Student team pitches long-lasting insect repellent

From left to right: Mike Milbocker, Ken Rothaus, Abraar Karan, and Andrew Rothaus

April 25, 2017 — A team led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health student Abraar M. Karan, MPH ’17, and Harvard Business School student Andrew Rothaus, MBA ’18, is among four finalists in HBS’s 2017 New Venture Competition in the social enterprise track. They plan to develop and clinically test an innovative, long-lasting insect repellent.

The competition finals are being held today, April 25, 2017, which is World Malaria Day, and the winners announced at the end of the event. The grand prize winner will receive $75,000 in cash and services.

“It’s a chance to provide a much-needed product in a market that businesses and entrepreneurs generally ignore,” said Rothaus, a former Wall Street trader. Karan and Rothaus collaborated with Mike Milbocker, a chemist, and Andrew’s father, Kenneth Rothaus, a surgeon with expertise in clinical trials.

When the students pitch their proposal to the judges, they plan to cite World Health Organization statistics on the prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases. For instance, in 2015 WHO reported that there were over 210 million malaria cases and nearly 430,000 malaria deaths, most affecting children under age 5. An estimated 2.5 billion people live in areas at risk for dengue fever, and there are 10,000 annual deaths from Japanese Encephalitis.

Win or lose, the team plans to develop the insect repellent over the next several months and then field test it by conducting a randomized controlled trial within villages in Nigeria and Brazil.

“People are dying of completely preventable illnesses and we have a chance to stop that from happening,” Karan said.

See the list of New Venture Competition Social Track finalists

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Marge Dwyer