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和ra Huerta’s start-up company, you may soon be able to do that. 目标颜色 正在开发一款叫做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, 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. 但是她的兴趣被激起了. 和她姐姐一起头脑风暴, 一个计算机工程师, 于是就有了用柔性电子设备代替的想法.


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6年里,韦尔塔一直是教授实验室的一员. 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 和 chemical processes.

在过去的三年里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抱负. 教授. Li was “very supportive” of her endeavours throughout that time, she says. “He was always very encouraging, especially during the p和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, 旨在让正版新葡新京的科学家们具备执行能力, enabled Alej和ra to pick up business know-how through the Desautels Faculty of Management mini-MBA program. 参与 魁北克科学创业项目 helped her explore the possibility of turning her idea into a start-up enterprise.


In 2019, she 和 her sister, Isabela Dominguez, participated in McGill Dobson Centre’s 精益创业项目, 并制定了一份商业计划. 2020年,, they placed third in the “innovation-driven enterprise” category of the McGill 多布森杯, 这是该校的旗舰创业大赛.

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

寻找技术顾问, they reached out to Boris Vaisb和 an Assistant 教授essor of Computer 和 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 和 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, 这是加拿大一个鼓励创新的非营利组织, Vaisb和 和 目标颜色 have successfully collaborated in two research projects to date.

Alej和ra Huerta毕业照

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

通过两个加拿大组织—— Riipen合资公司对加拿大 ——AIM受益于30名实习生的贡献, 谁帮助这家羽翼未丰的公司打造了品牌, 网站, 以及其应用程序的模型. 通过81707新葡萄京女性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 和 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. “这个细分市场将是正版新葡新京的第一个利基市场.”

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 和 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和ed, 韦尔塔笔记.

To move toward commercialization, the company will need more funding. 为此,它适用于 81707新葡萄京x - 1加速器 该项目面向那些展示出“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 和 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,她以博士的身份回来了. 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 和 learn how to convey it to a broad audience, 韦尔塔还加入了化学系的拓展小组, 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 和 how to do the research aspects of the product,”她说.


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

Moving on from academia has also meant adjusting to a fast-unfolding career path with no certainties ahead. “这是一段美好的旅程,”她说, “but definitely stressful in the sense that there’s no guarantees 和 no security.”

“I’m giving myself this opportunity to do something I really enjoy 和 that I’m really passionate about. 到目前为止,一切进展都非常迅速. 所以我只是集中精力.”