Ted Novitsky’s lip piercing is an edgy embellishment now, but for the first five months he was rocking a different look – infection.
“I had to clean it four or five times a day. I had to soak it in hot water. I had to take antibiotics,” he said.
If every storm cloud has a silver lining, the payoff for Novitsky’s ordeal was a sterling idea – one he hopes could eventually grow into a lucrative new business.
Novitsky, 24, developed a plan with fellow University of Southern Mississippi polymer science graduate student Andy Magenau and University of Mississippi graduate student Rob Smith to coat piercing studs with a material that would deliver antiseptic to a new piercing, drastically reducing healing time and warding off infection.
“We’re putting science into an application where there is no science now,” Magenau, 25, said. “We want to take the technology to the next level.”
To that end, the trio formed Pierce Safe Technologies and is working on patenting and perfecting the product. The group recently won the $5,000 first prize at the Southern Miss Invent Your Future competition and a $10,000 second prize at the FedEx Institute of Technology Business Plan competition at the University of Memphis; the winnings will go toward funding research in support of the patent.
“Ted and Andy are among a growing group of Ph.D students at Southern Miss who are successfully creating companies by linking their research to the needs of the market,” Ken Malone, director of the university’s Trent Lott National Center of Excellence for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship, said in an e-mail.
And the need is certainly there. A pile of journal articles show that between 25 percent and 35 percent of new piercings become infected, Magenau said. A piercing is essentially an open wound, and it can be difficult to protect it from bacteria. Since the majority of people getting pierced are children and adolescents, post-piercing care can be unreliable or insufficient.
Piercing aficionado Tiffany Moreno knows the pain of slow-to-heal piercings firsthand. Two years after she had the skin above the bridge of her nose pierced, it still becomes irritated on occasion.
“It takes forever,” said Moreno, 23, of Hattiesburg, who has 15 piercings in all. “I’m scared to take any of them out and use different jewelry because I think they’ll get infected again.”
Moreno said she “would definitely” try a Pierce Safe Technologies stud – and that’s exactly what Novitsky and Magenau want to hear.
Novitsky said his own lip piercing could come in handy during research.