News Gazette: UI grad students' air-filter startup signs deals with Lowe's and Chewy

News Gazette: UI grad students' air-filter startup signs deals with Lowe's and Chewy

Story courtesy of News Gazette’s Jana Wiersema

Air-filter technology that two University of Illinois graduate students originally designed for NASA has found new life as a household tool for pet owners — and earned their startup company deals with two retailers.

Local startup Serionix recently signed contracts with Lowe's and Chewy, an online retailer of pet supplies, said Serionix CEO and co-founder James Langer. Both now offer Serionix's Colorfil filters, which remove chemicals and odors from the air and change color when they need to be replaced.

"We signed our contract with Chewy and went live on their website. ... That was a couple weeks ago," Langer said Monday. "And then last week, we signed a contract with Lowe's and went live on their website."

And so it took us four years to go from zero to one retail contract, and it took us two weeks to go from one to two. And so we're really excited about just the opportunity that affords us to reach our customers where they're shopping."

He added that the company sees this as a "great first step" toward continued growth of the business and its operations, which are based in the Champaign-Urbana area.

Langer co-founded Serionix with fellow UI grad student Weihua Zheng and their research adviser, James Economy. The initial version of their product was built for NASA to use in spacesuits so that astronauts would have safe, clean air to breathe during spacewalks, he said.

Serionix began selling Colorfil air filters about four years ago.

"The idea was to sell a product that would just create peace of mind for our customers," Langer said. "One of the key benefits of the filters is their ability to capture and neutralize chemicals and particularly odor-causing chemicals in the air."

In watching customer trends, Serionix noticed that the people who got the most use out of Colorfil were pet owners, so they decided to go all in on the idea of "putting pets first" and rebranded the product around this concept in 2021.

Langer estimated that Chewy approached them about six months ago, shortly after Serionix took first place in the new product showcase at the SUPERZOO trade show in August. They had also recently been awarded a spot on Inc. Magazine's 2023 "5,000 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America."

Until then, Serionix had only sold Colorfil filters through its own site and Amazon.

"More than just about any other brand in the space, Chewy really embodies a lot of what we aspire to as a brand, in terms of really caring for pets and for families with pets," Langer said.


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