My UMSOP Story: Kun Yang, PharmD ’15, co-founder and CEO, Pricklee

Following an appearance on ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank,” Pricklee co-founder and CEO, Kun Yang, PharmD ’15, praised the company’s relationship with the Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic (IPEC) at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.  Yang commented that the clinic has been “an incredible asset and a complete game changer to have that support system when you’re growing business.” Pricklee’s connection with IPEC is now entering its 7th year.

Pricklee’s story began among friends from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy when Mo Hassoun shared a beverage derived from the prickly pear that his grandmother would make for him as a child in Lebanon. The group of friends was amazed by the taste derived from the prickly pear fruit and equally astonished by the myriad health benefits. While they continued their studies, they made plans to share what would become Pricklee with the world.

Shortly after graduating, the group of friends reunited and agreed to formally start the business. Their product, cactus water tasting like a mix of watermelon and bubblegum, is a unique offering.  The founders used their scientific and healthcare knowledge, along with some creativity, to create a new line of water beverages.  Like any start-up, it took a lot of work to build Pricklee from the ground up. Their classmate and dual degree student in pharmacy and law, Mena Gaballah ’18, described what happened next: “Kun and I became good friends during pharmacy school, and it was clear from when we first met that he would go on to do something really exciting. During my final year of law school, Kun reached out and told me that he and a few friends had an idea for a business and needed a little bit of help with filing a few trademarks and forming an operating agreement. At the time, I was enrolled in the IP [intellectual property] Clinic at the law school, so the timing was perfect. I reached out to Professor Patricia Campbell, who gave the green light – we could take Pricklee on as a client.” This marked the beginning of the collaboration with the IPEC, which was then still known as the IP Clinic.

IPEC Director Patricia Campbell remembers working with Pricklee, fondly saying, “Kun and the other members of Pricklee were ideal clients. They were excited about the product they were developing, enjoyed working with the students, and were always responsive to our requests. It was a pleasure to work with Pricklee.”

Once Gaballah introduced Pricklee to the IP Clinic, they’ve been working together ever since. “We value our relationship with the IP Clinic so much for three reasons. First, for startup businesses when cash flow is such an important thing, the pro bono IP Clinic is a huge added value. And also, we trust the expertise that comes out of the Clinic. Whether it’s a really complicated question or not, we always get the right answers. Finally, we love to find a way to just bring along others in this process and we know that it’s a way to support our alma mater and it’s a way to give students real-world experience they can then apply to their future careers. That’s just the cherry on top.”

Along the journey from UMB to the present, there was a highly public stop at ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank” (Season 13 Episode 22) where Kun and Mo negotiated a deal with “Shark” Barbara Corcoran for $200,000 as a line of credit in exchange for 5% equity in the company.

While Pricklee continues to expand its operations after the major boost of appearing on Shark Tank, the IPEC remains committed to its longtime partner and looks forward to providing future help as needed to Kun and Pricklee.

This article originally appeared on the Carey School of Law website.

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