Two Indiana University faculty-led teams were selected as winners of the inaugural IU Life Sciences to Healthcare Solutions Pitch Competition, hosted by IU Research and the IU Innovation and Commercialization Office. A future reality portal that enhances addiction recovery won first place, while an instrument that assesses corneal sensation in patients won second place.
“This competition helped us identify promising early-stage technologies with the potential to deliver innovative solutions and impact,” said Hanping Guan, director of entrepreneurship at the ICO. “The participants received valuable feedback from the experienced judges on technology development and commercialization strategy. We look forward to working with IU researchers to de-risk and add value to the promising technologies to transform them into innovative healthcare solutions.”
The ICO works to create a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem for IU inventors and external partners 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.
The ICO organized the pitch competition, which was held on April 20 at the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute in Indianapolis, to provide an opportunity for IU faculty, staff and students to showcase research discoveries with the potential to be developed into impactful healthcare solutions. Six finalists presented their technologies and received valuable feedback from five experienced judges.
Learn more about the winners and their innovations:
First place winners: Brandon Oberlin, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the IU School of Medicine, and Izzy Branam, a freshman studying business psychology at IU Bloomington and an intern at the ICO, won the competition and $25,000 for their virtual reality portal designed to enhance addiction recovery.
Overdose is the leading killer of young adults in the United States, and every year, over 500,000 Americans die from drug-related causes. Under current treatment, relapse rates exceed 70 percent; however, the proprietary digital double avatar increased the abstinence rate from 46 percent to 86 percent within 30 days post virtual reality treatment. The future reality portal not only provides a unique solution to the urgent needs in addiction, but also has potential expanded uses in addressing weight loss and anxiety. Oberlin and Branam plan to use the funding to optimize the platform and expand the treatment from single use to 30 daily uses.
“The pitch competition was designed to help us consider the challenges of commercializing a healthcare product, and it really forced us to distill our message to its most compelling elements,” Oberlin said. “As a scientist, I am accustomed to presenting detailed data and methods before getting to the results punchline. I had to be very direct and succinct in this short pitch format; a brevity uncommon in scientific presentations. Addiction inflicts untold harm on society; we believe that our ideas can promote healing, one individual at a time.”
Oberlin and Branam believe the competition will help take them to the next phase of their project.
“Participating in the pitch competition was a great experience, and it encouraged us to take a look at our technology in a new light,” Branam said. “This competition opens the doors to continuing to enable us to make a substantial impact in what we believe is one of the most pressing issues of our time, substance abuse.”
Second place winners: 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 second place with SensiPen, a disposable and low-cost instrument that assesses corneal sensation in patients. Neurotrophic keratopathy is a degenerative corneal disease that affects over 3.5 million people worldwide, and with this device, the team is trying to improve the accessibility of corneal procedures. In winning second place, Borschel and his team will have a direct entry to ICO’s IU Idea to Startup Pitch Competition finals this October.
“The competition gave us an exciting opportunity to meet with a diverse array of teams building technologies to solve pressing healthcare problems, and it was inspiring to see the range of solutions presented,” Stephanian said. “With participating in this competition, we came away with a stronger ability to tell the story of our idea and we started building relationships with members of the IU commercialization ecosystem that can help bring our tool to patients.”
The finals were judged by Eric Beier, partner and chief medical officer at Boomerang Ventures; Steve Charlebois, vice president of engineering and regenerative medicine at the MED Institute; Andrew Dahlem, senior research professor at the IU School of Medicine; Kristin Eilenberg, entrepreneur-in-residence at Elevate Ventures; and Mike Myers, associate vice president and head of due diligence at Eli Lilly and Company.
Bri Heron, technology marketing manager at Indiana University’s Innovation and Commercialization Office, contributed the following story.