Indian American student at Duke among 4 entrepreneurs developing nail polish to detect date rape drugs

Ankesh Madan is behind ‘Undercover Colors’.

By The American Bazaar Staff

Ankesh Madan (Courtesy of Twitter Profile)
Ankesh Madan (Courtesy of Twitter Profile)

NEW YORK: An Indian American engineering graduate of North Carolina State University, Ankesh Madan, who has enrolled this year for a Ph.D. program at Duke, is among four entrepreneurs who have developed a prototype for a new nail polish line that changes color when it comes into contact with date rape drugs.

Ankesh Madan – who is also the spokesperson for the group, Tasso Von Windheim – also enrolled for a Ph.D. program at Duke, Tyler Confrey-Maloney and Stephan Gray – both of whom are North Carolina State University undergraduates, founded Undercover Colors, coined as “the first fashion company working to prevent sexual assault,” The Mary Sue reported.

The Daily Tech reported that recently Georgia Institute of Technology student Laurel Street joined the team as Undercover Color’s director of social media.

“In the U.S., 18% of women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime,” the company says on its Facebook page. “That’s almost one out of every five women in our country. We may not know who they are, but these women are not faceless. They are our daughters, they are our girlfriends, and they are our friends.”

It adds: “For our first product, we are developing a nail polish that changes color when it comes in contact with date rape drugs such as Rohypnol, Xanax, and GHB. With our nail polish, any woman will be empowered to discreetly ensure her safety by simply stirring her drink with her finger. If her nail polish changes color, she’ll know that something is wrong.

“Through this nail polish and similar technologies, we hope to make potential perpetrators afraid to spike a woman’s drink because there’s now a risk that they can get caught. In effect, we want to shift the fear from the victims to the perpetrators. We are Undercover Colors and we are the first fashion company empowering women to prevent sexual assault.”

Undercover Colors is not currently a product to be marketed, but has raised tremendous interest in the start-up arena, having raised $100,000 from one investor, in addition to winning the Lulu eGames this spring, sponsored by North Carolina State’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, reported The Washington Times.

The Daily Tech detailed some of the drugs the product would be effective, including: (RS)-2-(2-Chlorophenyl)-2-(methylamino) cyclohexanone (ketamine), 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (MDMA) (aka: “Molly”/ecstasy) or γ-Hydroxybutyric acid (GHB). 8-Chloro-1-methyl-6-phenyl-4H-[1,2,4]triazolo[4,3-a][1,4]benzodiazepine (“Xanax”) and “roofies” (Rohypnol).

In a recent interview Madan said: “We [were] all from the same major, in Materials Science & Engineering (MSE). None of us really knew each other before our senior year, but we were all interested in entrepreneurship, and we knew about the Engineering Entrepreneurs Program (EEP). We ended up joining the EEP a couple of months late, and we bonded over the mountain of work we had to do to catch up with the other teams!”

He added: “NC State has been invaluable to us. We have been able to use lab space through the College of Veterinary Medicine, which is one of the only locations in North Carolina where we can test DEA Schedule 3 and Schedule 1 drugs. Our main technical advisor, Dr. Nathaniel Finney from the NCSU Chemistry Department, is a world-renowned expert on indicator development and has volunteered his time to help advise us on prototype development.”

He also added that all four of the entrepreneurs were close to someone who had gone through the ordeal of date rape.

The Tech pointed out that such technology isn’t unprecedented. Tallahassee, Florida-based DrinkSafeTech markets coasters and business cards that can test for the presence of GHB or ketamine. Some universities have embraced its product as a campus rape-prevention tool but its has also received some criticism for allegedly luring people into a false sense of safety, when its products fail to test for some of the most common date rape drugs, such as “Molly” or 5-(2-fluorophenyl)-1-methyl-7-nitro-1H-benzo[e][1,4]diazepin-2(3H)-one (aka “roofies”, or less commonly known as “Narcozep” or”Rohypnol”). Also the DrinkSafeTech can lead to hurt feelings or misunderstandings given its relatively conspicuous nature.

Undercover Colors has also received its fair share of critics.

Writing in The Telegraph, writer Claire Cohen rebuffs the nail polish concept as making women feel that prevention of sexual assaults is a woman’s responsibility, while the onus should be on men being educated not to do it, in the first place.

She points out a recent Washington Post study that showed that almost 4,000 allegations of sex offences were made on US college campuses in 2012, a 50 per cent rise from three years earlier. In these cases, less than five per cent of rape victims are immobilised by date rape drugs. In 2007, a survey of female sexual assault victims in college found that only 0.6 percent were sure they’d been drugged. Her point is that most of the rapes are done by someone who is known to the victim and in their own homes.

Cohen writes: “Anti-rape nail varnish, that has to be applied at home before setting out on a date sends out a disturbing message (not to mention falling into the tired trope of the female pre-date pampering routine, with the tagline ‘The First Fashion Company Empowering Women to Stop Sexual Assault’).

“Not only must a woman be prepared against rape at all times and view every man as a threat (NEVER TRUST ANYONE) but ‘Undercover Colours’ implies that it’s a woman’s prerogative to avoid being raped. You heard, it’s down to you, girls.”

However, going by the initial response to the nail polish concept, it has all the signs of being accepted in society as a marketable product.

Undercover Colors is seeking crowd sourced funding via online donations portal CloverDonations.com, which offers both one-time and recurring donation options. The startup’s Facebook page has 23,000 plus likes, signalling huge interest, and more importantly a need for the product by women who feel vulnerable going out on blind dates and who will seek any form of protection against being sexually attacked.

 

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