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Emily Willard and [name], co-founders of Engage, took first place at the UW's first Health Innovation Challenge. Photo by Clare McGrane.
Katherine Brandenstein, left, and Emily Willard, co-founders of Engage, took first place at the UW’s first Health Innovation Challenge. Photos/Clare McGrane.
The University of Washington held its first annual Health Innovation Challenge (HIC) Thursday—bringing innovators in entrepreneurship, business and health science together with students from regional universities.

The challenge was a science fair on steroids—but instead of vinegar and baking soda volcanoes, the winning groups presented systems to freeze cells for regenerative medicine, heal patients with virtual reality video games and sanitize needles in developing countries.

Although it was organized by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship at the UW’s Foster School of Business, most of the competitors were not business students. The 18 teams that took part in the challenge also included students from departments like Design, Materials Sciences and Biomedical Informatics.

Over 100 judges from the Seattle "entrecommunity" and health science industry voted to choose the winners, and gave teams feedback on their work. Photo by Clare McGrane
Over 100 judges from the Seattle health science industry voted to choose the winners, and gave teams feedback on their work.

Biotech startup Engage, which took first place, was the only non-UW affiliated team. It was founded by Washington State University bioengineering students Emily Willard and Katherine Brandenstein.

Willard and Brandenstein presented prototypes of SafeShot—a lid that attaches to multi-use vials, like ones that non-governmental organizations use to give vaccines, and sterilizes needles as they enter the vial.

According to Engage’s website, seven billion injections are given using contaminated equipment every year, mostly in developing countries. This has led to the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis.

“We were kind of surprised,” Brandenstein said after the announcement.

Many of their competitors, including the second- and third-place winners, are UW-established startups that are more fully developed with beta tests of medical systems or in the midst of pilot projects.

Willard said they had only been considering the product’s application in humanitarian settings, but many of the judges said it could be applied in many different industries.

“We got feedback on how it could be used in lab research, and possibly in a military or veterinary context,” said Willard, who is a senior at WSU and is unsure how they plan to commercialize SafeShot after graduation.

Engage was awarded $10,000,

“We’re keeping our options open,” Willard said, “We might continue working on it during a Masters or Doctorate program. There’s lots of research still to be done.”

The winners were chosen by over 100 judges from all corners of the health science community. Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director of the Buerk Center, said they wanted to engage the entirety of Seattle’s “entrecommunity” in the event— from investors, to lawyers, to biotech specialists.

miPS, a startup that freezes cells for use in future regenerative medicine, took second place at the HIC. Photo by Clare McGrane.
miPS, a startup that freezes cells for use in future regenerative medicine, took second place at the HIC.

“It’s really this awesome way to engage students, entrepreneurs, and people who are up to their brows in the industry,” Bourassa-Shaw said.

The second place winner, miPS labs, is already a player in that community. They are a startup focusing on regenerative medicine—specifically, freezing cells now to use for regenerative medicine down the line.

18 teams competed for the three winning spots, giving pitches and demonstrations of prototypes to the judges. Photo by Clare McGrane.
18 teams competed for the three winning spots, giving pitches and demonstrations of prototypes to the judges.

They have recently hit capacity for their closed beta test, according to co-founder Alex Jiao.

And the third place winner is another startup, MultiModal Health, who recently spun out from the UW. Their virtual reality video games have won previous UW competitions, and are now being used in pilot projects in orthopedic clinics around Seattle.

The Buerk Center, which also hosts a Business Plan Challenge and an Environmental Innovation Challenge, began planning the HIC last summer.

“We had noticed there were an increasing number of health teams going into the business plan competition,” said Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director of the Buerk Center. A health technology program seemed like an obvious choice.

“This one is much richer in year one than any other competition I’ve worked on, and it’s because there’s pent up demand,” Bourassa-Shaw said.

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