It’s a paper stick roughly 1 centimetre by 10cm in size, and it could stop you from being drugged on a night out.
That’s the goal of five Wellington students who developed the idea as part of the Young Enterprise Scheme, with the aim of preventing drink spiking and drug-facilitated sexual assault.
The dipstick product, which is in the initial concept phase, has been named Testli.
It contains the chemicals potassium hydroxide and 1,3-dinitrobenzene which, when placed in liquid, will react if the drug Rohypnol, a sedative often referred to as roofies, or any other benzodiazepines are present.
Since sharing the idea for the product online, the year 13 Wellington East Girls’ College students – Ava Richardson-Lane, Jessica Corney, Sylvie Kynaston, Sophie Roberston and Ella Watt – have garnered more than 1.5 million views on the social media platform TikTok.
They have accrued about 8900 followers and the group has received several offers of donations to get the product off the ground.
They hope the product could act as a “safety net” for those drinking in bars or public places, as well as act as a deterrent for people considering spiking drinks.
“We all know someone close to us who has been a victim of drink spiking, and we believe that the frequency of this needs to stop,” they said.
The group hopes to take the idea further as part of the Young Enterprise Scheme, a programme which offers secondary school students the opportunity to create and implement business ideas, sell their products and pitch them at regional and national competitions.
After receiving help from Callaghan Innovation, a scientist and a professor, the group discovered they needed more than $20,000 to get the project off the ground.
The limitations included the difficulty around the safe handling of the chemicals by both the manufacturer and the product user and the logistics of obtaining them.
“The final product would likely be covered in a plastic casing, like a pregnancy test, to make it safer,” Kynaston said.
Despite this, a team from across Callaghan, a government organisation tasked with accelerating business success through technology, met with the group and provided advice about how the project could be scaled up and what would be needed to turn it into a viable commercial product.
Callaghan Innovation principal research scientist Andrea Bubendorfer said Testli was a “high potential product”.
“With any new business developing new technology, there’s always risks and sometimes those risks can be that you can develop something, but it’s prohibitively expensive, so people won’t buy it, or you could have the risk that it works in the lab but doesn’t work for scale-up for sale, so it’s not going to be feasible,” she said.
Bubendorfer said the biggest challenge for the product would be around health and safety.
“Obviously with chemical safety, it’s a particular concern that needs to have a lot of time and effort and thought put into it to make sure it’s safe, because one of the most primary things you can do as a business is not cause harm to your customers.”
The potential of the product wasn’t just about the money that could be made, but the environment it could create and the impact it could have, she said.
“The social cost alone is quite significant.”