StartUp Worcester Participant is Closer to Reinventing the Condom
By David Sullivan, Economic Development Fellow,
Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce

Worcester has long been a city of innovation. From being the first venue of the National Women’s Rights Convention, to Robert Goddard’s launch of the first liquid-fueled rocket, to the invention of the wind chill factor, Worcester has always been on the front-line of changes that have benefited the entire world.

Now, Worcester is closer than ever to adding a new innovation to its resume – the reinvention of the condom.

That’s where CEO and Co-Founder of HydroGlyde Coatings, Stacy Chin, comes in. “There’s been many issues with the usage of condoms,” she told
me in a July 21 interview. “People don’t use them properly or don’t use them at all. This creates more risk for disease and unwanted pregnancies as well.” HydroGlyde was a participant in the 2017 iteration of StartUp Worcester, a program run by the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce intended to recruit and incubate the region’s most impressive entrepreneurial businesses.

Since 2017, HydroGlyde has received $1.4 million in grants to pursue its mission of revolutionizing the way the condom is designed.

According to Chin, the condom has not been significantly redesigned in the past 70 years. Some would argue it hasn’t been redesigned in a major way in the past 500 years, apart from the switch from linen to lamb’s intestine and eventually to latex, as well as the addition of the reservoir tip in the mid-20th century. Either way, HydroGlyde is addressing a serious issue that hasn’t been looked at in a long time.

HydroGlyde is not alone in recognizing that the typical condom has an outdated design.

In 2012, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sent out a worldwide request for a company to fix the condom’s current issues to combat STDs, STIs, and unwanted pregnancies across the globe in an effort to address poverty and inequality. And it’s not just an issue for the poorer parts of the world, where condom access is infrequent if available at all. In the United States alone in 2018, the CDC reported a “record high” of STD transmissions that amounted to a staggering 2,457,118 combined cases.

So, what’s the key to fixing the condom? According to Chin, it’s all in the lubricant.

Currently, lack of lubrication is the primary cause of leading the condom to improperly function – bodily friction during intercourse can dry up the lubricant and cause small holes and tears in the latex and discomfort for the people involved.

Usually, a silicon jelly is applied to the surface of the condom during manufacturing, but that rarely holds up long enough when it comes to usage. At HydroGlyde, they are developing a prototype latex design where the coating is permanently attached to the surface and can be activated with a few drops of water. This would eliminate the need for supplemental condom lubricants, make them far less likely to break, and create greater access to safe condoms.

Currently, HydroGlyde is securing the necessary FDA approval for testing trials for their prototype. “Right now we have 3 patents granted, which is excellent,” says Chin. “We are moving towards a small human trial…to figure out if we have a viable option that consumers want. This has been in the work for years and years.” Recently, HydroGlyde also secured IRB approval for the testing, which recognizes the product’s safety for human use. Once the trials are complete, they will begin to move closer towards commercialization.

Chin told me that a big part of her company’s success has been its lab location in Worcester. To her, being headquartered in the WorcLab building downtown has reinforced a positive, innovative culture in her company. “I like to say we have the best of both worlds in Worcester here with Boston nearby – the exposure to the bioscience ecosystem in Greater Boston and the innovation community in Worcester,” she told me.

She also talked about how the universities in Worcester are training the next generation of startup entrepreneurs, especially in life sciences. Chin herself graduated from Holy Cross with a degree in chemistry.

StartUp Worcester was a key factor in pushing HydroGlyde to its current success. Each year, about a dozen businesses are selected by a competitive process and offered a seat in the program. Several of these start-up companies have been purchased by larger companies or have gotten the publicity and resources needed to take them to the next level. It also includes access to the laboratory space downtown through a partnership between the WorcLab and the Chamber, and Chin identified this as a crucial part of her company’s early development. “Having space at the Worcester Idea Lab [now WorcLab] was really instrumental in testing and prototyping and getting us to where we are now,” she explained.

The next big thing is already in the works. Keep an eye out for Worcester’s next big innovation.