An affordable EpiPen alternative, an electricity-free anesthesia machine and a device to help children walk were the winning projects at this year’s Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge, which culminated Wednesday at the University of Washington in Seattle.
The challenge is a science fair on steroids, giving university students from across the state a chance to make connections and win funding that could help develop their school projects into startups.
In its second year, the challenge brought out 89 UW and Washington State University students, who presented working demos of medical devices and other health-related projects to more than 100 entrepreneurs, investors, and life science professionals.
This year’s grand prize winners, EpiForAll, literally jumped for joy as they crossed the stage to collect their $15,000 in prize money.
“I’m so ecstatic right now, I can’t really believe we actually won! I have confidence in our design and our project, but it’s surreal nonetheless,” group member Ha Seung Chung said.
The win is a fairytale ending to the team’s year: they competed in the health challenge last year with an earlier prototype, and while they got an honorary award, they missed out on the grand prize.
The teams were judged on several criteria: their pitch to the room of judges, the prototype demos they gave judges individually, their one-page business plans and their potential for impact both in the market and in people’s lives.
This year’s second and third place prizes went to BWB Anesthesia, which developed an electricity free anesthesia machine that can be used in low-resource areas; and PlayGait, which developed a device for children with difficulties walking that helps them move around and rebuild muscles. All the winners, most of whom are still projects and haven’t yet started companies, will take home funding to help them continue developing their ideas and push forward to be fully-fledged startups.
The Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge is hosted by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship at the UW’s Foster School of Business, and it is a brainchild of the center’s director, Connie Bourassa-Shaw.
“We had noticed there were an increasing number of health teams going into the business plan competition,” which the center also hosts, Bourassa-Shaw told GeekWire in an interview last year. A health technology program seemed like an obvious choice.
“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 organizers also handed out two $1,000 “Judges Also Really Liked” (JARL) awards, for teams who didn’t make it into the top three but who had shown great promise. Those awards went to ACBI, a team of mechanical, electrical, and materials science engineering students developing an automated bladder irrigation device; and Quinton PHSH, a rehabilitations science PhD student and an MBA student developing a belt that prevents hernias in patients recovering from stomach surgery.
Check out the first, second, and third place winners and their projects below.
$15,000 Grand Prize winner: EpiForAll
What is your product and why is it important? “We’ve created an affordable emergency epinephrine auto-injector. Unlike the ones on the market, like the EpiPen, we use an existing vials and ampules of epinephrine that can be directly loaded in our device.”
What will you do with the prize money? “Most of the prize money is going to be used for prototyping, because our 3D prints that we use to make our prototyping are very expensive, believe it or not. And just to compensate team members who are out of school and out of work, who are spending a lot of time on this, to make sure they can pay rent and whatnot.”
What’s next? “Now that we have a utility patent pending — this Friday we’re going to submit it — we are trying to tone and optimize our design so we can really pitch it to other investors and partners who might be able to help us to get to the real market.”
Team members: Ha Seung Chung, masters student in mechanical engineering; Zach Chen, mechanical engineering graduate; Wealth Salvador, mechanical engineering graduate; Jazmine Saito, mechanical engineering graduate; Shawn Swanson, material science and engineering student; Richard W. Lee, pharmacy PhD candidate; Victor Hsieh, MBA student.
$10,000 Second Place winner: BWB Anesthesia
What is your product and why is it important? “We have developed a low-cost anesthetic device that will deliver anesthesia safely, mainly in low-resource settings. We’re targeting developing countries, and trying to increase access to surgery there. There’s a lot of life-saving and life-improving surgeries that aren’t being performed, every year, and a main component of that is a lack of access to functioning anesthetic equipment.”
What will you do with the prize money? “We’re going to continue to optimize our prototype. We’ve mainly been limited by manufacturing costs. We’re going to expand out into some more creative designs to really improve our technology further. And we’re also going to go to Uganda and Tanzania. This is something we’d planned, but now we can definitely afford to take some liberties with our trip to really spend some time with our end users that would be using this, in rural hospitals.”
What’s next? “We really want to refine our prototype and make sure we fully understand the market that we’re going to get into. Form there, we can have further conversations with companies that are already working in this space. We’ve made some contacts with them already and they’ve expressed interest, but really wanted us to further our development.”
Team members: Eric Swanson, bioengineering PhD candidate; David Peeler, bioengineering PhD candidate; Aaron Boswell, MBA student.
$5,000 Third Place winner: PlayGait
What is your product and why is it important? “Some children are born or develop a walking problem. They’re not able to walk in a standard way. There’s actually a way to walk, and so our device helps these children achieve that. They go from not being able to walk by themselves — and they also have other issues as a result of being sedentary. This device helps them reduce those and hopefully helps their muscles and their gait,” said group member Archana Agrawal.
“One of the big things is that kids currently use crutches or walkers, and it’s bulky, it’s hard to use on grass or gravel. This device would allow kids to climb the steps on the school bus or play on the playground and have more of a normal live with their friends.”
What are your plans for the prize money? “Well, we’ve just won! So we don’t know… Right now, though, it’s all about the testing, and then the prize money will be decided upon at the time, as we need it.”
What’s next? “You need something called an IRB (institutional review board) to test a device on people, it’s an ethical thing… I’m working on that, getting all the study protocol figured out: how do we want to actually have kids use this device? And once that’s approved, hopefully by April, we’ll be testing the device on kids. We’ll get ten children, recruited through Seattle Children’s Hospital with a physical therapist we’ve been working with. We’ll test the device on the kids, have them walk without the device, with the device, and see how their motion improves. After that point, we’ll do some more design modifications if need be and have it hit market.”
Team members: Archana Agrawal, MBA student; Jessica Zistatsis, masters student in mechanical engineering; Michael Rosenberg, mechanical engineering student.