Two scientists are working in laboratory. Young female researcher and her senior supervisor are doing investigations with test tubes. AI + Machine Learning

FastFormulator Excels Product Development

When Yelena Yesha, PhD, was hired at the Frost Institute for Data Science and Computing (IDSC) three years ago, part of her charge was to take the groundbreaking research being done at the University of Miami and translate it into private, income-generating companies.

Yelena YeshaNow, the world-renowned computer scientist has teamed up with a chemical formulation and product design expert at the College of Engineering to launch a startup company they believe will revolutionize the way multinational companies develop their products.

Yesha partnered with Dr. Samiul Amin, Professor of Practice at UM’s Chemical, Environmental, and Materials Engineering Department, to form FastFormulator, a company that uses Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) to fast-track the development of compounds used in cosmetics, cleaning products, biopharma, foods, and inks. The duo is trying to replace the traditional, time-consuming process of chemical formulation and product development that still relies on old-fashioned trial and error with a predictive approach that uses AI/ML to quickly create new compounds that do exactly what they’re supposed to do.

Yesha said the company represents the kind of commercial research spinoff she is trying to foster at IDSC and throughout the UM campus. “This is very much in the realm of my vision and why I came to UM,” said Yesha, who also serves as the Knight Foundation Endowed Chair of Data Science and AI. “There are a lot of great ideas on campus that have this potential. I would like to dedicate more of my time, energy, and know-how to these types of efforts, and see how we can help faculty and students around campus realize their dreams.”

Samuil AminFastFormulator came about nearly by chance when Amin and Yesha met at an event on UM’s Coral Gables campus in January of 2023. Amin had spent more than two decades working for some of the biggest chemical companies in the world, including Loreal, Unilever, and Exxon/Mobil. He left the private sector and joined UM as a Professor of Practice in the hopes of finding computer scientists who could help with his idea of using AI/ML to streamline the chemical formulation and product design process.

Yesha had spent her career developing AI/ML techniques that have been used to create electronic commerce systems, repair the Hubble Space Telescope, identify lung cancers, and mine health care data to forecast illness and create new therapies, but had no experience with chemical development.

Yet the two bonded immediately and saw an opportunity to upend the way companies (cosmetics, consumer goods, foods, coatings, etc.) develop their formulated products. “Yelena saw it quickly,” Amin said. “We hit it off.”

Amin said the formulated-products-based companies such as cosmetics and consumer goods are facing pressure from consumers and regulators to completely reengineer their products so they’re more eco-friendly and sustainable, but are struggling to do so because their development processes are so slow.

Amin uses the example of shampoos to illustrate the point. Most shampoo companies developed their signature products decades ago, only tinkering with the complex formulas from time to time. Now they’re being forced to remove problematic ingredients, replace them with more eco-friendly ingredients, and still deliver the same product. But since the companies still use experiment-intensive development techniques, making such wholesale changes has been slow, costly, and ineffective.

“I can give you the most green shampoo on earth, the most biodegradable, but it doesn’t clean your hair, it doesn’t foam up, and it’s water-thin. You’re never going to sell that,” he said.

FastFormulator is designed to make broad changes quickly while maintaining the quality and feel of the original products. Rather than testing out each chemical combination one by one, Yesha and Amin have started cataloging the effects of each ingredient (and untold combinations of those ingredients) and training a computer to quickly test out thousands of combinations to identify the ideal formula.

“AI/ML will actually identify those gold nuggets in the formulation, where other people, just by the sheer number of experiments you need to get there, may never know exist.”

“AI/ML will actually identify those gold nuggets in the formulation, where other people, just by the sheer number of experiments you need to get there, may never know exist,” Amin said.

The duo fast-tracked their research and, within one year, have already patented the concept and incorporated their new business. Since their research was developed at the University of Miami, they had to negotiate with the University’s Office of Technology Transfer (OTT), which oversees the commercialization of all innovations developed on campus. The OTT obtained a patent on the process developed by Amin and Yesha, allowing the duo to co-found FastFormulator with UM retaining equity in the company and a percentage of profits.

The company now has a standalone office/laboratory at Converge Miami, has signed several clients and hired two full-time contractors who are already working on the company’s first projects. Yesha said they will soon hire a Board of Advisors and a CEO to run the day-to-day operations, as Yesha and Amin continue fine-tuning the product and recruiting more clients.

“We want the community to know
that these things are possible at UM.”

Yesha intends to spend about one day a week focused on the new company, but the rest of her time will be spent back at UM searching for the next big opportunity. “We want the community to know that these things are possible at UM,” she said.


Story by Alan R. Gomez

FastFormulator logo