Up to $25k grant opportunity for student teams. Applications dueOctober 4.
Venturewell helps student inventors make impacts on the world.
We fund and train student inventors and entrepreneurs who want to address important problems in the world through new technology-based ventures. Our E-Team Program provides funding, immersive workshops, and specialized coaching to student STEM innovators to help them move their inventions into the marketplace.
What’s an E-Team? An E-Team—or Entrepreneur-Team—is a multidisciplinary group of students and faculty working together to bring an invention to market. Here are some of our top E-Teams.
Eligibility There are five questions to ask:
Do you have a science or technology invention?
Could your invention scale to address a social or environmental need? Some examples of types of technologies we fund include medical or healthcare-related
devices, clean energy technologies, and technologies for low-resource settings.
Does your team include two or more students (grad or undergrad)?
In the middle of a June night in 1983, a 100-foot span of the Mianus River Bridge in Greenwich, Conn., collapsed, plunging two cars and two tractor-trailers into the river 70 feet below.
Three people died, three were seriously injured, and diverted I-95 traffic snarled local streets for six months. Inspections revealed that an undetected fatigue crack caused the catastrophic bridge failure.
Kevin McMullen, a structural engineering Ph.D. student at UConn, is too young to remember that tragedy. But he has designed a bridge-safety monitoring device that might have prevented it. He’s hoping his company, NexGen Infrastructure, can revolutionize transportation safety.
Using force-sensing pads that continuously monitor bridges, the system can warn engineers about a bridge that is overstressed. The pads can be installed on a new bridge or one that is being repaired. The system doesn’t replace human inspection, but can help establish priorities in a nation where one in 10 bridges is structurally deficient.
“Our hope is that if something is going drastically wrong with a bridge, engineers would be alerted that the bridge needs to be inspected right away,’’ he said. “We are anticipating that the federal government and state departments of transportation will feel it is a worthwhile investment.’’
McMullen recently received a $40,000 grant from the UConn School of Engineering in partnership with Connecticut Innovations. This award is given to engineering students with promising technologies, to help them enter the marketplace. Ironically, the award is called the Third Bridge Grant.
“Not much has changed in infrastructure over the last few decades,’’ McMullen said. “More recently, new technologies are being developed for infrastructure and civil engineering. This push towards innovation makes me know I’m in the right field.’’
McMullen, who earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from UConn in 2015, smiles when asked how he developed his passion.
“As a kid, I built with Legos and loved creating things,’’ he said. “When I decided what to study at UConn, civil engineering was the choice for me. And for some reason, I’ve just always loved bridges.’’
He is working on a Ph.D. thesis about a new, streamlined bridge-repair process that would be more cost-effective and minimize traffic disruptions.
“Many people surrounding me at UConn, including Professor Hadi Bozorgmanesh, who teaches an entrepreneurship program for graduate students, and my adviser, Professor Arash Zaghi, have really pushed innovation and got me thinking out of the box,’’ said McMullen.
“UConn has been very instrumental in getting my company off the ground. The Third Bridge grant I was awarded is helping me to start my company and bridge ‘the valley of death,’ so when I leave UConn, I can hit the ground running.’’
Congratulations to the 29 UConn undergraduates who have been awarded UConn IDEA Grants! 19 of the award recipients will be completing individual projects, and 10 will be working on collaborative group projects.
The award recipients represent a variety of disciplines, from nursing to elementary education, animal science to biomedical engineering. They will work on designing prototypes and software systems; producing short films, graphic novels, and animations; developing educational programs; and conducting independent research.
Special thanks to the faculty and staff that supported student applications to the UConn IDEA Grant and to those who will be mentoring the award recipients as they complete their projects.
The UConn Entrepreneurship and Innovation Society hosted the second annual HackUConn event on March 24th into the 25th in NextGen 012. A hackathon is an event that promotes a collaborative effort among teams to innovate and invent. The HackUConn event brought together motivated students, industry sponsors, and experienced mentors to encourage networking, creativity, and problem solving in a fast-paced team-oriented environment.
Blood tests are used to identify a number of blood disorders, but the testing process can take several days or a week before the results are available, since the sample is sent to a central testing location. A UConn startup could make the process of testing blood much quicker with a handheld device that can give results in a matter of moments.
“Rather than sending a sample to a lab and waiting three days to find out if you have a disease or another malady, our device will give you on-site and portable results right away,” said Stephanie Knowlton.
Knowlton, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, works with Savas Tasoglu, an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, in his lab. The two partnered to create mBiotics, a company that is developing a cost effective, portable device to scan for a variety of medical conditions.
“The goal is for it to be affordable to diagnose and monitor conditions such as sickle cell disease in a doctor’s office rather than go offsite,” Tasoglu said. “Right now, most of the existing equipment is too large and expensive for a doctor’s office; it has to be kept in a centralized location, which takes time to work with. We want to speed that process up.”
Knowlton said they want the price tag for the device to be around $200 to $300.
The device uses magnetophoresis- motion induced by a magnetic field- to test for a variety of blood disorders. The blood cells are levitated within a magnetic field, and the density distribution of the cells is used to test for disorders like sickle cell disease by looking at the way the cells levitate. The device can be operated with very basic training.
The blood testing technology was developed at the Tasoglu Lab by Tasoglu, Knowlton and Bekir Yenilmez, a post-doctorate researcher. Tasoglu received a 2015 American Heart Association Scientist Development Award for developing a cellphone diagnostic and monitoring device for sickle cell disease, a predecessor of this product.
“This device is totally self-contained- a standalone camera and screen that works with a Raspberry Pi module to carry out the imaging and analysis, all housed in a 3D printed case,” Knowlton said. Raspberry Pis are a series of low cost, credit card sized computers.
Knowlton and Tasoglu received support from UConn’s Third Bridge Grant, which provides startup funding for new student-developed startups with promising technologies. The Third Bridge Grant is a member of the UConn Entrepreneurship and Innovation Consortium. To be eligible for the grant, a grad student must complete the Experiential Tech Entrepreneurship Course, which encourages and develops the necessary skills for engineering graduate and post doc students to create new companies and become entrepreneurs in order to commercialize their research. Professor of Practice Hadi Bozorgmanesh developed and teaches the Experiential Tech course.
“This course is about taking the amazing research our UConn engineers are doing and creating tangible products that can benefit people across Connecticut and the world,” Bozorgmanesh said.
Knowlton said she was very appreciative of the support from the Consortium.
“We’re very fortunate to have access to the Third Bridge funding to help turn our engineering idea into something that could help people in the real world,” Knowlton said.
Knowlton and Tasoglu are using the Third Bridge Grant to finalize the prototype of their device and get input from practicing doctors using the device alongside existing lab work mechanisms.
“We’re looking for their insight on questions such as ‘How does it compare to lab testing?’ and ‘What features and capabilities in the device would make your job is easier?’” Tasoglu said.
NextGen Infrastructure has recently been highlighted in the Hartford Business Journal, see the article here.
A new company, created by a pair of UConn graduate students, is developing an innovative technique using sensors to monitor the performance of bridges. The Department of Transportation monitors key aspects of a bridge’s health to make sure they remain safe.
Civil engineering graduate students Kevin McMullen and Alexandra Hain are improving on the current methods for bridge monitoring, which are expensive and time consuming. McMullen’s company, NexGen Infrastructure, is developing force sensing pads which can be built into structural bridge bearings to perform the monitoring. NexGen Infrastructure received a Third Bridge Grant for financial support to develop a prototype and fine tune their product. McMullen said that the company’s force sensing pads can provide key data faster than current methods.
“One benefit is that you can determine if a bridge is overstressed, if the weight is higher than it was designed for,” McMullen said.
By inserting NexGen’s sensors into the bridge infrastructure, McMullen and Hain are able to measure how well a bridge is performing over the lifetime of the sensors. This can include ensuring that a new bridge functions as intended, measuring how a bridge’s performance changes over time, and even weighing trucks that go over the bridge, which could make weigh stations unnecessary.
The sensors can be inserted during new construction or when a bridge is being repaired. Many of the bridges in the United States have reached or exceeded their expected life cycle. According to Hain, “Repairs are often done to these bridges to extend their life span. A perfect time to insert these pads is when the bearing is being replaced.”
NexGen Infrastructure grew out of an Experiential Tech Entrepreneurship Course that McMullen and Hain took, which encourages and develops the necessary skills for engineering grad students to become entrepreneurs and create startups. McMullen, along with Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Arash Zaghi, had done a research project with Enflo Corporation, which manufacturers Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a Teflon-like material used in bridge bearing pads. The sensor pads were created to improve the marketability of Enflo’s PTFE bearing pads.
During the entrepreneurship course, McMullen worked with Hain to develop the bridge pads. Zaghi, their faculty advisor, acts as the director of research development for the company.
Students who take the course are qualified to pitch for the Third Bridge Grant, a program that provides financial support for UConn startups from engineering graduate students. The Third Bridge Grant is a member of the UConn Entrepreneurship and Innovation Consortium.
McMullen is using the funding to work with industry partners to make the sensor pads as effective as possible. UConn Engineering Professor of Practice Hadi Bozorgmanesh teaches the entrepreneurship class, and he partnered with Connecticut Innovations to establish the Third Bridge Grants. He said that these programs are part of a concerted effort to turn engineers into entrepreneurs.
“We’re trying to get science and engineering students to convert their inventions into innovations that result in new products and services. We want them to understand the business world, and to think strategically with business goals in mind,” said Bozorgmanesh.
While working to develop NexGen into a viable company, Hain decided that she wanted to branch off and develop a separate company. Advanced Column Solutions develops durable, resilient and cost-effective alternatives to conventional bridge columns. A Third Bridge Grant has been awarded to the company which Hain will use to advance the development and marketability of the innovative column system.
VentureWell’s E-Team program provides early-stage funding of up to $25,000 and cultivates opportunities for student STEM inventors and innovators to move ideas out of the lab and into the market.
The multi-stage program provides grant funding, immersive workshops, and coaching to help student teams realize their projects’ full commercial potential.
The application deadline to participate in the spring cohort is January 25.
Inventions and innovations of successful E-Teams have included:
· Biomedical devices, health care solutions, or health-based technologies
· Clean technologies, clean energy or sustainable materials
· Technologies for low-resource settings (U.S. and/or globally) that address poverty and basic human needs such as affordable energy, clean water, health and medical devices, agriculture, IT and other income-generating tools
Learn about our past E-Team grantees and their innovations here.
Detailed guidelines are here and FAQ here.
As an undergraduate at Stanford with all the hot consumer startups sprouting up around us, my friends and I would always joke that we knew we had become boring computer scientists if we ended up working an enterprise company. To be fair, I was at Stanford when Facebook was growing rapidly, everyone was switching over to Dropbox, and Twitter was just starting to get traction with celebrities. Consumer companies just seemed so much cooler.
Fast forward six years, I’m now a 5th year PhD student at MIT in computer security, focusing on how to practically apply cryptography to enterprise systems that deal with big data. During the school year, I’m on the team of Roughdraft Ventures, focusing on security and enterprise companies, and during the summer, I co-founded and continue to run a summer program with Highland Capital for early stage cybersecurity startups called Cybersecurity Factory, where we help founders penetrate the security enterprise market. I also consult with various companies on their security strategy. Having worked with numerous first-time enterprise founders, of which many were students, I learned a few important lessons on starting an enterprise company.