Three Indiana University faculty-led teams were selected as winners of the 2023 IU Idea to Startup Pitch Competition on Oct. 5. The initiative, hosted by the IU Innovation and Commercialization Office in partnership with The Mill, is an opportunity for IU faculty, staff and students to showcase their startup ideas and receive insight from industry experts.
Seven finalists presented their startup ideas to six experienced judges, scientists, investors and stakeholders.
A virtual reality suite of programs aimed at helping children with ADHD won first place, a human cellular platform for pharmacological screening for retinal degenerative diseases won second place, and an instrument that assesses corneal sensations in patients won third place. Each will receive a cash award to support the formation of an IU startup.
“We look forward to working with these IU innovators and entrepreneurs to turn their startup ideas into impactful businesses,” said Hanping Guan, director of entrepreneurship at the Innovation and Commercialization Office. “The connection with the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem and the award fund will catalyze the transformation of idea to market solutions which will greatly impact Hoosier lives and beyond.”
The Innovation and Commercialization Office works to create a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem for IU inventors to move discoveries from lab to market for public benefit and global impact. It commercializes IU technologies and amplifies research impact through licensing and startup formation.
Learn more about the winners and their startup ideas
Zeb Wood, left, and Tom Hummer. Photos provided by Zeb Wood and Tom Hummer.First place:Zeb Wood, lecturer of media arts and science at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering at IUPUI and Tom Hummer, assistant research professor of psychiatry at the IU School of Medicine. They won $15,000 and a six-month part-time coworking membership at The Mill with their startup idea, NeuroXR - a VR suite of programs for children with ADHD to help assess and improve social skills through adaptive training based on the child’s needs.
“This pitch competition was a great opportunity to break out of my comfort zone and show off our passions in a different format,” Hummer said. “The day itself was really uplifting; seeing all the exciting projects going on and the great support for entrepreneurial activities at IU. With this award, we’ll be able to adapt our research tools into a set of user-friendly applications that can be used outside the lab, including at home or in the clinic. We also aim to conduct market research so parents and children have a real voice as we work to meet their needs.”
Wood and Hummer believe the competition will accelerate the process to get their VR programs into the hands of families in need of help.
“As a lecturer and 3D artist, I think it is incredibly important to show our students that their skills in game-making, VR and 3D can be used to impact the world far beyond entertainment,” Wood said. “Having success in this competition is a humble confirmation of what we have been telling our team members for the last five years.”
Jason Meyer. Photo by Indiana University. Second place:Jason Meyer, associate professor of medical and molecular genetics at the IU School of Medicine, won $10,000 and a three-month part-time coworking membership at The Mill with his startup idea regarding a human cellular platform for pharmacological screening for optic neuropathies. Eighty million people are affected by optic neuropathies worldwide and there is currently a lack of effective platforms to test the safety and efficacy of potential drug candidates for patients to improve retinal degeneration therapies.
“This pitch competition was a great opportunity for me to showcase the technology and IP that my research program has generated,” Meyer said. “I am excited to start exploring opportunities to commercialize this technology by working with the Innovation and Commercialization Office to initiate a startup company and explore ways to further develop our products.”
From left, Gregory Borschel, Sabin Karki and Brooke Stephanian. Photos provided by Gregory Borschel, Sabin Karki and Brooke Stephanian.Third place:Gregory Borschel, a professor of plastic surgery at the IU School of Medicine and the chief of plastic surgery at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, and Sabin Karki and Brooke Stephanian, both students in the IU School of Medicine, won $5,000 and a three-month part-time coworking membership at The Mill for their SensiPen, a device that tests corneal sensation. Neurotrophic keratopathy affects over 3.5 million people worldwide, and the team hopes that this low-cost disposable device will minimize infection risk and improve assessments for patients.
“Our team gained valuable insight and critical feedback from the judges about aspects of our project that will substantially enhance and accelerate its development,” Borschel said.
Karki also believes the feedback from the pitch allows the team to shape a more compelling narrative to resonate with investors.
“This award accelerates our path towards a device that is market-ready and helps us reach patients in the offices of ophthalmologists and optometrists,” he said.
The finals were judged by Carol Robertson-Plouch, founder and principal consultant at Convergence Bioscience, LLC and cofounder of DecisionPoint Insights, LLC; Cy Megnin, entrepreneur-in-residence at Elevate Ventures; David Woll, president of Woll Enterprises, Inc; James Parshall, executive director of drug delivery R&D at Eli Lilly and Company; Kristin Eilenberg, entrepreneur-in-residence at Elevate Ventures; and Luke Pittman, VP of healthcare solutions at DeveloperTown.