OrisDX Wins 2022 New Venture Challenge with Saliva Test to Diagnose Oral Cancers

OrisDX wins the 2022 Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (Photo by Matt Marton)

UPDATE: The investment totals have been updated to reflect additional investment made in the days following the winner announcement.

A startup developing saliva-based diagnostics to screen for oral cancers and pre-cancers has won first place in the 26th Annual Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC), the signature venture competition for MBA students at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

More than $1.76 million in investment was awarded to the 11 finalist teams competing in NVC finals Thursday, the largest amount ever awarded in the history of the pioneering startup accelerator. The event was held in person at Chicago Booth’s Harper Center for the first time since 2019.

“Our finalist teams were spectacular and spectacularly diverse — from a test to detect cancer, to tiles for spacecraft, to a market for hydrogen, to wine and healthy food,” said Steven Kaplan, the Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Kessenich E.P. Faculty Director of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, where he cofounded the NVC. “The strength of our teams was such that they  generated a record amount of investment, surpassing last year’s $1.73 million.”

Winning team OrisDX poses with Mark Tebbe, left, Rattan Khosa and Steve Kaplan, right. (Photo by Matt Marton)

The Rattan L. Khosa First-Place Prize, totaling $665,000 in investment, was awarded to OrisDX, a venture that seeks to help alleviate the burden of cancer morbidity globally through greater access to non-invasive diagnostics and screening resulting in early detection of head and neck cancers.

OrisDX, which is also a participant in the Compass deep tech accelerator, a finalist in the George Shultz Innovation Fund and was a participant in the Polsky Center’s I-Corps program, is poised to launch a novel saliva-based molecular diagnostics test to detect pre-cancers and cancers of the oral cavity, based on science developed through a decade of foundational research by top physicians and scientists at the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins University, including UChicago’s Medicine’s Nishant Agrawal. Other cofounders include Chetan Bettegowda, Rifat Hasina, and Evgeny Izumchenko.

“Our winning team exemplifies the growing collaborative powers of combining our Booth students with UChicago’s world-class researchers,” said Mark Tebbe, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Booth and an instructor of the NVC. “The innovativeness of this solution combined with its ability to potentially change medical procedures made it a clear winner in our very competitive NVC.”

OrisDX reacts to its win. (Photo by Matt Marton)

“We are so excited about today’s result, but even more excited about what this means to our future patients,” said Jake Stangl, chief business officer at OrisDX and a current MBA student at Booth. “Our non-invasive diagnostic will make sure patients get the care they need early enough to ensure they live long and healthy lives. It’s been an honor competing against the other extremely talented teams, and being coached by some of the world’s greatest business leaders at the Polsky Center.”

The finalist teams represented a diverse set of startups, ranging from a company improving radiology diagnostics in India to a body scanning platform that makes 3D avatars for fashion designers to a maker of dog food and treats made from sustainable crickets. They presented their business plans to a judging panel made up of 22 investors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders, many of them Booth alumni, who deliberated behind closed doors before announcing the winners.

The $25,000 Moonshot Prize, awarded to a team whose unique technologies are catalyzing innovative solutions to global challenges, was split between the second- and third-place winners. Taking second place, with a total of $352,500 in investment, was BlackCurrant, a hydrogen trading marketplace helping transportation companies access sustainable fuels. Third place, and $172,500, went to Canopy Aerospace, which is developing manufacturing processes for commercial thermal protection systems for the emerging space and hypersonic industries.

The $5,000 People’s Choice award, a cash prize voted on by the audience, went to Earthi, a grab-and-go fast-casual concept focused making healthy and delicious plant-based meals for flexitarians trying to reduce their meat consumption.

The NVC was a pioneer of business school venture competitions when it held its first finals in 1997 with a $20,000 investment pool. It has since graduated more than 370 startup companies still in operation today, including nationally known brands such as Grubhub, Braintree/Venmo, Simple Mills, Tovala, and Foxtrot, that have gone on to raise more than $1 billion in funding and achieve more than $8.5 billion in exits.

The competitive program spans the academic year, starting in the fall when students form teams and then apply to be in the program. Of 62 applications received this year, 30 teams were selected to participate in the credit-bearing spring quarter course, where they took classes in entrepreneurship and received coaching to refine their pitches before finalists were selected to advance to the investment competition.

The winners of the 2022 NVC are:

FIRST PLACE // $665,000

OrisDX // OrisDx develops and launches novel salivary diagnostics utilizing non-invasive molecular-based techniques to identify pre-cancer and cancer, ultimately saving lives. Its first product focuses on detecting oral cancer for at-risk populations. 

SECOND PLACE // $352,500 (including shared Moonshot Prize)

BlackCurrant // BlackCurrant is a hydrogen trading marketplace solving the problem of access to sustainable fuels. Focused on hydrogen commodities, BlackCurrant provides transparency in hydrogen markets to support the growth of logistics, transportation sector (automobiles, long-range trucks, recreational boats, long-range container ships), stationary power, and communications sectors. 

THIRD PLACE // $172,500 (including shared Moonshot Award)

Canopy Aerospace // Canopy Aerospace is commercializing and developing advanced manufacturing processes for thermal protection systems, a specialty thermal composite traditionally used on NASA’s vehicles such as space shuttles and re-entry capsules to protect against extreme temperatures over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit during atmospheric re-entry and hypersonic flight. 

FOURTH PLACE // $165,000

Block Rank // Block Rank aims to develop a new layer of accountability in anonymous web3 ecosystems. With its combination of data visualization tools, cutting-edge fraud detection algorithms, and token distribution automation software, web3 corporations will be able to confidently engage and share value with their consumers. 

FIFTH PLACE // $150,000

Earthi // Earthi is the first grab-and-go fast-casual concept focused on delivering healthy, delicious, and wholesome plant-based meals to Flexitarians. Earthi operates through a commissary model, consolidating cooking and prep under a single roof while leveraging small brand-forward retail locations for distribution and marketing. 

SIXTH PLACE // $90,000

Flights: A Wine Collective // Flights is a smart wine subscription club that leverages the wine world’s most underutilized resources to deliver the best $22 bottle you’ve never heard of straight to your doorstep. Flights curates a monthly personalized shipment of wines tailored to each subscriber’s values, interests, and tastes. 

SEVENTH PLACE (Tie) // $35,000 each

Softmed Technologies LLP// Softmed Technologies is a B2B healthtech startup operating in India’s radiology diagnostic testing market with a stable product and paying customers. It enables its target customers (diagnostic centers and small- to medium-sized care facilities) to easily manage radiology workflows so that these can be accessed, viewed, and reported remotely by qualified radiologists. 

TrueToForm // TrueToForm is a body scanning and data management platform that generates highly accurate 3D avatars for apparel design and fitting. Its app allows users to scan and share body data securely with designers from their own mobile devices, enabling the scalable production of made-to-measure clothing and sustainable 3D design. 

NINTH PLACE // $30,000

Medici // Medici is pioneering mobile-first working capital loans for corner stores in emerging markets, starting in LATAM. It partners with fast-moving consumer goods companies to access historical transaction data, making underwriting technically feasible and profitable for the first time in the segment. 

TENTH PLACE (Tie) // $10,000 each

Alloy // Founded on the principles of transparency, accessibility, and user control, Alloy will be the one-stop-shop for sports betting where fans can conduct research, place bets, and track winnings. Its no-code command platform lets sports fans easily build their own sports betting strategies and backtest against past results in real time. 

Cricket Hill (ChirpSnax) // ChirpSnax is a healthy and nutritious food for dogs, featuring a highly sustainable protein: crickets. Ingredients made for humans, perfect for pets, and developed to foster the long-term health of the planet. 

// The Polsky Center also runs four additional tracks of the NVC serving distinct University of Chicago audiences, including alumni, undergraduates, executive MBA students, and social impact entrepreneurs. The winner announcements for those competitions can be found at the following links:

Media contact: Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, alexia.elejalde-ruiz@chicagobooth.edu

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