Interview with Matt Pleatman '13 of Refresh Innovations

Posted on 4/4/2013. Interview by Howie Rhee

Tell us about yourself

I’m currently a senior at Duke (Class of 2013), and study electrical and computer engineering and economics as a double major.  I started my first company when I was 12 years old- a photography and videography studio, and have been hooked on entrepreneurship ever since.


Tell us about your time at Duke, what were you involved in?

I’m involved in DVF (an entrepreneurship club) as well as the Duke Motorsports team which designs, builds, and races a race car every year at the Michigan International Speedway.  I also enjoy doing research in Dr. Steve Cummer's lab, where I have been working on launching high altitude weather balloons during thunderstorms to measure gamma radiation both as an independent study and in my free time.


What's your major/program and when will you be graduating?  Tell us something about your educational experience at Duke.

I am enrolled in the Pratt School of Engineering where I study Electrical and Computer Engineering with a concentration in electromagnetic fields.  I also study Economics as a second major.


Tell us about your idea.

The Contact Lens Refresh Card is an ultra slim, all-in-one contact lens case and multipurpose solution package.  Our patent-pending design is the size of a credit card, disposable and convenient to carry at all times.


How did you come up with your idea?  When did you come up with it?

My partner, Collin Walter (Trinity '07), originally came up with the idea while enrolled in a design school course at Stanford University where he is currently a second year MBA student.  That was in November 2011.


How did you meet your team members?

Collin, one of the founding members of DVF, a club I'm in, reached out to the general body of the organization looking for people to join a start-up team.  I immediately responded and started working closely with Collin and our other partner, also at Stanford, Anish Patel.  We all threw ideas into the pot, and in the end we unanimously decided to run with Collin's amazing idea.


How has the Duke Start-Up Challenge been helpful to you?

We first entered the Start-Up Challenge in the Spring of '12 and got some really tough but constructive feedback from the judges.  We took note and made sure to really address some of the questions the judges were looking for but didn't see in our business plan.  Furthermore, we were able to communicate directly with some of the judges who had domain expertise, and their guidance was invaluable.  After a Summer of hard work on Refresh Innovations, we were able to successfully compete in the Early Round of the Start-Up Challenge with a significantly improved presentation and a lot to show in terms of progress.


The Duke Start-Up Challenge provides a lot of feedback from over 100 judges.  Can you talk about that experience of reviewing the feedback?

Reviewing feedback from the judges was not only helpful with respect to the constructive criticism that we were able to address, but also the connections with the judges themselves.  Many of the judges included their personal contact information and volunteered to help out in any way that they could.  The mentorship and networks the judges afforded us were incredibly valuable.


Did you connect with any judges for advice, and if so, who were they and was it helpful? 

Just one example of a judge that was very helpful was Carla Viana who works for J&J Vision Care.  She was able to give us great advice herself and connect us with others who were also happy to provide guidance.


What advice do you have for Duke students that are thinking of starting a company?

Run lean and leverage the incredible power of the Duke entrepreneurship network.  In my experience, Duke alums will absolutely go out of their way to help you out in any way they can. Great connections are almost never made at a time or place that you would expect, so don't be afraid to put yourself out there and share your ideas in any setting.



Want more? Watch the videos and read the other interviews for all of the Round 3 teams in the Duke Start-Up Challenge

And join us for the Grand Finale with David Cummings ’02 for the 14th Annual Duke Start-Up Challenge on Thursday, April 11th, 2013 at 7:30pm ET at Fuqua’s Geneen Auditorium. RSVP on Facebook

Not able to attend in person?  Watch the livestream on Duke’s YouTube channel


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