From Lab to Startup: Student Innovators Go to Washington
When President Obama called on the U.S. to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world, a diverse group of students had already begun to answer the call. Now those college and graduate school entrepreneurs have gathered to display their lab-to-startup ideas at a showcase in Washington, D.C.
The student teams seem to have drunk an intoxicating brew of world-beating idealism and sharp business sensibility . One engineered a combustion-based generator that turns household garbage into electricity. Another created a Web-crawling "Innovation Engine" that screens for possible new drugs most likely to succeed on the market. A third combined microneedle patches with smartphone apps to make a painless monitoring device for diabetics.
They represent just a few of the top 15 invention teams being presented at the public Open Minds exhibit during a conference hosted by the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA). A few will earn cash prizes worth up to $1,000 based on public votes and a panel of judges, but all the teams look likely to earn public exposure for their innovations.
"We've definitely gotten a lot of publicity and recognition, and people are more aware of what we're doing," said Mary O'Grady, a biomedical engineering graduate student at Johns Hopkins University. "It's very exciting, but there are still a lot of challenges. In no way do we want to say we're done."
O'Grady's team of graduate students at Johns Hopkins University decided to work with the nonprofit Jhpiego, an organization focused on mother and child healthcare. They came up with a marker-based screening test for pregnant women that can warn of possible conditions such as gestational diabetes or high blood pressure.
The NCIIA helps more than 5,000 students each year "create technology solutions that can both achieve commercial success and improve lives globally, positively impacting the economy and boosting creativity within the U.S," said Phil Weilerstein, executive director at the NCIIA.
Students may also get the chance to pitch entrepreneurs and venture capitalists on their innovations during the conference. Several of the teams have already claimed top prizes at past business competitions, but told of interest finding in new sources of private funding.
That was the case for LyoGo. The startup, formed by three graduate students from Purdue University, engineered an all-in-one device which automatically liquefies freeze-dried drugs just before injection. That makes drugs easier to use and eliminates the need for refrigeration a potentially huge leap for everyone ranging from diabetics to healthcare workers in the developing world.
"We're taking in investment; we're looking for investors," said Peter Greco, a co-founder of LyoGo, during a phone interview.
Members of the public also got their say by voting on their favorite videos that tell the story of each student team's innovation. That public opinion was weighed by a panel of judges from as Intellectual Ventures, Inventors Digest, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, IPWatchdog, the Lemelson Foundation, and Time Warner Cable.
The winning teams will claim a first prize of $1,000, second prize of $500, or a third prize of $250 when they get announced on March 26. But for many, the bigger innovation prizes may still lie ahead.
The Open Minds 2011 public exhibition will be held at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C., on Saturday, March 26, 10 am-2 pm EST. Check out the student teams and more info about Open Minds 2011.