Making the Permanent (Tattoos) Ephemeral

Five School of Engineering Students Receive Grand Prize for Innovative Tattoo System

Tattooing machine diagram

In an entrepreneurship competition held at NYU Stern, five School of Engineering students in conjunction with a student at Stern won the grand prize, walking away with $75,000 for their team’s work.

The $200K Entrepreneurs Challenge, held by Stern’s Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, is an eight-month competition that began with 249 teams hailing from seven NYU schools, with the final phase of the challenge including a mere fourteen teams. The work began with initial idea pitches, elimination rounds, coaching sessions, and, finally a Q&A session before a panel of judges that was held on May 1. Each finalist prepared a three-minute pitch and video explaining their concepts; the audience voted on favorites. The finalists vied for three awards—the New Venture Competition, Social Venture Competition, and Technology Venture Competition. The latter prize was awarded to Ephemeral, a tattoo ink system that easily allows wearers to remove tattoos.

The Ephemeral team includes several School of Engineering students, all majoring in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering: Jason Candreva (Ph.D.), Brennal Pierre (Ph.D.), Vandan Shah (Ph.D.), Anthony Lam (B.S.), and Seung Shin (B.S.). Joshua Sakhai (B.S.), also a part of the team, is a Stern student majoring in Math, Finance, and Computer Science. This particular competition does not require the participation of Stern students in order to be eligible.

Ephemeral team members
Ephemeral team members

Ephemeral’s ingenuity lies in the type of ink that is used to create the tattoos. These special inks would be used at the tattoo shop exactly as conventional inks would, and they would be just as permanent if the wearer were to choose to keep them.

But what about removing the tattoo? With conventional inks, that requires a trip to a tattoo removal center and costly and painful laser treatment. With Ephemeral inks, however, the process is simpler: If the wearer decided they no longer wanted the tattoo, they would instead visit the tattoo shop, where the artist would trace over the tattoo with a removal solution. This not only removes the need for lasers, it is also relatively less expensive and would give wearers more freedom and flexibility.

“Ephemeral was born through a personal experience of mine,” said Seung Shin. “Ever since I was young, I was always interested in tattoos but my parents were extremely against it mostly because of its permanence.” Shin, however, decided to get a tattoo anyway and ultimately had it removed—and felt the unpleasantness of laser removal firsthand. “It was the worst experience of my life—it was extremely painful, ineffective, and costly.” This spurred Shin into action as he felt there had not been much innovation in the tattoo industry for some time.

While the entire challenge was quite a lengthy process, Shin suggests others to not hesitate to compete. “Although the past eight months have been the most challenging months of my career thus far, they have also been the most joyful. I would recommend any of my fellow colleagues with an idea to join this competition—a truly priceless learning experience.”