18 Apr Drug-delivery patch wins at UW business-plan competition
Madison, Wis. — A drug-delivery patch took first place and $10,000 in the G. Steven Burrill Technology Business Plan Competition, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s annual contest for student entrepreneurs.
Anthony Escarcega, an MBA student, and John Puccinelli, a grad student in biomedical engineering, wrote a plan to develop and market a patch that delivers large-molecule drugs such as insulin over about 24 hours. They named the company Ratio.
The students licensed the technology, invented by their faculty advisers, through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the university’s patenting and licensing arm.
It will be about two years before the company can even start clinical trials for FDA approval, Escarcega said, and those trials will take about three years more. But the students have a plan: after animal trials are complete but before the device is human-certified, they will target a niche market of animal researchers who could use the drug-delivery system, Puccinelli said.
He said it would probably cost $3 to make a single-use patch. In the future, Ratio might also make patches that can respond to a patient’s physical conditions and change the rate at which they deliver drugs.
Insulin patches already exist, but the market is relatively new. Most delivery of insulin, which would be destroyed by digestion if taken as a pill, is through shots.
One more prize is within reach: Ratio, as well as the other competition winners, may enter the Governor’s Business Plan Contest as a finalist without further qualification.
Burrill contest judges said the benefits go beyond the prizes, however.
“It makes entrepreneurship part of the culture to have competitions like this,” said Pehr Anderson, managing director of the Milwaukee angel network Silicon Pastures.
Burrill visits competition he started
G. Steven Burrill himself jetted in from France on the spur of the moment for what he said was only the second Burrill competition he’s personally attended.
The globe-trotting businessman, a 1966 graduate of the UW-Madison School of Business, heard each team’s plan and gave out some advice the night before the presentation and judging. He said one of the competition’s strengths is bringing together engineering and other disciplines with business.
“If you just did it with the business school, you’d fail,” he said.
Burrill works mostly in biotech, heading Burrill and Company, an investment firm. He provides funding for the competition, which is produced and supported by a wide collaboration of UW-Madison schools and departments.
He contrasted entrepreneurship in Wisconsin with that in California, where “there was a culture that kind of said you’re not real until you go off and create something for yourself,” he said.
In Wisconsin, he said, business failure is often seen almost as a stigma. And in California? It’s a learning experience.
Students get firefighters out of the heat
Second place and $7,000 went to FireSite, which helps firefighters navigate through thick smoke using radio beacons and an in-mask display. The four-student team impressed judges because they have worked closely with firefighters to develop a system that fits their needs.
After firefighters drop the tough, flame-resistant radio beacons behind them while entering a burning buildling, a screen in their masks lights up, showing their location relative to the way out – and to each other.
FireSite previously won first place in the Schoofs Prize for Creativity this February based on its design and engineering.
Competition includes the Tracker FRT, which also uses radio beacons on firefighters and in strategic locations; and the Heads Up Display project at the University of California-Berkeley, which shows a map of actual architectural features, but requires that blueprints for the building are available and up to date.
The team has some work left to do and has not yet come up with a solid cost figure, but they said the price would be comparable to that of thermal imaging devices, another way for firefighters to ‘see’ in dangerous situations where smoke clouds their vision.
The FireSite team includes engineering students Nick O’Brien, Chandler Nault and Mitch Nick, and finance student Brian Burke. They’ve worked closely with the Madison fire department, and soon plan a trip to Phoenix, Arizona.
“They’re one of the most innovative fire departments in the country,” O’Brien said. “They have a huge R&D budget. Basically, if someone dies they want to know why.”
John Neis, co-founder of Venture Investors in Madison and one of the judges, said the top two were well-prepared and got input from actual users – physicians and firefighters.
“They were both interesting ideas, both products that have the opportunity to save lives,” he said.
Cleaner wells, cleaner sheets
Third place and $4,000 went to James Lynett and Dan Gerdman of Clean Well, a company with a patent-pending well cap that filters out airborne diseases. Lynett said they would sell mostly to contractors and homebuilders, as opposed to homeowners, and that the caps would cost about $75 to $100 where regular ones cost $40 to $50.
Clean Well still needs Wisconsin DNR approval, but Lynett said the hard part will then be over as Wisconsin has the most stringent restrictions on everything water-related in the United States.
Fourth place, with a $1,000 prize, went to Microfend and its plan to provide hotels with human-safe antibacterial coatings for towels and linens. The team was Alfredo Armengol, Jay Deivasigamani and Paul Pucci. They said they got some new ideas from the contest – for example, they might now rent treated towels to hotels rather than selling the treatment chemical.
Win or lose, companies likely to form
The majority of the student competitors said that win or lose, they planned to go through with their plans. Some will need to wait a year to graduate, but optimism was high.
Anderson, who said he was drawn to be a judge partly because of his brush with a similar competition, wondered how many students might have already done so – as he did.
“We were going to enter into the business plan competition at MIT,” he said. “But we got $500,000 in angel investment.”