Sometimes it takes dropping out of college to create exactly what every college student needs. Case in point: the topical caffeine spray.
Ben Yu dropped out of Harvard after a semester. In lieu of an Ivy League degree, Yu took Paypal founder Peter Thiel’s fellowship to work on his own pet project. According to the Thiel Fellows website, fellowship winners are “given a no-strings-attached grant of $100,000 to skip college and focus on their work, their research, and their self-education.”
For Yu this meant climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and going to Antarctica. While on the expedition vessel to Antarctica, Yu met Deven Soni, a former venture capitalist. The two worked with Yu’s father, an organic chemistry Ph.D. with a lab in China, and developed the pick-me-up that you put on.
Rather than submitting one’s self to the ardor of a cup of coffee or tea—Lord knows we all hate that—you just squirt four squirts of “Sprayable Energy” onto your neck.
“Our spray enables caffeine to enter your system at a steady pace over several hours—giving you smooth, long-lasting energy,” the Sprayable Energy website claims. “After spraying, you will feel awake and focused without being over-stimulated as is common with coffee and energy drinks. Since our product enters your system gradually over a period of several hours, you wont have the ‘buzz’ that you get from caffeine products you drink (or the crash afterwards).”
The spray is colorless and odorless, and Yu told Nick Leiber at Businessweek that because “it contains only caffeine, water, and an amino acid derivative, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t consider it a drug or a dietary supplement.” Instead, he calls it “homeopathic energy.”
The grand, almost utopian language of the Thiel fellowship may make sprayable caffeine seem sort of silly. “The world’s hardest problems aren’t going to solve themselves. If you have a great idea, the right time to work on it isn’t four years off—it’s now,” Thiel said last year in a release about the fellowship.
Is coffee breath one of the world’s hardest problems? Probably not, but it is a business, which is what the Thiel fellowship is really all about. Of course, the energy market is already extremely crowded, and the last major attempt to get rid of drinks—the inhalable AeroShot—ended up in the FDA's crosshairs.
But questions about the merits of wedging a business through any unregulated gap can be left to liberal arts majors racking up debt in college. They can even debate the merits of an entrepreneurial fellowship that still leads to an Indiegogo campaign. And as the debate stretches into the wee hours of the morning, they’re just four squirts away from perking up in time for their next class.