Christine Schindler (E’15) and Dutch Waanders (E’15) started their first entrepreneurial venture while they were first-year students at Duke. Now, they’re co-founders of a company called PathSpot, which scans hands and other items for pathogens to prevent foodborne illness.

Both biomedical engineering majors – Schindler with a minor in global health and Waanders with a minor in chemistry – the two collaborated to form a now-nationwide organization called Girls Engineering Change.

“In my global health classes, I was learning about all these problems but not about how technology could solve them,” Schindler said. “And in my engineering classes, we were learning about the technology, but I didn’t feel like we were always connecting the technology with problems that it could solve.”

At the same time, she saw her female counterparts becoming discouraged by the challenging introductory engineering courses.

To address both of these problems, Schindler wanted to do something to help young girls realize that engineering can have an impact in the world and feel empowered to make this impact.

She looked all over for a club or organization that had a similar mission – both on campus and online. When she didn’t find anything, she realized she’d have to start it.

Schindler brought her idea for Girls Engineering Change to the Clinton Global Initiative University, where students are tasked with bringing commitments to action.

But when her idea was recognized by President Clinton, she felt overwhelmed and unsure of how she would carry out her idea alone.

When she arrived back on campus, she talked to several friends about how she was feeling, including Waanders.

“I never really thought about entrepreneurship as a path – I just knew I wanted to make a positive impact through healthcare and biotechnology,” Waanders said. “But when Christine told me about Girls Engineering Change, I knew I was going to help because I cared about the impact it was making. It wasn’t until I was doing it that I realized it was my first entrepreneurial pursuit.”

Waanders became the executive vice president of the organization, and throughout their college years, the two worked alongside their founding team to grow the nonprofit and establish chapters across the nation. They hosted events by partnering with other organizations who were already reaching their target audience.

After graduation, Waanders became a Venture for America fellow, where he was matched with a small software biotech company in Cleveland. While in Cleveland, he learned a lot about what the county was doing to promote entrepreneurship and made friends interested in entrepreneurship. He also got to experience what it was like working at a small startup company.

Schindler, on the other hand, was doing preventative healthcare work and research for a large company in Connecticut. Because she was interested in returning to the entrepreneurial space, she eventually got involved in mergers and acquisitions, as well.

“Dutch and I were attacking entrepreneurship from different angles, but we were both continuing to learn through the early stages of our careers,” she said.

The two friends continued to keep in touch, and because they enjoyed building things together, they decided to start to try to build something during their nights and weekends.

They still were running Girls Engineering Change, but the chapters they helped grow had become largely self-sufficient, leaving them in more of a managerial role.

At that time, foodborne illness was in the news – from widespread outbreaks at Chipotle to stories about people dying from eating contaminated food.

Again, they did research but couldn’t find a tech-based solution to address contamination issues.

“Similarly to when we built Girls Engineering Change, we saw a need and wanted to address it,” Schindler said. “That’s how we were trained as engineers – to use technology to fill gaps.”

Using wires they picked up from a Radio Shack’s closing sale, Schindler and Waanders started tinkering until they got something that worked – a device that indicated when an item being scanned was contaminated.

Shortly after, they hit the streets to do interview potential customers.

“We spent weekends going from door to door to door to restaurants in our respective cities, asking all the restaurant owners, ‘Do you like this? Would you use this? Have you ever seen anything like this before?’” Schindler said. “And overwhelmingly, the answer was, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’ or ‘I’ve been waiting for something like this for years.’ And it was around then that we decided we should pursue this full-time.”

Schindler and Waanders quit their jobs and moved to Detroit to enter the Venture for America accelerator program.

During the three-and-a-half-month accelerator program, they worked quickly, moving from an idea to a prototype to a finished product that they’ve now installed and beta-tested in three locations.

Their beta tests have shown them that the scanners are used an average of 170 times a week – and of those scans, 3 to 5 have some form of contamination.

“We began to realize this isn’t just a product for keeping consumers safe, but it’s also a product for protecting restaurant owners and small businesses,” Schindler said. “We spoke to so many restaurant owners who have spent their lives building their businesses and live in fear that an episode of foodborne illness could put them out of business. But PathSpot alleviates that fear by preventing the spread of foodborne illness.”

PathSpot is now getting its first paid customers, but Schindler and Waanders agree they only got there because they weren’t afraid to ask for help.

The two continued to use their Duke connections upon moving to Detroit, reaching out to staff at Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative who work on a summer DukeEngage program in Detroit. Through this, they were connected to businesses that ended up agreeing to use their product for a pilot testing round.

“Duke’s motto, knowledge in the service of society, really fueled me through college,” Schindler said. “And when I graduated, I knew I didn’t want to use my knowledge to make a lot of money or become famous – I wanted to serve people. Now I’m serving both consumers and business owners through PathSpot.”

Waanders advises students who may be interested in entrepreneurship to take advantage of the different learning methods that are offered at Duke and figure out which one works best for them.

“Entrepreneurship is a continual learning process. Neither of us are lawyers, but we have to write legal contracts,” he said. “There are so many resources at Duke to personalize learning, so figure out which avenues work for you so you can seek those avenues out upon leaving Duke.”

To learn more about PathSpot, visit its website.

To read about more Duke Entrepreneurs, click here.

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