Published: Jan. 11, 2021

ChemBot machineThe following Q &A with Kailey Shara, ATLAS PhD student and a member of the Laboratory for Emergent Nanomaterials, appeared in CU Boulder's New Venture Challenge (NVC) January 2021 newsletter.  NVC, the university's cross-campus entrepreneurial program and competition, connects the CU Boulder campus with the Boulder community to develop and fund innovative ideas. Participants attend year-round events, network and collaborate with mentors to refine their ideas and form startup teams to pitch for funding (up to $100,000!) at the NVC Championships.

Kailey Shara is the CEO of Chembotix, a company that is developing a robotic automation platform to dramatically speed up chemistry research and development. As a second-time NVC participant–last year she and her advisor, Carson Bruns, made it to the semifinals–she's immersed herself in CU Boulder's innovation ecosystem to help get her startup off the ground. Her ChemBot research is the premise for the company. This year her team includes eight teammates and two advisors.

Q: What is your startup or business idea? How did you come up with your business idea? What inspired you? 

KS: Chemistry is a foundational science for many other disciplines. From pharmaceutical drugs to new materials, technological progress depends on the products of the chemical sciences. Chemistry research is, however, held back by the tedious labor required to synthesize new molecules. While pursuing my undergrad degrees in electrical engineering and chemistry, the engineer in me was struck by how manual most chemistry research still is. Frustrated by this reality, I decided to build my PhD around addressing the key technical challenges holding back the development of chemistry automation systems. Chembotix was born from this research in order to bring these nascent technologies to market.

Q: What CU Boulder academic courses and entrepreneurial resources have you taken advantage of to help you build your business idea or startup? 

KS: In addition to completing two customer discovery programs through Venture Partners at CU Boulder (Research-to-Market and Starting Blocks), Chembotix will be one of several startups participating in the New Venture Launch course, hosted by the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship. I strongly recommend all of these programs to other CU startups, as well as the frequent workshops and presentations hosted by Venture Partners. Finally, the private company VEX Robotics, in partnership with the ATLAS Institute, has been supporting my research. Private companies love to help students incubate and develop ideas that may one day be commercialized; you never know who might be able to help you unless you ask!

ATLAS students have successfully competed in past NVCs, including the EdBoard Technologies team co-led by Cody Candler, MS-CTD '20, and Ruhan Yang, MS-CTD student, winning fourth place and taking home $12,500 in NVC 12. Ted Thayer, MS-CTD student, and two team members won fourth place and $7,500 at the NVC 11. Registration for NVC 14 closes Jan. 29.