Biomedical, Food/Ag and Social Enterprise Innovations Make a Big Bang!
Promising startups showcase ventures in UC Davis business competition
Medical device startup Raydiant Oximetry Inc., maker of a fetal pulse oximeter that keeps mothers and babies safe during childbirth, won the $10,000 first prize in the 17th annual UC Davis Big Bang! Business Competition on Thursday, May 25.
Five finalists—out of a record 70 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 Mike and Renee Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UC Davis, it is open to the university’s students, faculty, researchers and staff as well as to the general public.
Many in this year’s competition developed ventures that address biomedical solutions, social needs, global poverty, and advances in food and agriculture—all key research areas at UC Davis.
A Safer Childbirth
Raydiant Oximetry took the $10,000 first prize for its low-cost, noninvasive fetal pulse oximeter that keeps mothers and babies safe during labor and delivery. The device is intended to reduce medically unnecessary c-sections that can create health complications to millions of babies and mothers each year and increase healthcare costs. Video >
Neil Ray, MD, an anesthesiologist at the UC Davis Medical Center and Raydiant’s chief medical officer, noted that, “The technology used to monitor babies during childbirth is more than 50 years old. The inspiration to develop a better fetal monitor came from the realization that there is so much room for improvement in the care of mothers and babies during childbirth.”
He said participating in the Big Bang!, including “learning from the experts about how to start a business, evaluate the market, listen to customers and deliver a successful presentation” was invaluable. Raydiant will use the prize money for additional product development, starting with more human and animal clinical trials.
Increasing Scientific Literacy
A team of seven undergraduates and recent alumni from UC Davis, UC Berkeley and UC Merced won the $5,000 second prize.
Chromatiscope aims to boost students’ scientific literacy by combining four specialized laboratory devices—each of which costs thousands of dollars—into a single, easy-to-use device that costs just $40 to $70. The result: more students can have the experiences necessary to excel in STEM.
The venture was inspired by a request from Davis High School science teacher Ann Moriarty for a solution to help replace her outdated science equipment to meet new standards. “We did some research,” said team lead Lisa Illes, an undergraduate biosystems engineering major at the UC Davis College of Engineering, “and it turns out Ann isn’t the only person looking for inexpensive, multi-functional science equipment to allow students to conduct their own experiments.”
Participation in the Big Bang! helped the team conduct “a multitude of customer interviews and connect with the school system in Davis on a level we could not have accomplished otherwise,” Illes said.
Her team will use the prize money to develop a production model of their prototype, determine the logistical needs to mass manufacture this model and further analyze potential entry markets. “Then we plan to to strike at the markets quickly,” Illes said.
Improving Cancer Treatment
Oomni Inc. received the $4,000 Biomedical Innovation Award, sponsored by the UC Davis Office of Research, School of Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine and College of Engineering. Led by co-founder and CEO Paul T. Henderson, an associate adjunct professor at the UC Davis Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology and UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, the company is developing a drug called Oomnicoxib. When combined with current chemotherapies, Oomni says, the drug will improve cancer treatment.
With goals that include refining financial projections, getting funded and starting on the next milestones for preclinical development, Oomni will use the prize money to fund a professional website and travel for investor pitches.
Innovations in Ag
WISRAN received the $3,000 Innovation in Food & Agriculture Award, sponsored by the UC Davis World Food Center. The startup identifies operation logistics inefficiencies in real-time for growers to capture profits.
Company co-founder and CEO Arsalan Lodhi attended the 2017 UC Davis Food + Ag Entrepreneurship Academy. He got the inspiration for his venture through field research, living and working alongside growers in Durdan Farms, located about 80 miles southwest of Chicago, for nine months. He will use the prize money for customer acquisition and product enhancements. Video >
Two teams—FloraPulse and ReNew Foods—split the Gowan Co. and AGR Challenge Award, each receiving $5,000. The award is given to a venture that demonstrates excellent promise to do “more with less” with water, fertilizer, pesticides/herbicides and other food/agriculture resources.
FloraPulse is building a data service for growers that provides water stress data for their crops in real time. This could replace current technology (pressure chambers) that dates back to the 1960s and that is slow, expensive and often inaccurate, according to team lead Zach Leidig. The award, he said, will help fund development of the company’s first wireless MVP.
ReNewFoods, says CEO and Innovation Officer Maddison Gurrola, a student in the undergraduate nutritional science program at UC Davis, is developing great-tasting, healthy snacks from high-quality rescued fruit and vegetable pressings. “Our products divert tons of food waste from landfills each year by providing consumers food they can feel good about,” she said.
The all-undergraduate UC Davis team was inspired by a project in which they worked with a local juicing company to find an alternative to dumping their food waste in a landfill. They will use the prize money to help launch their product, including securing a copacker and conducting a trial launch.
Helping Young People Succeed
Berkeley-based Reach 1600 Foundation received the $3,000 Global Poverty Alleviation Award presented by the UC Davis Blum Center for Developing Economies. Reach 1600 has developed a free, adaptive SAT prep program for students from underserved communities that the foundation’s marketing director, Rosie Fan, describes as one solution in “the fight for equal access to resources for higher education.”
Reach 1600—1600 is a perfect SAT score—customizes its curriculum to students’ individual needs and fosters a mindset that empowers them to confidently pursue college or university. The startup has served 66 students from 16 schools since 2015, with an average score increase of 410 points.
Reach 1600 co-founders Amy Lam and Janny Tran grew up in the Oakland School District, where students score in the 24th percentile. Both were first-generation, low-income students who went on to graduate from UC Berkeley and UC Davis, respectively. Their experiences led to a desire to provide students like them with more resources for higher education.
The startup will use the prize money to support the development of next year’s classes and further work on its predictive software, “which will enable us to better correlate student performance across SAT topics and provide more academic, social and emotional support for our students outside of class,” Fan said.
A web-based platform that connects high school and college athletes with NCAA-experienced coaches for evaluations, feedback and resources received the $2,500 People’s Choice Award, voted on by the event audience.
AthleticOutlook founder and CEO Russell Reeder, who will graduate from UC Davis next month with a B.S. in community and regional development, noted that, “Being a student athlete myself, I have developed a great sense of true pains and problems in the industry. I was able to leverage my knowledge and connections into what we believe to be a great platform.”
He will use the prize money to further improve AthleticAssistant’s product and expand customer reach. Reeder added, “Arguably more valuable than the prize money has been the access to the Big Bang! network, the judge’s feedback and the exposure.”
Also recognized at the event were top teams in the competition’s Food + Ag Innovation pitch and poster contest. The $1,000 first prize went to Global Water Farms, a clean-tech, off-grid, solar-powered process to produce distilled water from salt-water or other degraded waters. The $600 second prize was awarded to WISRAN; the $400 third prize went to DropSentry.
Click here to learn more about the Big Bang! Business Competition.