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DermaTec preps alcohol-sensing patch for market

DermaTec’s alcohol-detection patch is $1,500 closer to commercial launch, thanks to a new Indiegogo campaign that the Albuquerque startup launched just before Thanksgiving.

The company, which created a skin patch that rapidly detects alcohol consumption, is seeking $50,000 to start manufacturing. DermaTec’s founders, about half of whom are University of New Mexico students, believe the patch can promote more responsible drinking by allowing friends, family and others to stop people from driving drunk, said co-founder and business development manager Matt Aaron.

“It offers a quick, visual indication of alcohol consumption that could encourage friends or family to not let someone drive just because they say they’re okay,” Aaron said. “We want it to promote social responsibility.”

The patch could potentially be used as well by law enforcement, employers, bars and ride-sharing companies. DermaTec is in initial discussions with Uber to possibly include the company logo on the patch and offer discounted service when drinkers call for a ride, Aaron said.

UNM nano science and chemical engineering students Anh-Dung Le and Duncan McClure developed the OnusBlue patch because of their joint interest in using sensing technologies to create easy-to-use, affordable products that help resolve social problems.

“We wanted to create something with good social impact that’s disposable and doesn’t cost much,” Le said. “It’s something you use once and throw it away, so people might be willing to buy it multiple times. We chose this product because alcohol is easy to detect compared with other substances, and DWI and drinking are global issues with a potentially big market.”

The patch uses common substances often employed in saliva tests that create enzymatic reactions, Le said. The substances can detect alcohol in sweat. The formulation turns the patch blue when sensing alcohol, with the blue coloring growing darker and darker the more someone drinks.

Le said the substance is benign and has been tested for safety, but would not discuss formula details because the patch is patent-pending.

DermaTec completed its first patch prototypes last spring. It’s now working to raise money for bulk manufacturing. It received $40,000 from a local angel investor and will use Indiegogo funding to outsource production next year.

Once on the market, the company says OnusBlue will cost less than a cup of coffee.

In the meantime, Dermatec is getting a lot of local attention. It was one of ten companies invited to present in a startup competition during Steve Case’s “Rise of the Rest” tour in Albuquerque last September. It also won a free trip to next year’s South by Southwest conference in Austin, plus three months’ free rent at the FatPipe business incubator Downtown, during last month’s Scrappy Startup Challenge.

FitMix app to hit the gym

Want unlimited membership to a network of gyms around town?

For a $109 monthly fee, FitMix app members can use 17 area fitness centers. (Courtesy of Fitmix)

For a $109 monthly fee, FitMix app members can use 17 area fitness centers. (Courtesy of Fitmix)

The new FitMix app, which launched in August, opens the front doors to classes at 17 fitness centers in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho, plus unlimited access to work out individually at four member gymnasiums. For a monthly fee of $109, users can take as many classes as they want in a range of exercise techniques, including yoga, crossfit, Russian kettlebells, pilates and more.

That eliminates the need for multiple memberships at different gyms or the inconvenience of dropping one fitness center to enlist in another, said FitMix founder and CEO Kevin Mathis.

“We have 35 users now with more people signing up each month.” Mathis said. “Our goal is to reach 200 users in six months.”

User feedback indicates many happy gym-going campers.

“It prevents people from getting bored by doing some workouts over and over, since they can now change routines through other fitness centers without having to sign up for another membership,” Mathis said. “They sidestep the fees and that saves them money.”

Fitness centers seem happy as well, because it’s generating a wider variety of customers without any loss of revenue. That’s because Mathis negotiated a revenue-sharing model that allows gyms to earn at least as much for each class that a FitMix user attends as would otherwise be charged for a nonmember just showing up for a class

“Anybody can drop in for one class at a cost of $13.95, but we end up getting more than that with FitMix users,” said Payton Prince-Henderson, owner of Elevation Yoga and Wellness Center in the Northeast Heights. “FitMix pays us for every class a user comes to. That’s averaging out on a monthly basis to between $16 and $20 per class.”

Elevation Yoga is seeing new customers, including many repeat ones.

“Every month, we’re seeing a new group of people,” Prince-Henderson said. “It’s great advertising, because many wouldn’t have even heard about us without FitMix, and they keep coming back. For us as a studio, it’s been fantastic.”

Mathis developed the FitMix concept, app and business structure over a year and a half, although he outsourced the coding and graphic design. He’s now working to add personal training, nutrition and discounts at health stores.

The company expects to reach profitability as more users sign up and economies of scale kick in. For now, the revenue-sharing model is covering expenses.