Brandeis innovators seek to make an impact

Winners of innovation event showcase breadth of Brandeis entrepreneurship

Heratch Ekmekjian

Chemistry graduate student Jie Li (far right) explains her concept for a hydrogel that targets ovarian cancer cells. Her team took second place at the 2016 Innovation Showcase.

From scientific research to business proposals to social entrepreneurship, Brandeis students and alumni are innovators making an impact in the world. The second annual Innovation Showcase captured this deep entrepreneurial spirit on campus across a variety of disciplines.

The showcase, hosted by the Hassenfeld Family Innovation Center and organized by the Office of Technology Licensing, took place on November 17 in the Shapiro Science Center. Students, faculty, staff and the greater Boston innovation community came together in celebration of Brandeisian innovation. The event highlighted startups, inventions, social entrepreneurship and scientific discoveries born out of Brandeis labs and classrooms.

“There is not one type of Brandeis innovator, because we all have very different backgrounds and passions,” said Leana Silverberg ’18, who attended the showcase and works closely with budding entrepreneurs via the center. And while the interests of the Brandeis community are broad and varied, Silverberg notes that the showcase is one opportunity where innovators can come together. “Events like the showcase are an integral part of our innovation community. They create a very accessible environment that allows innovators, entrepreneurs and researchers to seek available resources to continue thriving in their field,” she said.

More than 250 guests voted for their favorite Brandeis innovations by “investing” pretend money in certain projects. The 21 contenders included recent recipients of SPARK (social, educational, business and computer science research) and SPROUT (bench research) seed funding grants available to Brandeis students, faculty and staff. Projects ranged from a system addressing the social causes of disease and improving health disparities to the rapid detection of the “brain-eating” amoeba Naegleria fowleri via closed-tube DNA barcoding.

The winners were announced at the close of the event: Cleanfield Capital, a SPARK awardee, took first place. The team was led by Debarshi Nandy, associate professor of finance and Master of Science in Finance (MSF) program director at Brandeis International Business School (IBS). Cleanfield Capital targets brownfields impacting the health of local residents and their community’s economy. The team, including Kim Rose, MBA ‘17, proposes a business model that makes the process of cleaning and redeveloping brownfields more efficient and with less risk, combined with a focus on environmental sustainability.

First runner-up was SPROUT-funded research titled Selectively Inhibiting Ovarian Cancer Cells by Derivatized Dipeptides. The work addresses a major root of drug resistance in cancer chemotherapy. Graduate student Jie Li and principal investigator, Professor Bing Xu are developing a hydrogel that specifically targets ovarian cancer cells for those who don’t respond well to traditional treatments.

The social entrepreneurial venture Preparing for the Unfamiliar placed third. Michelle Techler, assistant director for the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, along with research associate Eliana Rosenthal ’16 presented their app, which helps patients with autism prepare for doctor visits. The team is now planning to pilot the program with Massachusetts General Hospital’s Lurie Center for Autism.

In addition to poster presentations, attendees had a chance to interact with emerging technology including live 3-D printing and virtual reality headsets at a satellite version of the Brandeis MakerLab. Also exhibiting were partner organizations including the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, MassChallenge and the Jewish Venture Mentoring Service (JVMS). The center plans to provide more opportunities like the showcase for Brandeis innovators, regardless of background or interest, to collaborate, ideate and create impact.

Categories: Business, Research, Science and Technology

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