New UConn Startup Creates Faster, Cheaper Blood Test

March 8, 2017

Savas Tasoglu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, left, and Stephanie Knowlton, a graduate student, with a device to analyze blood for sickle cell disease. The pair later created a more robust blood testing mechanism. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Savas Tasoglu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, left, and Stephanie Knowlton, a graduate student, with a device to analyze blood for sickle cell disease. The pair later created a more robust blood testing mechanism. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

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 standalone device that Knowlton and Tasoglu made. (Photo courtesy of Tasoglu Labs)
The standalone device that Knowlton and Tasoglu made. (Photo courtesy of Tasoglu Labs)

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.

HackUConn 2017

March 2, 2017

The UConn Entrepreneurship and Innovation Society will be hosting 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 aims to bring together motivated students, industry sponsors, and experienced mentors to encourage networking, creativity, and problem solving in a fast-paced team-oriented environment.

The theme this year is Living with Allergies: Reimagining the Solution.  Student teams will have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of industry experts at the conclusion of the event.  The event is being sponsored by The KeepSmilin4Abbie Foundation, Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C, the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Consortium, First Year Programs and Learning Communities, and Residential Life.

For more information, visit http://www.hackuconn.org/.

UConn Grad Students Working To Improve Bridge Monitoring

February 20, 2017

NextGen Infrastructure has recently been highlighted in the Hartford Business Journal, see the article here.

 

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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.

LexiKevin2017-3 - ScaledThe 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.

Psst — I’ve Got A Secret

Many new small business start-ups are under the misapprehension that their idea, concept, approach – the thing that gets them up in the morning and keeps them motivated to make a change in the world – must be protected by a patent, a trademark, a copyright, or some combination of the above, as a threshold to moving forward.  There is no doubt that exploring these issues early on is a good idea on the road to starting a business.  For example, you would want to know if your improved mousetrap is already being developed by somebody else.  However, there is another alternative that can, in some instances, provide a level of protection to the start-up without the necessity of incurring legal fees.  In May of 2016, President Obama signed into law the Defense of Trade Secrets Act (DTSA).  A trade secret is confidential, commercially valuable information that provides its owner with a competitive advantage.  Prior to enactment of the DTSA, theft of trade secret claims could only be brought in state courts, and results from state to state could be inconsistent and unpredictable.  Now, federal courts may be available to protect these valuable intellectual property assets.

Typically, a small business owner may want to consider using trade secret protection for information that leaves no public “footprint” – for example, a manufacturing process that cannot be reverse engineered.  In such circumstances, maintaining the process as a trade secret may be preferable to patent protection – a patent reveals all aspects of the process to the public and is only available for a limited period of time.  Trade secrets, on the other hand, provide no public information and in theory can extend in perpetuity.

So be sure to consider the best way to protect your secrets.  In our next article we will consider how to protect your trade secrets – there are of course rules about that!

Linda Gebauer

Director, UConn IP Law Clinic

VentureWell is Offering up to $25,000 for STEM Student Innovators

November 30, 2016

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 25.20th_logo2_horizontalcropped1

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.

Building an enterprise company as a student or first-time founder

October 19, 2016

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.

Read more…

Connecticut Innovation Summit

October 17, 2016

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Building on the exceptional success of our 2015 Innovation Summit, we’re moving forward with the 2016 Innovation Summit in a similar fashion, focusing on connecting launch and growth companies with funding, co-working opportunities, and professional resources. On the tenth anniversary of the Innovation Summit, we’re making sure the event is bigger, better, and the most business-friendly event CT has ever seen!  Join us for Connecticut’s largest networking event for Launch, Growth and Proven companies, featuring workshops,  Lunch with an Angel, Company Showcase, and more! Perfect for entrepreneurs, businesses, venture capitalists, angel investors, and members of the public.

To learn more, visit http://www.ct.org/signature-event/connecticut-innovation-summit/