Innovation in Healthcare Tops 2019 Big Bang!
Promising startups showcased in annual UC Davis business competition
Maria Artunduaga, a translational physician-scientist, took home the $20,000 first prize in the 19th annual Big Bang! Business Competition at the University of California, Davis (held May 23). Her innovation: a wearable device that uses acoustic sensors, data signal processing and artificial intelligence to predict and prevent chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) attacks.
Artunduaga, the founder and CEO of Respira Labs (Mountain View, Calif.), says her device “will fundamentally revolutionize COPD management. It flags lung function changes to patients, healthcare providers and caregivers. Patients will be able to to act earlier at home, preventing unnecessary ER and hospital visits while preserving lung function and saving lives.”
The award recognizes the top innovation coming out of this year’s competition. It is sponsored by Lorin Johnson and Marrone Bio Innovations.
The Big Bang!, organized by the Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, has been helping entrepreneurs start or grow business ventures for almost two decades through the competition, workshops, mentoring and networking opportunities. It is open to the public.
Five finalists and eight semifinalists—out of a record 105 teams in this year’s competition—pitched their ventures to the award ceremony audience before prizes were announced.
In total, this year’s competition awarded $110,850 in prizes for top concepts in food and agriculture, health, energy efficiency, engineering, clean energy technologies and economic development in California’s Central Valley. Prizes for Big Bang! include $18,250 awarded in three Little Bang! pitch and poster competitions. Judges considered the teams’ integrated strategy, steps toward implementation and market opportunity.
New hope for COPD sufferers
Artunduaga’s grandmother Sylvia suffered with emphysema for 50 years. When she died from COPD in 2013, Artunduaga left her career in surgery to focus on public health. While pursuing a Master of Translational Medicine at UC Berkeley/UCSF, she started to ponder how technology might be used to detect impending COPD attacks to prevent them or allow early intervention.
She had a eureka moment when she realized that changes in lung resonance could determine trapped air in the lungs.
Respira’s next-generation technology continuously tracks lung resonance, a new biomarker of disease evolution and the build-up to a COPD exacerbation. A change in baseline resonance signals an impending attack.
The device is good news for the 29 million U.S. adults who suffer from the disease. Acute exacerbations of COPD cost the healthcare system $13.8 billion annually; more than half are preventable with timely intervention, says Artunduaga.
Artunduaga will use the prize money to build prototypes and prove Respira’s concept, and to file additional provisional patents (she already filed three) on the integration of the device, the software and machine learning algorithms. In a year, she says, “I hope to be securing $1 to $3 million in nondilutive money from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health in 2019-2020, followed by a $3 million seed round in 18 months.”
Agricultural waste into protein: BioMilitus wins $25,000
Our planet’s resources are limited, yet conventional animal feeds rely heavily on soy, corn and fish meals—which directly compete with human food systems and divert valuable land, labor and water resources. And the demand for food production is projected to increase 70% by 2050.
A team of four UC Davis graduate students and a researcher has a solution. BioMilitus is developing the use of low-cost agricultural by-products to produce insects as nutrient-rich ingredients for feed in the poultry and aquaculture industries that doesn’t compete within human food production systems.
The Davis, Calif.–based company won the $10,000 Central Valley Innovation Award, sponsored by UC Merced Venture Lab through Assembly Bill 2664: The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Expansion Bill; the $7,500 People’s Choice Award, sponsored by WilmerHale and HM.CLAUSE; the $3,000 Food, Ag & Health Innovation Award, sponsored by the UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food and Health; and $3,000 in services at the UC Davis-HM.CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center. They also received $1,500 in the Little Bang! Pitch and Poster Competition.
“We believe strongly in the sustainability and purpose of our company,” says Lydia Palma, a Ph.D. candidate in Biological Systems Engineering at UC Davis, and co-founder and chief operating officer at BioMilitus. “We are a collaborative group with a unique combination of skills and expertise that covers all areas of insect farming. We want to use our knowledge to help create a circular economy.”
The startup will use its prize money to help secure a location for its pilot plant, acquire equipment and begin production. Over the coming year BioMilitis plans to seek investors and board advisors and then secure a facility and begin larvae production.
Clean energy transition: From waste to value
UC Davis Energy Graduate Group Ph.D. student Ryan Barr doesn’t mince words: “Climate change is here, it’s expensive and it’s deadly.”
And solutions are not without their own problems: The variable nature of solar and wind power create an urgent need for affordable energy storage. Electric vehicle battery recycling is inefficient and expensive.
Thankfully, over 75% of original battery capacity typically remains after its useful life in a vehicle. Barr’s startup, RePurpose Energy (Davis/Sacramento, Calif.) turns waste into value by reusing EV batteries to store solar energy—and enable the clean energy transition. RePurpose took home the $10,000 Energy Sector Award sponsored by SMUD and the UC Davis Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship; the $2,500 CleanStart Award, sponsored by CleanStart and Gary Simon; and $3,600 in services at Inventopia.
“Professor Jae Wan Park, our CEO, anticipated the complementary challenges of EV battery waste and the need for affordable energy storage in 2008. Ten years later, our team completed its commercial-scale demonstration of a ’second-life’ EV battery system for solar energy storage,” says Barr. At the same time, the growing adoption of electric vehicles and solar panels created an opportunity to commercialize the technology.
“The Big Bang! process turned our idea into a plan. Our mentors offered fresh perspectives on how to communicate our technology’s potential to potential investors, current collaborators, and our larger community. The competition has introduced us to potential customers, partners and investors within and outside Davis. This has opened countless doors to additional funding and growth opportunities.”
RePurpose will leverage the prize money to move from its university lab to a private work space, assemble initial products and pursue certification of its repurposed battery packs.
This summer, with a grant from the National Science Foundation, RePurpose will participate in a seven-week customer discovery program and will finalize the location of its next commercial-scale system, which it will use to profitably reduce the electricity bills and environmental footprint of a local business. By early 2020, says Barr, “we will have a finished product for our customers—solar developers—to deploy at scale.”
Better training for breastfeeding
Just 25% of women in the U.S. who attempt breastfeeding their baby are successful, largely because physicians and nurses are poorly trained in lactation and breast health. To remedy this, LiquidGoldConcept (Ypsilanti, Mich.) manufactures realistic breast simulators to provide health professional students, hospital staff and patients with hands-on, comprehensive lactation education. The innovation won the $10,000 Health Sector Award, sponsored by Bayer Crop Science.
The company is led by co-founder Anna Sadovnikova, an M.D./Ph.D. student at UC Davis in the Graduate Group in Nutritional Biology. She was a Keller Pathway Fellow at the Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in 2015/16.
“Our first product, the Lactation Simulation Model, is the world’s only expert-validated and biofidelic breastfeeding simulator that comes in four skin tones for culturally sensitive training,” says Sadovnikova. LiquidGoldConcept products can be used to teach about more than 50 different breast health and lactation-related clinical scenarios.
Globally, low breastfeeding rates account for 800,000 annual, preventable deaths of children under five, and 20,000 preventable maternal deaths from breast cancer. Lack of support from healthcare providers is a leading cause of early breastfeeding cessation.
Sadovnikova will use her prize to help offset the cost of hiring LiquidGoldConcept’s first full-time sales employee. “If we are able to hire that person by the end of the summer, we can expect to reach an annual gross revenue of half a million dollars in 2020, with 35% of the revenue coming from sales made by our international distribution partners.”
Digitally transforming the wine industry
PairAnything is on a mission to transform the $70B U.S. wine industry. The Davis, Calif.–based startup took home the $10,000 Food + Agriculture Sector Award, sponsored by AGR Partners and Gowan Co. for a digital platform for wineries to engage customers and extend the personalized experience of the tasting room.
“Consumers gain infinite enjoyment from wine through food pairing education, and spend wisely by buying only the wines they enjoy,” says founder and CEO Christy Serrato UC Davis B.A. 88, who daylights as program director at the Sacramento Entrepreneurship Academy.
With PairAnything’s personalization and decisioning logic technology, small, family-owned wineries—which make up 97% of wineries—can thrive in the new economy, in which consumers demand individual experiences.
Serrato praised Big Bang! mentors for giving her honest feedback that “allows me to avoid potential pitfalls.” The advice to go an inch wide and a mile deep, in particular, resonated. ”I’ve learned the importance of focusing on a very specific target market and providing a specialized niche.”
“A year from now, we will have our core platform developed, which will enable the wineries to offload administration of their wine club duties, and benefit from customer analytics to make better business decisions,” Serrato says.
Critical information and valuable insights to first responders
A pair of undergraduate students at the University of Delaware won the $10,000 Engineering Sector Award, sponsored by EVCO Plastics and the UC Davis Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. 360VR Technology (Newark, Del.) creates software that uses 3D modeling and intensive analysis to provide critical building information and valuable insights to first responders.
Suryansh Gupta and James Othman Massaquoi interviewed over 200 police officers, firefighters and school/government officials to develop their idea. “During emergencies many first responders go in blind,” says Massaquoi. “By giving them this information, we can help them better plan, train and react, helping them save lives and reduce potential damage. We hope our solution will help support these heroes and lessen the danger they face.”
The feedback the team received from the Big Bang! led them to “completely changed major aspects of our business model and our messaging. A judge told us that we are explaining our venture in the most confusing way possible. So we spent months focusing on our messaging and have improved immensely.”
360VR Technology will use the prize money toward completing development of its Beta, which local emergency responders will test.
Over the coming year the startup will increase its customer base, add a team member to develop a stronger sales pipeline, and start to raise a round of funding. This summer the team will go through the ELEVATE The Growth Accelerator by General Catalyst, and HubSpot & Summer Founders at the University of Delaware.
A cleaner, healthier transit trip
VertX Advertising (Davis, Calif.) received the $3,000 UC Davis Health Innovation Award, sponsored by the UC Davis School of Medicine and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. The startup is an intersection of advertising and health-positive impact that creates cleaner public transportation surfaces through antimicrobially treated advertising products.
Founder and CEO Wyatt Dike, a UC Davis senior studying mechanical engineering, conceived the idea during an internship in San Francisco that required a four-to-five hour daily commute on public transportation.
“Most days I would ride the rush-hour train packed in like a sardine, holding onto the metal railings and handles. After researching all the germs and other contamination on the transit surfaces, I decided to find a way to create cleaner public transportation without impacting transit agency budgets.”
VertX uses antimicrobially treated products that feature advertising space to provide cleaner surfaces at no cost to transit agencies. The products give advertisers a health-positive marketing twist to help brand them in a positive manner.
VertX will use the prize money to forward its manufacturing set-up and stock inventory for its initial launches. Also on the horizon: pursuing further IP and solidifying more barriers to entry for competition.
“After graduation I will dedicate my time to growing VertX into an ever-expanding business that brings valuable sanitary improvements to public transportation and other industries through our health-positive advertising solutions,” says Dike. “As we progress with more pilot programs, we hope to affect over 50M annual riders with cleaner transit improvements a year from now.”
Click here to learn more about the Big Bang! Business Competition.