Polsky Supports 13 STEM Projects in Spring 2020 I-Corps Program Cohort

The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is pleased to announce the latest cohort of its Polsky I-Corps program, a 7-week highly-experiential program designed to empower UChicago scientists, researchers, and students to test the commercial potential of their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) research and ideas. A total of 13 teams were accepted into the most recent cohort and received a $2,500 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant and NSF-project designation for their participation.

The program is co-taught by Starr Marcello, deputy head and executive director of the Polsky Center and adjunct associate professor of entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth, and Melissa Byrn, director of innovation programs at the Polsky Center. Due to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused all academic and non-academic programs for the Spring Quarter to be taught remotely, the Polsky I-Corps program also moved to a virtual model.

Melissa Byrn stated “to ensure that our teams could continue to connect with one another, we needed to run virtual meetings on Zoom every other week.” She explained how “the opportunity for our I-Corps innovators to meet other researchers and scientists at a similar stage in the tech commercialization process” was one of the most important elements of the program.

The Polsky I-Corps Spring 2020 cohort includes:

  • Activity Dependent Proximity Ligation (ADPL) // Activity Dependent Proximity Ligation (ADPL) is a platform technology that can measure enzyme activity with high resolution. This may provide novel insight as a cancer diagnostic and/or aid in the discovery, development, and assessment of therapeutics.
  • AutoLert // AutoLert is an easy-to-use app that uses facial landmark detection to monitor drowsiness and attentiveness in drivers in real-time. AutoLert’s mission is to use computer vision to reduce car accidents caused by drowsy and careless driving with an automated alert system, which rings when drivers shut their eyes for over two seconds.
  • Bench Buddy // Bench Buddy aims to create a platform to streamline scientific research by assisting researchers in reducing errors, boosting efficiency, and improving reproducibility in science. Through an app, scientists can work through interactive protocols, integrate timers for each step, and scale all calculations automatically.
  • Blood Donor Ambassadors (BDA) // Blood Donor Ambassadors (BDA) aim to foster local blood donation and renew youth engagement in the blood donation process via the establishment of university student-lead chapters and by providing guidance, structure, and support to these chapters.
  • Diabetes Group Visit Staff Training Program // Diabetes Group Visit Staff Training Program is a new project aimed at organizing group visits for those living with diabetes. Group visits are shared medical appointments that include group education and peer support for patients. Group visits have been shown to improve patient health outcomes.
  • Digital CFU // Digital CFU is a new project aimed at commercializing a digital CFU technology to detect the absolute concentration of microorganisms (MO) (e.g., bacteria) in any liquid samples (e.g., blood, wastewater, food products) using droplet technology. The system can be used in many sectors (e.g., health, food, cosmetic, and environment).
  • NeuroOdyssey // NeuroOdyssey is creating the first adaptive cognitive prosthetic that will help recover cognitive functions lost in patients who suffer from brain disorders, such as stroke, traumatic brain injuries, and Alzheimer’s disease. The device, based on R&D out of Princeton University, enables signals in the brain to bypass a damaged brain region and restore its functionality.
  • Novel Skin-Based Gene Editing for Treating Drug Abuse // This project team is developing and commercializing a skin cell-based gene therapy for treating drug abuse and co-abuse.
  • Peanut Allergy Vaccine // This vaccine aims to curb rising peanut allergy cases among children in the US. All peanut allergy treatments currently on the market are therapeutic, i.e. they are given to patients after they have been diagnosed with peanut allergy, which is generally too late to reverse. The goal of the vaccine is to prevent peanut allergy altogether in infants deemed at high risk from lifestyle or family history of food allergies. There is currently no such preventive product in any FDA pipeline in the US, identifying a potential market need.
  • QSys // QSys is building a quantum consulting firm that provides cutting-edge expertise to help advance the frontiers in quantum information science. QSys experts from the Chicago Quantum Exchange offer diverse solutions for companies in the quantum ecosystem, working on quantum devices, noise characterization, and quantum architectures.
  • Smyl Fitness Rx // Smyl Fitness Rx will enable functional assessments used in older adults to be completed at home with a smartwatch rather than a lab with special equipment, quantify sub-clinical decline (health decline present but not severe enough display observable symptoms), and produce personalized markers for predictive modeling and preventative treatment.
  • Tech 10X – Chicago // Tech 10X – Chicago recruits black and underserved technical jobs with an emphasis in software development and use a sourcing fee to give recruits housing grants or funds for startups in Chicago’s Promise zones, helping to retain Chicago’s black STEM population.
  • UltraRes Biosciences // UltraRes Biosciences combines super-resolution microscopy with mass spectrometry and aims to provide a predictive assessment of compound specificity and efficacy. By doing so, UltraRes Biosciences hopes to cut the costs of drug development by an order of magnitude, failing unpromising compounds early on while enabling faster and more rational design of small-molecule drugs.

Now in its sixth year, the Polsky I-Corps portfolio has risen to over 160 teams – including notable alumni such as BallotReady, ExplORer Surgical, ClostraBio, and BiomeSense.

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