By GREGORY ZELLER //
Empire State Development has welcomed a third LaunchPad Huntington-sponsored startup into its Innovation Hot Spot program.
The state’s economic-development driver has opened the books for Smithtown-based Kantian Sciences Corp., a 2015 spinoff of 2012 startup Kantian Skincare LLC. Kantian is a maker of anti-acne products, with production of its proprietary skin-care medications contracted in Pennsylvania.
Kantian, which maintains an office in LaunchPad Huntington in addition to its headquarters inside the Smithtown offices of Now Dental of Suffolk, retails under the Kantian Skincare name, though Kantian Sciences actually holds the company’s two U.S. patents and other IP, according to its cofounder and president, Jon Klein.
LaunchPad Huntington knew it had a winner in Kantian, noted Phil Rugile, the LaunchPad operations director who sponsored Kantian’s Innovation Hot Spot application with Stony Brook University. The school – specifically, SBU’s nonprofit Long Island High Technology Incubator – is one of 10 regional Hot Spots designated by Empire State Development, the state’s eco-dev arm.
As an Innovation Hot Spot program member, Kantian will reap a number of benefits, including space in an approved incubator – in this case, LaunchPad – and other business-development support. Rugile said he felt Kantian was a better fit for the Hot Spot program than some other ESD-run incentive programs, such as Start-Up NY, specifically because of the Hot Spot program’s tax breaks, which “can be critical when a startup first starts generating revenue.”
Kantian products have been selling directly to consumers on Amazon.com since July. The company also boasts a handful of wholesale customers – mostly dermatologists and day spas – who market the medicine under private labels.
Rugile admitted he personally favors the Innovation Hot Spot effort over some other state-run economic-development programs, since “it’s a little more straightforward.”
“You meet a couple of criteria – one is you haven’t been incorporated longer than four years, another is you are an active participant in the startup community, and that’s it,” Rugile noted. “It’s nice and neat, unlike Start-Up NY, where you need a master’s degree just to fill out the application.
“It’s also better for a company that’s already commercialized, with the sales-tax breaks,” he added.
While all of the Innovation Hot Spot benefits will be useful, the No. 1 benefit by far, Klein noted, will be those tax breaks.
“All of that money is going to be available for marketing,” he told Innovate LI. “It’s fantastic, and it allows us to grow the brand even quicker and get the product out there even quicker.”
The brand has been getting out there just fine since Kantian’s over-the-counter products – they don’t require FDA approval – went live last summer. Klein estimated roughly $100,000 in gross revenues so far, primarily through robust sales on Amazon, where Kantian markets its medication as Neutralyze Anti-Acne Solution.
“By far, the most success we’ve had so far is with our own brand on Amazon,” Klein noted. “It’s selling really well.”
The anti-acne solution has a strong hook among its target audience: While other over-the-counter acne medications claim to handle everything from mild to severe cases, Kantian products stand alone as “the first brand to niche specifically toward moderate to severe acne,” according to Klein.
“There are a lot of products out there that say they are for severe acne,” he said. “But there’s no acne brand besides us that speaks exclusively to moderate to severe cases.”
While the manufacturing facility in Morgantown, Pa., offers laboratory space for experimentation and product testing, Kantian’s base science was designed by Robert Kross, an “independent technologist and consultant” with a private lab in Bellmore, according to Klein.
Kross boasts a long career in pharmaceutical R&D, Klein noted, including a stretch as development director at the Alcide Corp., a Washington State-based biotech firm that develops antimicrobial products for the dairy and healthcare industries.
In addition to the two U.S. patents Kantian’s formulations have earned so far, three more are pending, Klein said.
With the Innovation Hot Spot benefits secured, Kantian is now preparing to ramp up its marketing efforts, including a new focus on social media advertising. The company will also turn its attention to raising investor capital. Klein couldn’t say how much, though he said the fundraising would focus primarily on launching a “complete e-commerce program” early in 2017.
“It’s also known as a continuity program, where customers automatically purchase our products every month,” Klein said. “It’s very common in this space. We can’t do that through other online retailers, but we’ll be able to do it on our own website.”
The company is also attempting to expand to other online retail portals besides Amazon – Klein mentioned e-stores operated by Sears and Walmart as possibilities – and will look to sharpen its investor pitch at the 2016 Innovation Boot Camp, coming in March to SBU.
Klein was one of the instructors at the university’s 2015 boot camp, sharing his knowledge as a “commercialization specialist” with participating entrepreneurs. This year, he’ll be taking Kantian itself through the camp.
“It’s a great opportunity to get feedback on your business plan and your pitch, and to figure out exactly how much you’re looking to raise (in investor capital),” Klein said. “And you make some great contacts as well.”
Kantian is the third company to be accepted into the Innovation Hot Spots program through SBU, following Mount Sinai-based Telephone Science Corp. – owners of skyrocketing robocall-blocker Nomorobo – and Stony Brook-based bioinformatics startup Envisagenics.
Adding Kantian to that list was a no-brainer, according to Rugile, who doesn’t pretend to understand the science behind those patented formulations but knows a hot commodity when he sees it.
“I’ve raised a number of teenaged daughters,” the LaunchPad Huntington ops director noted. “So I certainly understand the value.”