Brandeis Innovation Announces Its New Startup Competition Winners

Brandeis Innovation has recently announced the winners of its 7th Annual SPROUT Program. Designed to encourage academic and entrepreneurial success, SPROUT allows candidates to submit their research projects for funding to a panel of judges. This year’s panel chose 8 projects from a range of different fields, including genetics, medicine, and green engineering.

The SPROUT Program awards funding to projects on the basis of their quality and commercial viability. To qualify for a grant, a project must be proposed by an innovative team with the skills to develop it for future commercialization. It must also have the potential to attract additional funding in the future, as well as to generate commercially viable inventions that can be patented, trademarked or copyrighted. A project has to have clear goals that can be realistically achieved within a reasonable time frame.

Based on these criteria, SPROUT has consistently attracted the most innovative minds. This year, the program offered close to $100,000 in grant money to the winners, giving Brandeis’s many innovators a strong incentive to participate. In addition to funding, the program also offered the opportunity to receive professional feedback on one’s research proposal and entrepreneurial prospects. Participants also, and perhaps most importantly, received coaching from the Brandeis Innovation team and mentors on how to make their products commercially viable, how to pitch investors, and ways to structure their teams for impact.

A Look at the Winners

Ten teams competed in the program's final round. Each was given 15 minutes to present their research and answer the judges' questions; the judges then advised them on their projects' strengths and shortcomings. “We were incredibly proud of the teams who participated this year,” says Rebecca Menapace, Brandeis’ Associate Provost for Innovation. “The range of discoveries they shared have the potential to make a significant impact across so many sectors, and make lasting contributions to their fields. We’re also very proud of what we have accomplished helping them get to the next stage and present their findings to industry-leading judges.”

This year’s winners represent a robust cross-section of Brandeis STEM talent:

Joel Meyerson and Jungwon Park

This team is creating a more effective form of freezable fluid cell, reducing the cost and improving the effectiveness of research involving cryo-electron microscopy.

Shibin Chacko, Lizbeth Hedstrom, and Deviprasad Gollapalli

Having identified a way to spur premature bacteria growth, this team proposes that they can make pathogens more vulnerable to antibiotics. This could make it easier to fight infections.

Ariana Traub, Alexander Ferrazzoli, Susan Lovett and Taku Harada

This team is combining genetic and computer science, creating a program that can detect quasi-palindromes, or "mutational hotspots.” This technology will be of great value to pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and anyone else with an interest in sequencing the human genome.

Achini Opathalage, Seth Fraden, Ali Aghvami, and Yanlin Li

This team developed a new x-ray screening chip, which can inspect hundreds of different conditions through x-ray diffraction and accelerated crystal screening.

Ingrid Marko

As the only contender to compete on her own, Marko proposed a new back brace to improve treatment of spinal disorders.

Yuko Nakajima and Randall Tyers

This team proposed a line of drugs that prevent pathogens from hiding from immune defenses, allowing the immune system to destroy them with ease.

Andrew Sawyer, Nick Clark, and Denise Hilton

Using 3D printing, this team aims to model the Central Dogma, a set of three processes that play a crucial role in biological functions, as a hands-on teaching tool to teach basic science theory.

Hongtu Zhang, Andrew Poitras, and Christine Thomas

This team is developing technology that catalyzes carbon dioxide recycling. This will allow industrial processes that generate large amounts of greenhouse gases to lower their ecological footprints.