance to win cash prizes.
Works’ pitch for DrinkWise won the competition’s top prize of $1,000. That moment felt like validation for his idea and pushed him to pursue it more seriously, Works said.
Not only did the EPC fuel Works’s desire to pursue DrinkWise, his understanding of alcohol abuse did too. While Works was in high school, his father suffered from alcoholism.
“Having grown up around that, I was always a lot more conscientious of my own alcohol intake and habits,” Works said.
Fortunately, Works’s father is in recovery, but alcohol abuse is still a prevalent issue in the United States. Over 29 million people ages 12 and older had Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the past year, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Works believes a product like DrinkWise can enable people to track their alcohol use and help them make better decisions.
Ford got involved with DrinkWise after it was promoted in his Biomedical Engineering Design (BMED 455) class, where he instantly became intrigued.
“I’m a college student — we are all college students, and we definitely have seen what alcohol can do to people,” Ford said.
He thought the idea was relevant and wanted to help bring it to life.
During Ford’s time in college and involvement in Greek Life, he said he has witnessed irresponsible use of alcohol.
This problem isn’t exclusive to Cal Poly. About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing and falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers and receiving lower grades overall, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
College students’ alcohol use can lead to detrimental effects. In fact, 1,519 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries each year, also according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Ford said he wants to “inspire” college students to better manage their alcohol consumption and reduce heavy drinking.
Ramsaur became interested in DrinkWise after watching Works’ pitch at EPC. Ramsaur and Works later met in their Customer Development (BUS 313) class. She realized the potential of DrinkWise and joined the team as a co-founder.
Ramsaur recognized the safety concerns that DrinkWise addresses, especially as a young woman.
“If you’re walking home or getting in an Uber, knowing that you are drunker than you feel is really important,” Ramsaur said. “It’s important to be conscious of your body and how your body reacts to certain things.”
Women are at a greater health and safety risk when consuming alcohol than men, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The same study suggests that women are more likely than men to experience hangovers and alcohol-induced blackouts.
Ramsaur quickly saw how DrinkWise could help herself and other women become safer and healthier.
In April of 2023, DrinkWise participated in Innovation Quest (iQ), a competition hosted by the CIE that encourages entrepreneurs to pursue their innovative ideas and a chance to win up to $30,000 in cash prizes.
DrinkWise was one of 14 finalists to pitch their startup at iQ 2023. Although they did not win the competition, iQ allowed the co-founders to look at all the different aspects of their business and create an initial framework, Works said.
Following iQ, the DrinkWise co-founders decided to apply to the CIE Summer Accelerator, a 13-week program that provides entrepreneurs with the resources to launch a real, scalable company. They were one of eight teams accepted to the program.
“We’re all committed for a summer, get funding and we get all these crazy good mentors,” Works said. “There wasn’t anything I could think of that I would rather have done this summer.”
Ramsaur and Ford expressed their gratitude towards the Summer Accelerator’s various resources and the opportunity to receive guidance from knowledgeable mentors.
“It has been the most amazing program I’ve ever been a part of,” Ramsaur said.
By the end of the Summer Accelerator, the co-founders hope to finalize an accurate, usable and testable prototype. They are excited to save lives by promoting healthier drinking, they said.
“We want to foster a culture where people have healthier habits and still have fun, but responsibly,” Works said.
DrinkWise, along with the rest of the 2023 Summer Accelerator cohort, will pitch their startup and showcase their progress at Demo Day, on Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. at SLO Brew Rock. Tickets are available here.