Ruchi Shah was 15 years old when she noticed a long line of people outside of a tiny clinic waiting to get treatment for mosquito-transmitted diseases during a family trip to India.
“I’ll never forget seeing that line of people,” she said. “I saw there was a real need for effective and accessible prevention for mosquito-transmitted diseases.”
After returning to her Ronkonkoma, Long Island home, the driven teenager began working in her family’s garage and a high school classroom to develop an all-natural mosquito repellent.
In March, almost a decade after her dream began, she was named one of 10 winners of Victoria’s Secret PINK’s second annual GRL PWR Project, an initiative that provides funding for young female “leaders, trendsetters and go-getters.” Ruchi’s entry was among those selected from nearly 4,000 video submissions from women across the country ages 18 to 25, winning $25,000 to put toward her business.
Shah’s company, Mosquitoes Be Gone LLC, is a direct descendent of her high school science project, which followed her to Stony Brook, where she majored in biology. In 2015, her junior year as an undergrad, she entered a business plan competition. To her surprise, she won, and a company was born. Her younger sister Nidhi, then a high school senior, became the company’s chief operating officer. Nidhi Shah would herself come to Stony Brook the following year as a psychology major. Ruchi, after earning her BS in Biology, continued her studies at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook.
“Working with my sister has been an absolutely incredible experience,” said Nidhi, a sentiment Ruchi echoes. “Our strengths complement each other very well, and we motivate each other to grow our company and expand our impact. Open and honest communication with a focus on shared goals and values for the company is the key to our partnership.”
After hundreds of experiments with fruit juices, plant extracts and other natural materials — and hundreds of mosquito bites — she finally found a formula with promise and Mosquitoes Be Gone, the first repellent to neutralize nitrogen-based compounds in human sweat, officially launched in May 2019. It is currently available nationwide.
“We’re brainstorming and implementing new ways to support our mission and growth during this difficult time,” she said of her plans for the award. The company’s primary goal, however, remains providing an effective, safe and all-natural repellent that addresses the global need for effective prevention against mosquito-transmitted diseases.
Equally important is a very human goal of growing a subsidy program for developing countries and philanthropic organizations that have a crucial need for effective and safe mosquito repellents. Mosquitoes Be Gone LLC used a portion of the profits from the first season to provide subsidized repellents to communities in Madagascar through a partnership with the Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine.
A champion of helping empower others, Ruchi also created an internship program shortly after founding her company that is a collaboration between Stony Brook’s Department of Biology, the College of Business and the WISE Honors program, which offers educational and professional science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) opportunities for undergraduate students.
“The interns are a vital part of our team and the internship program empowers students with experiences at the intersection of STEM and business fields,” said Ruchi. “We have graduated more than 40 women since beginning the internship program, and our goal is to expand the internship program to continue to empower the next generation of change-makers.”
Ruchi recently graduated from the Renaissance School of Medicine and will soon be starting an internal medicine residency at the University of California, San Francisco. Her goal is to continue working as a physician to help increase access to preventative care for patients. Nidhi Shah will take over the day-to-day operations of Mosquitoes Be Gone LLC and in running the internship program at SBU. Ruchi will move to an advisory role due to the time constraints of her residency and being on the West Coast. The sisters will also continue the internship program at Stony Brook University and are currently recruiting interns for next semester. Interested students can request an application at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I am graduating from Stony Brook in May with a BS in Psychology, and I hope to work before going back to graduate school,” said Nidhi. “My goal is to ultimately become a child psychologist.”
As she looks ahead to beginning the next chapter of her life, Ruchi offers some words of wisdom for fellow entrepreneurs.
“First and foremost, be clear in your values and ethics,” she said. “It’s the foundation upon which you’ll build your company. Having a support system that you trust and can rely on is also crucial for growth. Believe in yourself and your ideas with conviction. It’s inevitable that mistakes will happen and that there will be challenges in building a product or company — the key is to use those challenges as a source of growth.”
— Robert Emproto