The Ratcliffe Environmental Entrepreneurs Fellowship (REEF) Program was established in Fall of 2014 and is supported by the Philip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation. Initially the program was only offered to University of Maryland Center for Environmetal Science students at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET), but this year it was opened up for all UMCES students to apply. The program helps build skills that are often overlooked in the science field; intellectual property, budgeting, marketing and strategic communication, and idea pitching to name a few. While these skills are not directly related to course-work or research, they are important to have for any career.
Each month REEF participants met at IMET for a half day workshop on Friday, and full day of activities and short-courses on Saturday. Students came up with a product to research and develop over the course of the program. Each month a guest mentor and guest entrepreneur were invited to help students build a specific skill set. Over the course of the program, students applied their new skills by preparing a final product pitch in front of a judging panel of leading entrepreneurs and investors.
Graduate Research Assistant Morgan Ross from Horn Point Laboratory started to develop a product for the REEF program - a wearable toxin sensor for Brevetoxin aerosols. Brevetoxin is released into the water and into the air by the harmful algal bloom (HAB) Karenia brevis, also known as the Red Tide. Her product pitch was inspired by her thesis research on HABs and water quality in the coastal waters of Assateague Island. There is a lot of research and management that goes into Red Tide management and awareness in the water, but there is no easy way to detect Brevetoxin in the air. For the REEF program, her company “Breveazy” proposed a color-changing bracelet that would provide real-time detection of Brevetoxin aerosols. The product would have consisted of a single-use detection strip that could be inserted into a reusable bracelet.
Morgan's pitch won “Best Presentation” and Lauren Jonas (IMET) won “Most Viable Product” with her product, Probeeotic, a dry probiotic spray to help the immune systems of bees.
"I am very grateful to Dr. Nina Lamba and Dr. Russell Hill for organizing the REEF Program and extending the offer to participate to students outside of IMET," says Morgan, "I am also hugely appreciative of the Ratcliffe Foundation for funding the fellowship."
Nina Lamba, an assistant director at IMET, who leads the REEF Program adds "The REEF Program is a great opportunity to build valuable professional skills, whether or not you choose to become an entrepreneur. Morgan was a great asset to the class this year, and it was a great for her to work alongside some of the IMET students, and vice versa. I hope that we see more HPL students at REEF in the future."