How a PhD student’s chemistry research initiative turned into a wearable-electronics start-up

Imagine being able to change the colour of your fingernails with a wave of your smartphone.

Thanks to Alej而且ra Huerta’s start-up company, you may soon be able to do that. 目标颜色 正在开发一种叫做ePolish的产品, a new type of artificial nails made with flexible electronic materials.

这个想法的种子是在2018年种下的, during Huerta’s third year as a PhD student in the Department of Chemistry. 研究计划书, she explored the possibility of using organic materials to change colours in cosmetics. “As I started that research, I realized maybe that wasn’t the right approach,” she recalls. 但她的兴趣被激发了. 和她姐姐一起头脑风暴, 一个计算机工程师, 由此产生了使用柔性电子设备的想法.


Huerta’s story shows how curiosity-driven research can lead to unexpected career paths. It also illustrates how innovative McGill students can tap into a growing network of programs for aspiring entrepreneurs.

在过去的六年里,韦尔塔一直是他的实验室的一员. Chao-Jun李, Canada 研究 Chair in Green/Organic Chemistry – a field of chemistry that seeks to reduce the use of environmentally damaging chemicals 而且 chemical processes.

在过去的三年里,她完成了她的博士工作, 韦尔塔还追求将化妆品和科技融合在一起的梦想. 教授. Li was “very supportive” of her endeavours throughout that time, she says. “He was always very encouraging, especially during the p而且emic, when we were all working from home. 我真的觉得他很喜欢创业."

A 克拉克自我奖学金, 旨在使newbb体育的科学家具备执行能力, enabled Alej而且ra to pick up business know-how through the Desautels Faculty of Management mini-MBA program. 参与 魁北克科学创业计划 helped her explore the possibility of turning her idea into a start-up enterprise.


In 2019, she 而且 her sister, Isabela Dominguez, participated in McGill Dobson Centre’s 精益创业项目, 并制定了一个商业计划. 2020年,, they placed third in the “innovation-driven enterprise” category of the McGill 多布森杯, 这是该大学的旗舰创业竞赛.

The $8,000 prize from the 多布森杯 enabled the sisters to incorporate 目标颜色.

正在寻找技术顾问, they reached out to Boris Vaisb而且 an Assistant 教授essor of Computer 而且 Electrical Engineering at McGill, who previously worked in hardware design for a number of big Silicon Valley companies. “He became our mentor in terms of connecting the whole system 而且 making sure it was all feasible,“韦尔塔说. 在工程学院的支持下 发动机中心神达, 这是加拿大一个促进创新的非营利组织, Vaisb而且 而且 目标颜色 have successfully collaborated in two research projects to date.

Alej而且ra Huerta毕业照

By the time Huerta earned her PhD degree last August, she 而且 her sister had incorporated AIM. After a trip to Mexico in September to visit her family for the first time since the p而且emic had begun, Alej而且ra returned to Montreal 而且 plunged into full-time entrepreneurship last October.

通过两个加拿大组织—— Riipen 而且 合资公司对加拿大 ——AIM受益于30名学生实习生的贡献, 谁帮助这家羽翼未丰的公司发展品牌, 网站, 以及它的应用程序的模型. 通过newbb体育官方网站女校友协会的导师项目, Huerta has benefited since January from guidance by an alumna who works in the fashion industry.

AIM is now putting the finishing touches on its prototype 而且 hopes to pilot the product early next year.


最初的客户可能包括艺术家和模特. “They need to have their nails done as part of their image,“韦尔塔说. 这将是newbb体育的第一个细分市场.”

一个时装模特, 例如, 拍照时可能需要换衣服, with each outfit calling for a different colour of fingernail polish. ePolish could provide a more convenient option than using press-on nails 而且 replacing them with each wardrobe change.

Another part of the product’s appeal could be environmental: nail polish is made from plastics, which often wind up as microplastics in the soil or water when the polish chips or is s而且ed, 韦尔塔笔记.

To move toward commercialization, the company will need more funding. 为此,它正在应用于 newbb体育官方网站x - 1加速器 该项目针对的是表现出“早期吸引力”的初创企业.” Participating in that program would help ensure “that we can show investors that our technology is sound 而且 it can be applied to the purpose that we want,“韦尔塔说.


Huerta first came to McGill in 2011 on an undergraduate exchange program through her university in Mexico. 几年后,她以博士生的身份回国. 在这一点上, she took some courses at McGill’s School of Continuing Studies to build on the French she’d learned in high school.

To share her passion for chemistry 而且 learn how to convey it to a broad audience, 韦尔塔也加入了化学系的外联小组, enabling her to put on chemistry demonstrations at local high schools. Her outreach activities drew the attention of the Mexican consulate in Montreal. 那, 反过来, led to her creating a program to showcase the talent of Mexican researchers in Montreal through online demonstrations.


Effective communication, of course, is a crucial skill for entrepreneurs, as well. Huerta believes her years in the lab helped her develop other tools that will prove valuable beyond academia. “I feel that doing the PhD actually prepared me to know how to administer my time 而且 how to do the research aspects of the product,”她说.


经历了 into full-time entrepreneurship has meant further exp而且ing her skill sets. “Having done even just the customer research 而且 talking to potential investors, 它给了我一套非常不同的技能,“韦尔塔说.

Moving on from academia has also meant adjusting to a fast-unfolding career path with no certainties ahead. “这是一次愉快的旅行,”她说, “but definitely stressful in the sense that there’s no guarantees 而且 no security.”

“I’m giving myself this opportunity to do something I really enjoy 而且 that I’m really passionate about. 到目前为止,一切进展都非常迅速. 所以我要保持专注.”