Twelve teams of University of Colorado faculty, researchers and graduate student innovators competed for a combined $1.25 million in startup funding grants in this year’s Venture Challenge (LVC). Judges from CU Boulder’s entrepreneurial network heard Shark-Tank-style pitches across two nights, one for innovations in biosciences and another for physical sciences and engineering.
Lab Venture Challenge (LVC) funds the University of Colorado’s top innovations that address a commercial need, have a clear path to a compelling market and have strong scientific support. While most teams originate from the Boulder campus, Anatoliy Pinchuk of Nanoplasmonics, LLC joined the competition from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.
This culminating event for these groundbreaking teams showcased the university’s initiative to support innovators from discovery to economic success. LVC is run by Venture Partners at CU Boulder, the university’s commercialization arm and central resource for researchers who wish to translate their work into impactful business and social ventures. As part of the LVC program, all the competitors worked with Venture Partners to develop their innovations and practice their funding pitches for business audiences. LVC awardees will continue to work and collaborate with Venture Partners on their path to commercialization.
Many competitors participated in Starting Blocks Customer Discovery Workshops and the Research-to-Market (R2M) Customer Discovery Program, presented by Venture Partners’ I-CorpsTM Hub: West Region—one of only five National Science Foundation Innovation Corps Hubs. I-Corps helps innovators take their work from the laboratory to the marketplace through customer exploration and market research. “The R2M program helped us narrow down our beachhead market and identify the real-world problem that our technology can solve,” said Elliot Strand of Envyro Sensors. “Over the three-week program, we learned how to develop a coherent value proposition, which gave us a competitive advantage at the LVC competition.”
The LVC grants are funded by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) through the Advanced Industry Program, as well as Venture Partners at CU Boulder and the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund. The Colorado economy was a recurring theme as competitors pitched their plans to grow their ventures—and to attract and foster new talent—right here in Colorado as they strive to serve and even disrupt global industries.
$125,000 Funding Awardees
- Sound Separations has developed a cell-based delivery system for drugs targeting solid tumors that do not respond well to existing cell therapies. LVC team: Wyatt Shields, Katie Trese (both of Chemical and Biological Engineering); Alisa Lee-Sherick, MD (CU Anschutz).
- Graham Redweik was motivated by his grandfather’s life with Parkinson’s disease to pursue a new derivative of resveratrol—a naturally occurring chemical compound in plants—to target mitochondrial endonuclease G to help treat both Parkinson’s disease and cancer. LVC team: Graham Redweik, Principal Investigator Ding Xue (both of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology).
- In Nakul Sridhar’s pitch, a big innovation came in a penny-size device that can diagnose sickle cell disease and would dramatically broaden access to lifesaving treatments, especially in the developing world. LVC team: Nakul Sridhar, Principal Investigator Xiaoyun Ding (both of Mechanical Engineering).
- Won Park (Electrical, Computer & Energy Engineering) developed a novel force sensor with many applications for medical providers, such as monitoring changes in tumor growth, heart tissue and joint repair. In a Q&A with the judges, Park referenced the value of Venture Partners’ I-Corps program in highlighting his discovery of the commercial potential of his technology in the aerospace industry.
Physical Sciences and Engineering
- The future of human health motivated Nazanin Hoghooghi (Mechanical Engineering) to found Boulder Light Technologies to deliver air quality monitoring devices with rapid, on-site optical identification of toxics. The technology is based on the Nobel prize-winning frequency comb technology pioneered at NIST and CU Boulder.
- Envyro Sensors developed a low-cost and disposable sensor—similar to diabetic test strips—for monitoring indoor horticulture and printed with special ink on a regular desktop printer. LVC team: Greg Whiting (Mechanical Engineering); Elliot Strand (Materials Science & Engineering Program).
- Food safety and supply motivated Anatoliy Pinchuk (Physics & Energy Science, UCCS) and Nanoplasmonics, LLC to build a portable device that uses ultrasensitive fluorescent biochemical sensors to detect mycotoxins, enabling mobile, lab-quality food safety testing at every stage of food production.
- Twine is tackling data security, including internal fraud in the financial industry, with a novel blockchain-based protocol for distributed and immutable record keeping that “entwines” data sources for transparent and “unhackable” data authentication. LVC team: Jasper Palfree (Physics); Krister Shalm (Physics; Electrical, Computer & Energy Engineering).
$62,500 Funding Awardees
In a surprise announcement, competitors and attendees learned that every venture would walk away with funding. The following innovators received $62,500 in funding on their path to commercialization.
- Randall Shearer pitched a new method of manufacturing cannabinoid acids to overcome key hurdles in commercializing cannabinoid-based (CBD) therapeutics. LVC team: Randall Shearer (Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)); Imma Ferrer, Michael Thurman (both of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering).
- Xiang Wang (Chemistry) is developing antibiotic adjuvants to re-sensitize drug-resistant bacteria and combat the rising antibiotic resistance crisis in medical care.
Physical Sciences and Engineering
- Rishi Raj (Mechanical Engineering) presented a new 3D sintering process that will allow the same-day creation of dental implants straight from a device in the dentist’s office.
- Bringing automation to the chemistry lab, Chembotix introduced the judges to its chemical-creating robot and an automated platform to dramatically speed up chemistry research and development. Chembotix is also a previous winner of CU Boulder’s New Venture Challenge, a year-long venture development program and funding competition. LVC team: Kailey Shara (ATLAS Institute); Aditya Rengaswamy; Marshall Graybill (Mechanical Engineering); Carson Bruns (ATLAS Institute).