Five UW Bioengineering student-led teams won over $30,000 of start-up funding at the 18th annual UW Business Plan Competition. The competition, which concluded May 21st, offers entrepreneurial students an opportunity to turn their ideas into compelling and viable startups. UW Bioengineering students historically have held a strong presence in the competition, and this year’s cohort was no exception. BioE teams won seven of the 14 prizes in the competition, including the second place and finalist prizes.

Empreva: Empowering women to take control of their health

Empreva, led by Ph.D. students Renuka Ramanathan and Anna Blakney, and research scientist Yonghou Jiang, from Assistant Professor Kim Woodrow’s lab, received the $10,000 Second Place Prize, sponsored by Washington Research Foundation (WRF), and $2,500 Best Idea – Health/Healthcare Prize, sponsored by Cambia Health Solutions.

Empreva is an innovative new drug delivery technology that offers women a discreet way to protect themselves against HIV and unintended pregnancy. Empreva empowers women to take control of their health and pursue a protection strategy without the input of a partner. This is key for women in high-HIV burden areas of developing world who lack options for HIV protection and contraception – sociocultural norms can prevent women from negotiating condom use with their partners.

The Empreva team is moving forward with the research and product design process. The team is also refining their marketing strategy: For every purchase of an Empreva birth control product in the United States, one product will be donated to a woman in need in the developing world, with the goal to achieve sexual health and empowerment for women everywhere.

Hook: Control your home electronics – from your cell phone

Hook, a team led by Rahil Jain, a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering and research associate in the lab of Barry Lutz, assistant professor of bioengineering, won the $7,520.15 Finalist Prize, sponsored by Friends of the BPC, and $2,500 Best Consumer Product Prize, sponsored by Accenture. Hook is a home automation hub that provides an easy, affordable way to convert one’s cell phone into a smart home remote control. The product connects remote-controllable wall outlets, light bulb sockets, motorized blinds and other household devices to the Internet and enabling their operation via a smart phone.

Earlier in the year, the team won the $10,000 second place prize in the UW Foster School of Business 2015 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge. The team has also recently concluded a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising over $34,000 in pre-orders. They plan to use their winnings from the two UW competitions to start manufacturing the product and deliver it to their early supporters.

vHAB: hand and arm rehabilitation, anytime, anywhere

BioE Ph.D. students Brian Mogen and Tyler Libey have been working on novel technology to engage patients doing hand and arm rehabilitation. vHAB integrates advances in motion capture and electromyography to improve the understanding of arm function during recovery. The device enables clinicians to deliver customized patient treatment and monitor progress through engaging and dynamic video games. vHAB offers rehabilitation facilities the advantage of system portability, precision and affordability, enabling quality patient treatment – anytime, anywhere.

The team brought vHAB to the 2014 Business Plan Competition. Since then, the four-person team strengthened their business plan, recruited new members and built partnerships with early adopters and test sites. They secured IRB approval to start a 20 patient study, and will start beta testing two different versions of the device at retirement communities. This year, vHAB received the $5,000 Finalist Prize, sponsored by law firm Fenwick & West. They’re continuing to raise grant funding – $60,000 so far – and are looking forward to bringing the system to patients everywhere.

SmartyPants: A high-tech, environmentally conscious solution to adult incontinence

SmartyPants, led by BioE Ph.D. students Shon Schmidt and Christian Redd, also participated in the 2014 competition.The team returned to the 2015 competition and won the $2,500 Best Service/Retail Prize. SmartyPants offers consumers a high-tech solution to adult incontinence.  The device uses a waistband containing sensors that monitor abdominal muscle activity and can predict imminent bathroom events. The device alerts the wearer directly, resulting in an increased awareness of when to use the restroom, and can send a notification a caregiver’s smartphone as well, giving them time to intervene.

For the 2015 competition, the team pivoted its marketing approach and focused on the environmental benefit of the device. Each year, millions of non-biodegradable plastic diapers end up in landfills, becoming an ecological burden as well as a biohazard. The SmartyPants team proposes that their device will allow consumers to reduce the environmental impact of plastic diapers, as well as save money.

mIPS: Saving up stem cells for the future

Rounding out BioE’s strong cohort of teams in the competition is miPS, headed by BioE Ph.D. student Alex Jiao. The miPS team received the $2,500 Best Idea for the Future Prize, sponsored by law firm DLA Piper. miPS aims to become the first consumer stem cell generation and cell banking service.

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) are the future of medicine. iPS are derived from reprogrammed adult cells and can become any cell type in the body – including heart, lung and liver cells. They allow the body to regenerate itself and show and may be key to treating many diseases. Despite the promises of iPS technology, adult cells are susceptible to naturally occurring DNA damage that is exasperated by age and disease, which can affect their ability to convert into iPS cells or iPS cell function.

miPS allows consumers to store their adult cells to prevent cellular aging and use banked cells for therapies in the future at a low cost. The service also enables consumers to give back to biomedical research by donating their cells to academic and non-profit research institutions, or to be used in applicable US clinical trials.