Two teams spearheaded by doctoral students in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department were among the three winners of the University of Massachusetts Innovation Challenge Final on April 5, when $65,000 in seed money was distributed to the prizewinners. eBiologics finished in first place, winning $30,000 and led by Alexander Smith, a doctoral student in MIE. The other prizewinning MIE team was Kinase, Inc., which finished in third place and won $15,000. Kinase is headed by Nariman Banaei, a doctoral student in MIE, and MBA student Amir Ali Jazayeri of Hofstra University.
The four-part Innovation Challenge was hosted by the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship at UMass Amherst to help develop student startups. The Innovation Challenge is a cross-campus entrepreneurship competition that launches promising ventures to their next level of startup. This series of competitions is designed to help and reward UMass students and young alumni who want to pursue novel business ideas and develop them into marketable products. During the final competition, each competing team had three minutes to make its pitch to the judges, and then the judges had five minutes to ask team members questions.
eBiologics is focused on providing early detection of chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, using a skin sensor patch that monitors biomarkers in your sweat.
According to excellent reporting by Assistant News Editor Abigail Charpentier in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Smith said that “Our company makes a patch, non-invasive as a Band-Aid, that will alert you to the possible onset of a serious medical condition.”
Charpentier explained that the personal health monitor pitched by Smith is a simple patch that continuously analyzes sweat using diagnostic protein nano-wires that can measure disease progression. Data are collected in the patch and sent to an app that can be accessed on a mobile device or cloud service. Smith has been working on this business since November but has been participating in the Innovation Challenge since last year. He described his journey as “a rollercoaster” because he had switched business ideas twice.
“It was a lot of hard work to get here,” Smith said. “It wasn’t just a snap of the fingers, but I feel very rewarded. From here, we are going to be doing business development, validating our business models, we are going to be developing our prototype, we are going to be applying for non-diluted funding, and our next goal will be getting a quality, commercial-grade patent.”
KINASE is a low-cost, point-of-care platform for early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. The team’s goal is to create an accurate, economical platform for early diagnosis using biomarkers.
In the Collegian article, Jazayeri said that “As we mentioned in our pitch, our way is clear for us. We are already detecting pancreatic cancer and we want to [detect] six more types of cancer with this platform.”
“We have a lot of plans, we have a lot of tests to do,” Banaei said. “We have a plan.”
The Collegian article also reported that Smith had this to say about his overall experience in the year-long competition: “The Innovation Challenge has been awesome for sparking my interest both in entrepreneurship and also keeping me focused on continuingly working toward creating some type of business model and a business idea. Otherwise, it’s floating around, nothing really coming of it, but when you have a competition like this, it incentivizes you to focus on the idea, treat it like a real project, and give it attention.” (April 2018)