Innovation sprouts with annual grant competition

Entrepreneurship in science and technology promoted with $50,000 funding

Photo/Michael Heymann

Graduate student Sathish Akella works on CrystalChip, a device to better understand protein structures.

Five teams of young Brandeis scientists and programmers will receive a total of $50,000 to fund the research and development of products ranging from compounds that can target cancer cells to a mobile app that helps avoid lines.

The winning teams were among the eight that competed in the third annual Brandeis Virtual Incubator Sprout Grant Program, a competition funded by the Office of the Provost to promote entrepreneurship in science and technology among Brandeis students, post-doctoral fellows, faculty and staff.

In May, teams nervously pitched their research and commercial plans to a panel of seven judges from the worlds of business and for-profit research. The winners were notified in early June. 

The competition is divided into two categories, life sciences and software.

Three undergraduates, Yuval Galor ’15, Eugene Goncharov ’13 and Alex Bardasu ’15, won the software competition with their iPhone app LineSaver, which collects data on local hotspots and gives users an estimated wait-time for restaurants, clubs and tourist attractions. The team will be awarded $2,500.

Graduate student Marcus Long pitched his team’s life science product: A new class of compounds that can be used as research tools to understand cancer, neurodegeneration and infection and could potentially be developed into drugs. The compounds target the deubiquitinating enzymes, or DUBS, which regulate many important biological processes.

Long and his team, Biology Professor Liz Hedstrom, post-doctoral fellow Ann Lawson and undergraduate Lior Rozhansky ’15, will be awarded $20,000.

Another team, led by graduate student Michael Heymann, will be awarded $5,500 for its development of CrystalChip, a device to help researchers better determine the structure of a protein. Professor of Physics Seth Fraden, graduate student Achini Opathalage and Dongshin Kim, director of microfluidics for the Brandeis Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, are also members of the team.

Two teams presented products to rapidly and effectively purify proteins commonly used in research, which could be sold to commercial or academic laboratories.

Graduate students from Assistant Professor of Biology Michael T. Marr’s lab presented a tool to purify Calmodulin-tagged recombinant protein. Michael Spellberg, Calla Olson and Marissa Donovan, will receive $10,000 to develop their product.

Meanwhile, Biology Professor Bruce Goode and graduate student Julian Eskin will receive $2,000 for their Actin purification kit.

Additional funding for the grants was provided by gifts from members of the Brandeis University Scientific Advisory Council.

But funding isn’t the only value of the Sprout Grant competition, said Hedstrom.

“This is a great experience for young researchers because they don't have a lot of opportunity to write proposals or present to an audience interested in developing a product,” she said. “The competition forces them to think outside their own experiences.”  

Life Science Judges

•    Eric Furfine, chair, president of research and development at ElevenBio

•    Ann DeWitt, senior director of corporate development at Permeon Biologics

•    John Edwards, executive chairman at F-Star Biologics

•    Todd Keiller, runs the Technology Transfer Office for Worcester Polytechnic Institute

•    Lori Pressman, IP strategy, business development and tech transfer practitioner and consultant

Software Judges

•    Deb Shufrin, director of investments at Brandeis University Office of Investments

•    Jordan Pollack, chairman of Computer Science at Brandeis University

Categories: Business, Research, Science and Technology

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