Photo: (left to right) Carly Holstein (BioE Ph.D. candidate), Alyssa Hochman (M.B.A., 2014), Joel Loveday (M.B.A. candidate), Dr. Gina Fridley (Ph.D, BioE, 2014), Jonny Holz (M.B.A. candidate)
UW Bioengineering students led four teams in the 2014 Business Plan Competition, which concluded on May 22. Competing against 88 other teams, BioE’s teams pitched diverse, innovative ideas to hundreds of judges – including entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors. The projects presented in the competition included a rapid flu diagnostic test, an interactive platform for stroke rehabilitation, a device to help parents toilet-train children and a tool which helps photographers and videographers easily capture unique, dramatic images.
Flu Finder: Accurate flu diagnosis in 20 minutes or less
Flu Finder received the second place ($10,000) and Best Innovation ($2,500) prizes at the competition. Present-day flu tests do not achieve diagnosis effectively for most infected individuals. Tests that work quickly tend to produce unreliable results. More accurate tests require laboratory analysis, a resource-intensive process that can take hours or days to complete.
Ph.D. students Gina Fridley and Carly Holstein investigate solutions for disease diagnosis in low-resource and point-of-care settings in Professor Paul Yager’s lab. Gina and Carly, who participate in the UW Technology Entrepreneurship Certificate (TEC) program, saw the potential to translate their work to a marketable product bridging the gap between current options available for diagnosing flu: a test that not only works quickly but also is affordable and highly accurate. They teamed with three UW Foster School MBA students (Jonny Holz, Alyssa Hochman and Joel Loveday) to develop their product, Flu Finder, and prepare for the competition.
Flu Finder is a simple device that works similarly to a home pregnancy test. Anyone, anywhere can take the test by taking a nasal swab, inserting it in the device, pinching the test to close and waiting 20 minutes for the results. The vision is that the patient can use a smartphone app to take a photo of the completed test; the app will analyze the results and send them to a doctor for review. After evaluating the results, the doctor can send an ePrescription for medication to the patient’s nearest pharmacy if treatment is necessary.
Moving forward with product development plans, the team is conducting market analysis and business development planning as grant-funded research to refine the diagnostic technology continues. Eventually, they hope to spin out a company to market Flu Finder to address an important diagnostic need and capture a share of the flu diagnostics market. The team also aspires to fulfill an entirely new market need, home flu testing. “We hope that in 10 years everyone will have one [Flu Finder] in their medicine cabinet,” explains Gina.
vHAB: An interactive, dynamic solution for stroke rehabilitation
Stroke victims often require lengthy, difficult rehabilitation to regain their past level of mobility and independence. Recovery is slow in the best cases which can cause patients to lose motivation to comply with a prescribed treatment plan. The incremental gains made in physical therapy are difficult and time-consuming to measure, so clinicians lack precise insight into how to better personalize treatment for a patient’s specific needs.
Ph.D. students Brian Mogen and Tyler Libey, and neurobiology student Lars Crawford, sought a way to apply their diverse knowledge and combine biomedical principles to improve stroke patient treatment and outcomes. The team started working towards this goal during the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering’s Technology Sandbox course and the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship’s NeuroVentures course, looking for new ways to apply advances in technology to clinical settings.
Their work led to development of vHAB, a platform for stroke rehabilitation that aims to integrate patients and clinicians with advances in motion capture, electromyography and virtual reality technologies. vHAB uses a virtual reality device, the Oculus Rift, to guide a patient through gamified environment that mimics traditional physical therapy tasks. Muscle activity sensors monitor the patient and make real-time, in-game adjustments while recording specific metrics about the patient’s movement and performance. The system continuously adapts to any available motor signal from the patient, encouraging the patient to continue playing by providing direct visual feedback. This closed-loop training system can help a patient who has minimal motor ability improve by providing a portable, fun environment that motivates the patient to comply with treatment.
vHAB finished 17th in the competition, just missing the “Sweet 16” round but served as first alternate. The team plans to continue developing vHAB. They recently filed a provisional patent with the UW Center for Commercialization (C4C) and received $5,000 in seed funding from the UW Coulter Translational Research Partnership Program. The team’s funding will support development of a product prototype and collection of initial patient feedback.
SmartyPants: A predictive toilet training platform
Toilet training is a reality all parents and caregivers face when raising a child. Most children are trained successfully without complication. However, this task is more challenging for children who subconsciously withhold to avoid painful bowel movements or who have special needs. For these children, effective treatment can be lengthy, costly and frustrating to parents and caregivers.
Ph.D. student and father of three Shon Schmidt understood the struggle parents face toilet training their children all too well. He believed that technology could solve this problem and collaborated with fellow UW Bioengineering Ph.D. student and TEC classmate Christian Redd to develop a solution called SmartyPants. The team also involves University of British Columbia electrical engineering student Jonas Flueckiger and child psychologist Dr. Tom DuHamel.
SmartyPants uses a comfortable waistband containing sensors that monitor muscle activity in the abdominal area to predict when a bathroom event is imminent—preventing soiled briefs and helping the child develop a connection between the urge to go and getting to the bathroom. The device can alert the wearer directly, resulting in an increased awareness of when to use the restroom, and also send a notification to the parent or caregiver’s smartphone giving them time to intervene.
The team claims that there is no device like SmartyPants on the market today. They hope that it will “improve quality of life for kids,” and reduce stress and costs for parents. The team has investigated viability of the technology through a prototype and will next build a wearable product concept. They plan to demonstrate its efficacy by conducting patient trials, publish results in peer-reviewed journals with Dr. Duhamel, and gain the credibility and exposure necessary to influence physicians and members of online support communities. Finally, the team plans to build strategic relationships and sell the product to the mass market via Amazon.com.
Fractal Filters: Offers photographers, videographers creative freedom
In the TEC’s Business Plan Practicum class, first-year PhD and TEC student Eric Swanson became involved with a team developing FractalFilters, a photo and video lens filter. Tyler Brown (Cinemedia and Entrepreneurship) and Nicholas Wong (alumnus, winter ’14) were already far along in the product development process but needed help to finalize their business plan and prepare for the competition. Eric stepped in to contribute the assistance the team needed to proceed to the competition. “I wanted to get business experience with a bioengineering related product before I graduate,” he says.
FractalFilters offers creative freedom to photographers and videographers to capture images in a free-form and non-conventional way. The filter is a refractive glass lens that affixes to any digital SLR or fixed-lens camera – a prototype of the iPhone is in the works – that creates a fractal, or iterative transformations of part of the image. The filter is simple to use and extremely versatile; it can be used in a number of ways and its abilities are limited only by the creativity of the user. It can quickly capture dramatic effects that would otherwise require additional equipment or significant post-processing, saving time and effort. In addition to the filter itself, the team plans to create an online community where FractalFilters users can connect and learn from each other.
Prior to competing in the Business Plan Competition, the team promoted Fractal Filters on Kickstarter and raised over $55,000 from 1,032 backers. The team is currently refining the product and proceeding to manufacture and ship to their first customers.
While Eric decided not to continue working with the Fractal Filters team after the competition in order to focus on his Ph.D. research, he says that the experience he gained from working on the project will be valuable in the future. He plans to participate in future UW Business Plan Competitions and present bioengineering business ideas of his own.