Ventures helping entrepreneurs size up collagen market

Taking stock: Rose-Hulman intern Chris Lippelt and Associate Professor Mark Brandt are helping guide Avicenna Nutraceutical into the growing collagen supplement market.

Collagen is a natural protein that holds the human body together. As people age, their collagen levels fall and they may experience joint pain, wrinkles, brittle hair, and other unwanted effects of aging. Because collagen is so important, many people take collagen supplements, usually sold over the counter at health food and drug stores. Indeed, consumer interest in collagen is strong and getting stronger.

Initially Ali Elnajjar, an Atlanta-based entrepreneur and financial advisor, was approached by a good friend, Ali Mourad, who works in the nutraceutical industry with one of the top companies that supplies collagen products in the USA & internationally about launching a new company to compete in the collagen supplement market. They wanted to know whether a new company, called Avicenna Nutraceutical, could produce an all-U.S.-made collagen product with greater purity than is typically available. After one year of research, they concluded that there is a market for a U.S.-made collagen product and then reached out to Hassan Elkahlil, an Atlanta-based attorney, for legal counsel and partnership.

Many collagen supplements are made with imported collagen sources and lack the level of purity many consumers may want, Elnajjar believes.

“All we had was the idea,” Elnajjar said during a recent visit to Rose-Hulman Ventures, where he has teamed up with student interns under the direction of Dr. Mark Brandt, an associate professor of chemistry.

Elnajjar believes the collagen market is ripe for a top-quality, all-U.S. product. Step one, however, is to discover whether Avicenna is scientifically and economically feasible. That’s where Rose-Hulman Ventures comes in. Under Brandt’s direction, Rose-Hulman interns have successfully purified Type 2 collagen, found in animal cartilage, in a laboratory setting. The next step is to determine whether the purified collagen can be produced on a massive scale at a reasonable price.

Rose-Hulman senior chemical engineering student Chris Lippelt is helping Avicenna unlock the best ways to purify collagen from chicken cartilage.

Rose-Hulman senior chemical engineering student Chris Lippelt is helping Avicenna unlock the best ways to purify collagen from chicken cartilage.

The whole process requires students to face the unexpected challenges found outside of textbooks, Brandt said. “The real world tends to get in the way when you actually try things,” he said.

Chris Lippelt, a senior chemical engineering major who has been working on the Avicenna project for about a year, has extracted Type 2 collagen from dozens of chicken “frames,” which are basically what’s left of a chicken after it has been processed for the food industry.

“I’ve always been interested in developing products to help people,” Lippelt said. “This is what I like.”

After months of study, Elnajjar said Avicenna moved from being a purely business proposition to a new passion. He spends hours each day reading scholarly literature on collagen and its effects, he said.

“I’ve learned enough that I believe in the health benefits,” he said.

Elnajjar, who is Palestinian American and a graduate of the University of Georgia, operates Avicenna Nutraceuticals with partners Ali Mourad and Hassan Elkhalil, both Lebanese American businessmen and entrepreneurs. Their company is named for an influential 11th century Islamic philosopher, physician and mathematician.

For more information on the company, visit www.avicennanutraceutical.com.