Trek Gum, a startup that makes biodegradable chewing gum that kills bacteria and removes plaque on teeth, has won the sixth annual AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup.
The company’s selection Thursday night by a panel of judges at Carnegie Mellon University’s Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship earns it $3,000 and a chance to compete for $50,000 in the international Hardware Cup finals in Pittsburgh in May.
Trek Gum Founder and CEO Emily Siegel is a University of Pittsburgh Honors College research fellow with four years of combined research in sustainable material synthesis and cell development. She holds bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering and biological sciences.
“We’re living in a busy world,” Siegel says on her company’s website. “The average millennial has gone two or more days without brushing their teeth.”
With a tagline of “chew it forward,” Siegel aims to reach her target market by encouraging them to “clean your teeth on the go without hurting the environment.” A portion of the proceeds from every pack of Trek Gum goes to organizations that help water-deprived areas, according to the startup’s website. The gum might benefit travelers, especially in areas with a limited water supply.
It’s not Trek’s first win. In March 2019, the company snagged first place and a $25,000 prize in the Randall Family Big Idea Competition, edging out other Pitt student innovators. That win sent Siegel and Lauren Yocum, a biology major who teamed up with her for the competition, to Raleigh, N.C. in April to represent Pitt at the ACC InVenture Prize competition.
Though Siegel started the company herself, she has recruited others to her team.
Sam Bunke is a technical researcher, Grace Traini is the company’s sustainable food system specialist, Jessica DeRose oversees marketing and user engagement and Lauren Davis handles legal reviews.
As with other Pitt startups, several mentors have acted as advisers for Siegel in the development of Trek, including Charles Sfeir, associate dean of dental research at Pitt.
Since the company is still in development, its website includes a consumer survey that asks a person’s age, oral hygiene habits and whether they chew gum.