10 Teams Participate in Polsky’s Spring 2022 I-Corps Program to Refine Market Fit for Novel Tech

The I-Corps program empowers UChicago scientists, researchers, and students to test The Ithe commercial potential of their research and ideas. (Image: iStock.com/alphaspirit)

Ten teams from across the University of Chicago were selected to participate in the spring 2022 I-Corps program with the goal of determining the commercial potential of their technologies.

Supported with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Polsky I-Corps program– an affiliate of the Great Lakes Regional I-Corps Hub – is specifically designed for participants working on projects related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

“The goal of the Polsky I-Corps program is to help faculty and graduate students evaluate the potential to translate their technology into a commercial business,” explained Brian Coe, MBA ’99, I-Corps instructor and serial entrepreneur.

“The program also helps participants understand product market fit and learn how to best present their science to a non-technical community in a compelling manner,” added Coe. “Technologies are often applicable to multiple markets and people in multiple geographies. A structured process like I-Corps helps the teams understand where to focus their energy.”

Polsky Center Spring 2022 I-Corps Teams:

  • Alpha Nur // Alpha Nur seeks to provide small, mobile nuclear reactors to government entities in remote and off-grid locations in need of reliable energy sources.
    • Team members: Mason Rodriguez Rand, student, College; Kevin O’Sullivan, student, College; Ragy Amin, student, College
  • CellCipher // CellCipher has developed a process to apply single-cell RNA sequencing to embryoid bodies to study environmental and chemical exposures on human cells, thus generating population-scale data to enable drug discovery and personalized medicine.
    • Team members: Katie Rhodes, post-doctoral researcher, Biological Sciences Division (BSD); Natalia Gonzales, senior scientific writer, BSD; Jackson Finks, student, Chicago Booth; Max Reisman, student, College
  • Chart Decoder // Chart Decoder’s web app translates medical records from complex medical terms into plain language to empower patients to better understand their health.
    • Team members: William Weber, clinical associate of medicine, BSD; Sara Thomas, student, College
  • ChromoRx // ChromoRx is developing an RNA epigenetics-driven system to predict the effects of chemotherapeutic interventions in leukemia patients.
    • Team members: Jason Cheng, associate professor of pathology, BSD; Shaun Wood, research professional and lab manager, BSD; Derrick Tang, research technician, BSD; Vishan Persaud, student, Chicago Booth
  • EDACcare // EDACcare is developing diagnostic technologies to detect pathogens in pregnant women and provide early health status information to medical care providers for intervention.
    • Team members: Kamal El Bissati, research specialist, Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME); Ying Zhou, research professional, BSD; Paras Aggrwal, student, Chicago Booth; Michael Han, student, Chicago Booth; Tianjun Song, student, Harris School of Public Policy; Sammiuddin Syed, student, Chicago Booth
  • Fluxxe // Fluxxe aims to develop tools to screen, monitor, and treat postpartum depression.
    • Team members: Allison Liu, student, PME; Wendy Luo, student, Pritzker School of Medicine; Peter Zhao, unaffiliated with the University of Chicago
  • Innoface // Innoface has created an AI-driven technology to generate and manipulate synthetic human faces to drive character trait perceptions.
    • Team members: Stefan Uddenberg, principal researcher, Chicago Booth; Lakshya Kalra, student, Chicago Booth
  • Neurobehavior-AI // Neurobehavior-AI is addressing errors and biases in preclinical neuroscience research by developing a machine-learning device to help facilitate more effective drug development and screening.
    • Team members: Abhimanyu Thakur, post-doctoral researcher, PME; Rui He, student, Social Sciences Division
  • Opera Bioscience // Opera Bioscience is building a scalable platform for efficiently manufacturing growth factors, reagents, and other protein products.
    • Team members: Danielle Tullman-Ercek, professor of chemical and biological engineering, Northwestern University; Gerry Sapienza, CEO, Opera Bioscience
  • Sparsity // Sparsity is utilizing engineering design principles to create microbial communities for synthetic biology with applications in pharma, biotech, and environmental remediation.
    • Team members: Arjun Raman, assistant professor, BSD; Seppe Kuehn, assistant professor, BSD; Robert Chen, student, Washington University in St. Louis

“The I-Corps program has helped us refine our own thinking about our technology and its potential impact, and in turn, has transformed the way we convey our value to others,” said Katie Rhodes, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago, and CellCipher team member.

When initially thinking about commercialization some of the work coming out of their lab, Rhodes said she knew the program would be an important first step. Having participated in I-Corps previously, she also noted that “it’s exciting” to see how the program is evolving. “There is strong push to tailor the experience to the needs of each participant, making it as meaningful as possible for entrepreneurs from very diverse academic fields and with very different technologies,” she said.

“Coming from basic research, the way we think about our technology is typically completely disconnected from practical industry problems,” explained Rhodes. “The I-Corps program has guided us through the customer discovery process, pushing us to really dig down into the problems our technology can solve.”

“It’s been great to learn from the other teams going through the program,” she added. “Not only is it exciting to hear about technologies far outside my own area of expertise, it’s also been valuable to learn from the challenges faced by our peers.”

As a Booth student, CellCipher team member Jackson Finks said I-Corps was a really great opportunity to get involved with exciting, early-venture projects at the University to which he otherwise wouldn’t have had access. “I was able to listen to a number of pitches and then pitch myself to entrepreneurs who had a technology or business that I was interested in,” said Finks. “While the classes at Booth are exceptional, the chance to research and develop a business through I-Corps and beyond was where I saw the most value.”

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