In the News

Biomedical Innovations Make a Big Bang!
Record $50,000-plus awarded to promising startups in annual UC Davis business competition

PlayPatch, maker of a wearable, natural alternative to birth control pills, took the $20,000 first prize and won the $2,500 People’s Choice award in the 16th annual UC Davis Big Bang! Business Competition on Thursday, May 26. The first prize includes $10,000 cash and $10,000 in in-kind services from Davis Roots, a local startup incubator with ties to both the university and the city of Davis.

PlayPatch won both first prize and the People's Choice award in the 2016 UC Davis Big Bang! Business Competition. UC Davis MBA student Chuck Temple (left) and team lead Justin Klein, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering and a Business Development Fellow at the Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, show their wearable birth control device.

Five finalists—out of 42 teams in this year’s competition—pitched their ventures to the award ceremony audience before prizes were announced. 

The Big Bang! provides workshops, mentorship, financing guidance and networking opportunities to accelerate commercialization and advance the startup process. Organized and run by the UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, it is open to students, faculty, researchers and staff.

Many in this year’s competition developed ventures that address biomedical advances, clean tech, global poverty alleviation, and innovation in food and agriculture—all world-leading research areas at UC Davis.

Birth Control Solution

PlayPatch has created a Bluetooth-enabled wearable fertility tracker and smartphone application that is based on basal body temperature, making natural birth control easy. The inventors say the PlayPatch is as effective as the pill and offers a solution for the 6.6 million U.S. women who are dissatisfied with their contraceptive method.

Team lead Justin Klein, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering and a Business Development Fellow at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, noted, “There is nothing like a deadline to get you motivated and inspire creativity. The multiple rounds of the Big Bang! were valuable in helping us form and cultivate our venture into something with lots of potential to become a real business. 

“We feel very strongly that PlayPatch is more than just an interesting idea or a 10-minute pitch,” said Klein. “The prize will help take our prototype to the next level and help us acquire some equipment and pay for things that we couldn’t otherwise afford. Ultimately, it will help reduce uncertainty and make PlayPatch attractive enough that investors will be willing to commit. 

“We intend to raise a round of seed funding to take it to the next level—and ideally within 18 months will be selling a product that truly improves the quality of women’s lives.”

Participating in the business competition has been a highlight of Chuck Temple’s UC Davis MBA career. Temple met Klein in the Small Business Ventures course that Business Development Fellows take alongside MBA students at the Graduate School of Management.

“One reason I chose to attend business school was to learn how to think bigger about the projects and causes I’m interested in, with the goal of making a positive difference in the world,” Temple said. “The process Justin and I were required to go through for the Big Bang! really helped to fill in the missing pieces in our business skillset. This led to a more robust prototyping process as well as a stronger business plan.”

Faster path to drug approval

ImmunoTag took the $15,000 Second Prize for its biomedical innovation that prepares efficient antibody drug conjugates. Pictured: 
Dustin Heeney, second-year Ph.D. student in microbiology and a member of the Marco Lab in the Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine; Samantha Feng, Ph. D. candidate, pharmacology and toxicology. Both are Keller Pathway Fellows at the UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

ImmunoTag took the $15,000 Second Prize for its biomedical innovation that prepares efficient antibody drug conjugates. Its patented platform Linker Technology allows ImmunoTag to link virtually any small molecule to any antibody in as few as 15 minutes, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in drug manufacturing costs, speeding the approval of its drugs through clinical trials, and prolonging and saving the lives of millions of cancer patients each year. The prize includes $5,000 cash plus $10,000 in in-kind services from Davis Roots.

The startup will use the prize to “generate credibility for our company and use it to line up future investments,” said team lead Samantha Feng, a Ph.D. candidate in the pharmacology and toxicology graduate program and a Keller Pathway Fellow at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. 

“We’ll be Improving the prototype generation, and at the same time talking to pharmaceutical companies about partnership.”

Prizes reward innovation

Mariss Biosciences received the $4,200 Biomedical Innovation Award, sponsored by UC Davis Office of Research, School of Medicine and School of Veterinary Medicine. Mariss has developed a simple blood test to  detect the presence of immune biomarkers for autism spectrum disorder, and is helping parents determine their risk of having an affected child and allowing them to initiate early behavioral intervention.

Ag for Hire received the $3,000 Innovation in Food & Agriculture Award, sponsored by the UC Davis World Food Center. The startup aims to  eliminate unharvested crops by providing farm owners streamlined access to specialty and seasonal laborers. Ag for Hire will help laborers advertise their skill-sets, portfolio work experience, search work requests and negotiate wages.

Eclasstic: (from left) Matthew Vendryes, English instructor, UC Davis Extension; Danielle Saunders, California State University, Sacramento undergraduate business administration student; Ruoan Ji, MS '16, computer scienceEclasstic, a competition finalist, received the $3,000 Global Poverty Alleviation Award presented by the UC Davis Blum Center for Developing Economies. Led by Matthew Vendryes, an English instructor at UC Davis Extension, Eclasstic offers international students and business professionals a ​blended learning method that combines live sessions and an interactive video-based app to build English communication skills. 

Eclasstic plans use the prize money to hire UC Davis students to help it continue to build high-quality training tools for its customers and partners. “We are on a consistent growth path, and as we expand our customer base, we will also seek to add strategic partners in training and online learning,” Vendryes said.

High power batteries

Super Lithium Technology, which is developing the most durable high-power battery for automobiles and stationary energy storage, received the $2,500 Clean Tech Award, sponsored by Gary Simon.

Next steps for the venture, said team lead Sanliang Zhang, who received a Ph.D. in biological systems engineering from UC Davis in 2016, include  improving the technology and business plan to move forward and get patent approval, publicize the technology ”and hopefully attract some venture capital to move our business forward.” 

Click here to learn more about the Big Bang! Business Competition.