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Biomedical Innovations Take Stage During ‘Shark Tank’ Style Pitch Competition

Virginia Tech students finished the semester vigorously while presenting their ideas for new biomedical innovations to a “Shark Tank”-style panel of judges during the recent Health Sciences and Technology Hokie Pitch at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.

The semester-ending competition involved students from the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health Graduate Program (TBMH), who selected intellectual property, worked with industry mentors, and created business plans to develop and commercialize biomedical discoveries.

“Hokie Pitch has become tradition,” said Rob Gourdie, professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at Virginia Tech, who leads the semester-long commercialization graduate teaching block in the TBMH fall introductory graduate course. “This is our seventh year, and the quality of the presentations and the competition improves and becomes more intense every year.”

The exercise creates a scenario that stretches students beyond their comfort zones to develop skills they will need in their professional lives. Students who are adept at research, for example, may need to work with university technology transfer offices, the federal Food and Drug Administration, and clinical trial experts, marketers, legal professionals, and investors.

“We want to enable them to step outside of their specialty areas with confidence to present their work in an understandable and commanding way to the various audiences that may have an interest, including their scientific colleagues and also the many other stakeholders who comprise the discovery-to-commercialization ecosystem,” said Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, and one of the judges of the competition. “It takes knowledge, ability, and practice to identify a discovery and transform it into new treatments and approaches to health care.”

The three top teams split $3,500 in cash prizes. Woods Rogers Vandeventer and Black law firm and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute sponsored the event.

  • MyoSight, (1st place) prediction tool for post-acute coronary syndrome outcomes; team members: Emily Tirrell, Elizabeth Nowak, Liangying Liu; mentor Greg Feldman, Skyline Capital Strategies; student IP mentor Meghan Sedovy.
  • Viewnostics (2nd place), new technique for intraocular cancer diagnosis; team members: Katie Marschalko, Andrew Strohman, Kavya Iyer; mentor Mary Miller, former director of the Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program; student IP mentor Kenny Young.
  • Metanostics (3rd place), device to detect the presence of circulating tumor cells within the blood; team members: Oziomachukwu Chinaka, Katelyn Stebbins, and Elina Baltins; mentor Frances Farrell, Carilion Clinic; student IP mentor, Ruhul Amin.
  • AccU-Sight, portable, non-invasive sensor for measuring brain health; team members: Jamie Turner, Madeline Mott, Manali Powar; mentor Cynthia Lawrence, Carilion Clinic; student IP mentor Mary Frazier.
  • Cal Sal, HCLS solution that will help to increase cardiac conduction during pulseless electrical activity; team members: Noah Oakland, Sushmita Basak, Blanka Bordas; mentor Kevin Bloomfied, Bloomfield Partners; student IP mentor Mason Wheeler.

“I congratulate the students who had the courage to dive in, do the work, and present their ideas, as well as to the sponsors for providing their time, expertise, support, and prize money to make the competition possible,” Gourdie said.

During the course, students in the classroom were instructed by commercialization executives and Virginia Tech faculty, including Gourdie, who recently received the 2022 Entrepreneur Award from Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame; Ramey of Middleland Capital VTC Innovation Fund; and Mark Mondry, director of LAUNCH, part of Virginia Tech’s LINK + LICENSE + LAUNCH team, which supports corporate partnerships, technology commercialization, and start-ups.

Additional instructors were Mark Van Dyke, formerly of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering and now associate dean of research at the University of Arizona-Tucson, and Sarah Snider, co-founder of BEAM Diagnostics Inc., a faculty startup company that emerged in 2017 from the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.

Zachary Williams, a TBMH graduate student who works in the Gourdie lab, provided instruction throughout the course. Linda Collins, administrator of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute Center for Heart Reparative Medicine Research, assisted Gourdie with coordinating the teaching block.

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