Lea Blackwell ’96

Breast surgical oncologist Lea Blackwell has been treating both women and men with breast cancer since 2008. Wanting to find a way to make their recovery more comfortable, she developed the Blackwell Bra.

What inspired you to invent the Blackwell Bra?

When I did my surgical training, we wrapped patients in an Ace Elastic Bandage. In my fellowship training, we had a surgical compression bra that we instructed the patients to wear for six weeks. When I started my surgical practice in Fort Myers, we used a surgical bra with a front Velcro closure. Every patient complained — it was uncomfortable but more uncomfortable without it. I started wondering if I could make my own bra.

Have you received a patent for your invention?

In May of 2011, patent attorneys advised me I had a patentable idea. In November of 2011, I applied for a patent for my “post-operative compression bra” and received my first patent in July, 2014. I now have three additional patents. I have two more items, a bra for women after heart and lung surgery that I’m calling the Thoracic Compression Bra and the Drain Apron, to help manage drain bulbs after surgery. I have the trademark on “Blackwell Bra” and one pending for “Dr. Blackwell.”

What makes the Blackwell Bra unique?

I was looking for a certain feel on the skin and ordered wick- away nylon and spandex compression fabric from Italy. The bra uses clasps instead of Velcro, which provide adjustability in the front and are easier for the patient to snap closed. It has mesh pockets to accommodate the drains. If patients don’t have drains, they can use the mesh pockets for ice packs. Because the patient is wearing the bra 24 hours a day, it can be hot, which is uncomfortable for the patient, so I added a mesh panel in the back of the bra to ventilate the bra. Additionally, all of the other post-surgical bras were designed with a wide band of fabric on the side, which aggravates the incision sites under the arms. The Blackwell Bra’s lower side fabric minimizes interference with the incisions. My accessory product, the Drain Apron, is helpful for patients who have drains, which are cumbersome. The Drain Apron is helpful to accommodate the drains when patients are taking showers. All of the bras are made in bright colors — I feel it’s positive and lifts their spirits. Women tell me that the bra is comfortable, and that they feel protected.

What challenges were there in making the bra?

It turns out that the bra is one of the more complex items to make in textiles. It’s not easy nding a manufacturer, and I prefer to make them in the U.S. Since 2013, I’ve worked with a seamstress who makes bras for my patients. I’ve given away more than a thousand bras since 2014. Working with the seamstress has helped me to modify the bra to improve the fit and feel. I have a bra designer working with me to facilitate manufacturing and hope to have them ready for sale by the end of 2018.

For more information, go to www.blackwellbra.com

Mike Neal ’83, Economics

CEO and co-founder of DecisionNext, a San Francisco–based company that builds prescriptive analytics solutions for commodities-driven industries, discusses building a business.

You have a wide range of clients from agribusiness to mining. How does your analytics platform serve all of them?

Our software tools are being used in some of the largest food processors, mining companies, and chemical companies in the world right now to help them simulate what commodity markets are going to do in the future, specifically around supply and price. We then use these simulations to help them optimize important decisions they make, such as the price they charge or how much of future capacity they sell today. We have consistently found that when decisions involve a rigorous market-price forecast, significant margin dollars can be found.

You majored in economics with a concentration in statistics at UF. How did your education help you?

I learned a lot in my statistics classes about approaching quantitative questions from first principles and about being fundamentally skeptical about conclusions drawn from quantitative analyses. Professor Jim McClave had a big impact on me, both in the introductory statistics class he taught and in working for his company, InfoTech, during my summers. He taught me the real-world practical value of rigorous analysis, which has been a thread running through my whole career. It’s very cool that back in the early 1980s, InfoTech was breaking new ground by driving huge bid-rigging court decisions with their analytics, and then over the last 35 years, industry after industry has gotten this religion. It was airlines in the mid-80s, then hotels, rental cars, and then in the ’90s, financial services, consumer goods, and supply chains. In the early 2000s, it was retail — we played a role in that. Now it’s commodities, and we’re working hard to raise the game there.

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?

The one piece of advice I think is most important for first-time entrepreneurs is to make sure that they’re starting a business for the right reasons. They need to be passionate and driven to develop their idea, or the likelihood of success approaches zero. Building a new company is hard — really hard — and it takes obsessive dedication to get you through the really bad days, or really bad months, to make the company a success.

– Gigi Marino

Many of our innovative alumni have used their degrees from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as a launching pad for beginning their own business. In each issue, we will focus on self-starting alumni. Our first two issues feature Gators from Gainesville. If you have suggestions for future inclusions, email us.

The Dennys – First Magnitude Brewing Company

Christine Denny

’94 English, with Minors in Education and Anthropology
M’00 Forest Resources and Conservation

John Denny

’92 Psychology
PhD’12 Higher Education Administration

We talked to Christine about their craft brewery and event space, First Magnitude Brewing Company.

How has your degree in English impacted your academic and professional careers?

My awkward class presentations, early attempts at writing a coherent report, and struggles to best understand complex literature planted a seed and desire to learn more and get better. The skills I learned as an English major helped out a lot — critical thinking, writing, and understanding and interpreting the writing of others. From 1999 to 2016, I worked at Normandeau Associates, an environmental consulting company and, in 2015, my husband and I opened First Magnitude Brewing Company with two of our friends. Both of these roles are entrepreneurial, and success is closely tied to communicating and connecting with people. Over the years, I have honed my ability to tell the story of our company and our brand and I feel this is rooted in the education I had in my undergraduate classes.

What is the favorite part of your job?

I love that every day has so much diversity. First Magnitude is always alive with activity, from the large-scale production work of the brewing, canning, and bottling that my husband, John, leads to the energy of our taproom and the fun of live music and special events. I’m lucky enough to be able to cross-pollinate my background in environmental science and water resources with the mission and vision of the brewery. A core part of our brewery’s mission is to celebrate springs and engage people in efforts to protect them. The name First Magnitude refers to Florida’s springs. North central Florida has the highest concentration of freshwater springs in the world. Those that are the most powerful, pushing out over 100 cubic feet of water per second, are called first-magnitude springs. We want people to come and enjoy great beer with their friends, and while they’re at it, look at Florida-focused artwork on our walls, participate in one of our events, such as the 7.2 K Springs Run (72 degrees Fahrenheit is the constant temperature of spring water), or ask about the reason behind some of our beer names. Maybe we’ll help create a spark to care about the springs, too.

What’s great about Gainesville for your business and your family?

Someone once told me that every town has its “currency.” In some, it’s who your family is, in others, it’s what your work is. In Gainesville, it’s what your story is. We moved back here in 1999 and tell each other regularly that we can’t imagine a better place to live. Our kids are growing up in a town with so much to offer. We love it here, and we love that Gainesville has accepted our brewery into the community and are making it part of the story of this town.

– Rachel Wayne

Many of our innovative alumni have used their degrees from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as a launching pad for beginning their own business. In each issue, we will focus on self-starting alumni. Our first two issues feature Gators from Gainesville. If you have suggestions for future inclusions, email us.

Corey Cheval PhD’15, Anthropology

Owner/operator of S-Connection LLC, which offers: Gainesville Circus Center, a dance school and studio emphasizing aerial dance and circus arts; performance groups AscenDance and Flores do Samba; costumes for circus and aerial performers; the band Maca Reggae Samba; and a cultural tour experience called Make Your History in Bahia.

How has your study of anthropology influenced your academic and professional career?

Anthropology has provided me with a global perspective and drive to seek ways in which my professional projects can positively impact my community and/or support other agencies or individuals in bettering theirs. I am particularly concerned with conservation and social equality/human rights, and have a number of ongoing projects that speak directly to those issues.

What’s great about Gainesville to you and for your business?

I’ve lived in a number of major urban areas — NYC, Oakland, San Diego, Salvador, and Rio de Janeiro — and despite all of the culture that a big city has to offer, it cannot compare with the serenity of a smaller city like ours. Gainesville is somewhat of a paradox in that it possesses a strong international community, making it culturally dynamic, but is small enough that you don’t feel the anxiety — some would say pulse — of a big city. I literally breathe easier in Gainesville. There is no shortage of green spaces and waterways to connect with nature. It is worth noting that our green spaces and springs are in constant threat of development, so there is an ongoing struggle here to manage growth without destroying those things about Gainesville that make it so special. As for running my business here, I’ve experienced a warm reception from both local and student residents. I have also developed solid working relationships with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, Santa Fe College, the University of Florida, and the media. For that, I am grateful.


– Rachel Wayne

Many of our innovative alumni have used their degrees from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as a launching pad for beginning their own business. In each issue, we will focus on self-starting alumni. Our inaugural issue includes a Gator from Gainesville. If you have suggestions for future inclusions, email us.