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Interview with RIZIN Technologies

March 14, 2020 Jill Wegenast
RIZIN Technologies IMBA Team at the Cardinal Challenge

The RIZIN Technologies team consists of Ashley Krems, Phillip Cupp, and Chiraag Bhimani. RIZIN Technologies recently placed second in the Brown-Forman Cardinal Challenge, the UofL College of Business’ annual business plan competition. We sat down with them to find out more about this start-up company and the individuals behind it.

UofL: Tell our readers a little bit about RIZIN Technologies. What is RIZIN’s origin story?
RIZIN: Our team met in the Innovation MBA (IMBA) program at UofL. The IMBA curriculum allows us to start a new venture using the skills and knowledge that we have acquired throughout the program, along with the guidance and support from our faculty advisors. In July 2019, we were looking for a concept to focus our venture around, and we identified this unique technology that was developed at the Speed School of Engineering here at UofL. It was available for commercialization through the UofL Commercialization EPI-Center. We all agreed that there was great potential for this technology from a business perspective and officially formed RIZIN Technologies a few months later.
UofL: What is the HiTRACE breathalyzer? How did you come up with the tech? What inspired RIZIN to develop a breath-detection device? What makes your product stand out against other breathalyzers in the marketplace?
RIZIN: As the legalization of cannabis expands in the United States, we are seeing increasing numbers of car accidents and fatalities where cannabis was a factor. After speaking with multiple law enforcement organizations, we began to see a need for a product that could detect recent cannabis use quickly and accurately. RIZIN’s HiTRACE is a non-invasive detection device that determines trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis, in the breath. As a convenient and portable device, our technology is scientifically proven to identify THC in initial testing. This product is initially targeted for use in the law enforcement and human resources segments.
The technology was invented by Dr. Xiao-An (Sean) Fu and Jack Lockard at the University of Louisville’s Speed School of Engineering. Thanks to our partners at the Commercialization EPI-Center, RIZIN has secured exclusive rights for this technology, which allowed us to move forward with commercialization.
Breath is the most accurate sampling method when it comes to detecting recent cannabis use. Other products in the marketplace use sampling methods, such as saliva, blood, and hair that are either not accurate or can contain THC well beyond what would be considered recent use (less than 5 hours).
UofL: You recently placed second at the Cardinal Challenge and have been invited to the Rice Business Plan Competition. How important are these competitions to RIZIN? How has your participation in the Cardinal Challenge prepare you for Rice?
RIZIN: These competitions are extremely valuable to our company. We use the prize money won in these competitions to invest in our company. These funds are used to help with research & development, prototyping, branding, marketing, and other areas of the company. The questions and feedback we receive from the judges are just as important. The judges at Cardinal Challenge have the experience of working at start-ups or venture capital firms. They also have experience in raising venture capital or investing in start-ups. They know what it takes to succeed and grow a company from scratch. We take their feedback and use this to improve our business, as they see opportunities or have connections that can help us continue to grow and develop. The judges at Rice are well-known for asking tough questions, so the experience we gained by participating in Cardinal Challenge will help us immensely as we prepare for Rice.
UofL: What’s been the biggest challenge for RIZIN so far? Biggest success?
RIZIN: The biggest challenge has been learning about the technology and becoming subject matter experts about law enforcement, cannabis, and the various state and federal legal standards in a relatively short period of time. In four months, we had to understand how the technology worked, start a venture around the technology, develop a business plan, and pitch to investors. We are thankful for our fellow UofL partners and collaborators, including the Forcht Center of Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship Law Clinic at the Brandeis School of Law, Speed School of Engineering, Commercialization EPI-Center, and the Additive Manufacturing Institute of Science and Technology (AMIST). They have been extremely valuable resources for our team, providing guidance and support along the way.
The most significant success has been the feedback and validation we have received from the business plan competitions. We placed 2nd in both the Ballard Morton New Venture Competition and Cardinal Challenge. We were invited to compete in the Rice Business Plan Competition, which is one of the most prestigious graduate-level business plan competitions in the world, as they have more than 400 applicants. We will be competing against 41 other teams for awards and prizes valued at $1.5 million. It is gratifying to know that the hard work our team is putting into our company is being recognized.
UofL: What’s next for RIZIN? Do you have any other products in mind moving forward?
RIZIN: After Cardinal Challenge, RIZIN was set to compete in the Stu Clark Investment Competition in Winnipeg, Canada. However, due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers of the competition had to cancel the program. Rice, which was initially scheduled to take place in March, has been postponed to June due to COVID-19 concerns.
Our team is focused on bringing the HiTRACE to market. Existing testing methods are unable to detect recent THC use. Law enforcement, human resources, and drug detection facilities need a solution that allows them to identify use quickly. The HiTRACE is the solution that provides users with the ability to do just that. Our next steps include continuing research and product development, clinical studies, and pilot testing with law enforcement authorities so that the HiTRACE is legally validated for use in the field. The underlying technology behind the HiTRACE can also detect a variety of chemical compounds, including other controlled substances. We are actively expanding our proprietary technology to create a platform for detecting multiple controlled substances. RIZIN Technologies is rising to new heights in-breath detection, and we are looking forward to the journey ahead.