FSB class finds new markets, social uses for startup's pathogen-killing light

UV light floods a hospital room

Image courtesy UV-C The Light Force

Sometimes, getting an opportunity isn’t so much about what you know as who you know. In Rick Rechter II’s case, it was a chance conversation that helped put Rechter on the path that led to students in a Farmer School class helping the Miami alum fulfill a lifelong passion to be part of something bigger than financial success.

If you’re a Miami student who studied in Luxembourg, the Rechter Family Opportunity Scholarship has been providing support to students in need for the past three years. But you probably don’t know about his latest family project, a device that looks kind of like a very bright Star Wars droid, but could save countless people from infections, diseases, and death.

“We're real good as a family as far as writing checks and having foundations and family funds, but we don't have something that we can say we contributed,” Rechter, a 1979 Miami graduate, explained. “When I saw this unit, I didn't see it as a great way to become fabulously wealthy or anything like that. I saw it as an opportunity for my family to own part of a company that worked for the greater good.”

In 2016, on the recommendation of his doctor, a patient and his son developed a device that emits a type of ultraviolet light (UV-C) that can eliminate 99.9 percent of the pathogens that the light touches. Thus, UV-C The Light Force was born. Two years later, the partnership hit a roadblock, one partner turned to a fraternity brother with a business proposition to take over his part of the company. That fraternity brother, Rechter’s uncle Jerry Neely, told him about the opportunity, and Rechter jumped at it.

The doctor’s relationship with Indiana University Health helped get the start-up business some of its first uses. “We were able to get six in the Bloomington hospital and then that went so well that they ordered six more,” Rechter said. “It was a great situation for us because we told them straight up front, ‘We need to gather data from this. It needs to be kind of a two way street. We'll give you these things, and you tell us what works well about our piece of equipment and what doesn't.’”

Soon, the start-up faced the questions that many business owners confront when they’re starting out: What is our next step? Where do we go from here? “We've got this product, but we're not real sure what the next step is,” Rechter remarked.

That’s when Rechter’s background with Miami University came in handy. “You get kind of familiar with what's going on with the school because they do a good job of keeping the alumni informed, and the business school, has its fantastic reputation and the entrepreneurship school likewise,” he said. “I said, ‘Let's get a hold of somebody at Miami and tell them who we are and what we got and see if there's any interest.’”

Rechter and his son-in-law, Seth Weisenbarger (B.S. ’02) were put in touch with Tom Heuer, who teaches ESP 341 -- corporate entrepreneurship. They explained that they were looking for two things: The best go-to-market strategy, and ways for the company to be socially responsible. “When we mentioned the fact that the social responsibility thing was important to us, I think that sealed the deal for Tom,” Rechter said.

Heuer made UV-C The Light Force one of the projects for the spring semester class, where over the course of three weeks, seven teams of students would tackle the two concepts. The day after the team explained their UV-C light system to the students, Miami University moved to remote learning due to the coronavirus.

“It was pretty remarkable that it happened to be this particular client that we had gotten at this particular time,” junior entrepreneurship and English literature student Nick Murphy said. “I think it made our research definitely more applicable, but also just more engaging. It was so topical and we could feel like we were really contributing something that was relevant to a massive issue on a global scale.”

“When we looked at Amazon, they have various kinds of home UVC cleaners that obviously aren't as strong as what the Light Force is providing, and those were sold out across the board,” junior bioengineering major Katie Trimble explained. “Seeing this spike for demand when we're trying to figure out a go-to-market strategy allowed us to dig deeper into the coronavirus situation, what hospitals are doing now, and how we can implement the UVC Light Force in the future to make it a standard of care.”

The students came back to the UV-C team with a wide variety of ideas, ranging from use-case solutions for airports and public transportation, to marketing thoughts on having an external distributor and sales force rather than internal, to social responsibility notions such as publicly-available units that could be checked out for community use.

“There was not a group of students on this project from which we didn't pull something we could use from their presentation,” Rechter said. “We had a Zoom meeting that included all three of the Miami Mergers in the family (Suki Lynch Rechter B.A. ’78, Amy Rechter Weisenbarger B.A. ’02, Emily Rechter Sass B.S. ’05 and Nick Sass B.S. ’05) and we spent two hours going over each of the seven presentations, making our notes. We felt so privileged to be part of the program, and it was a fun experience to work with the students and get their input. They're all much smarter than I am. So it was very beneficial.”

“The fact that the students did these from their homes and recorded them and then somebody put them together, it just shows how adaptable they are,” Weisenbarger said. With everything that was happening at the time they were working on this, I don't know if ‘perfect storm’ is the right term, but a unique situation for them.”

While the situation the students were working within may not have been what they expected, they took advantage of the opportunities that the remote learning process offered.

“Our professor wasn't telling us what to do. He would encourage us to look deeper or think about this or that. I worked in a consulting company last summer and this was a much more realistic experience that you would have when you're working for a job and a company comes to you and they say, ‘This is our problem, solve it.’ So it was that hands-on experience when you're working with a team and having to work together to solve this problem that I don't get in my engineering classes,” Trimble said.

“The project did encourage me to think outside the box in the sense that, while I am an architecture major, this machine is being used in an architectural space. How can we use that? How can I use my own discipline? How can people that are on my team use their own disciplines to continue to build off of our thoughts and our solutions?” senior architecture major Alec Fisette said.

“It went right along with what was happening in the world and it was interesting to talk back and forth and be able to FaceTime and do all that. It wasn't the same as meeting in person, but we were able to share news stories with each other and share stories about what was happening in our families and communities,” senior information systems and analytics major Claire Dougherty explained. “I think that kind of gave us a different perspective than if we had been in class the whole time and stayed at school.”

Although the project shifted due to today's landscape, it gave Miamians past and present the opportunity to engage over new platforms. The ideas presented are already being implemented through website updates and updated marketing strategies with the help of an ad agency in Louisville, Kentucky. It is clear that both students and the client walked away with immense satisfaction and a new perspective on how Miami's classroom can be successful both on and off campus. Rechter said he and his family looks forward to continuing their relationship with the Farmer School and Alumni Association in the future.