trifusiondevicesTriFusion Devices, the winner of the 2016 Rice Business Plan Competition (RBPC), the world’s richest and largest student startup competition, was invited to ring the opening bell Monday at the NASDAQ Stock Market in New York City. Cofounders Blake Teipel and Brandon Sweeney participated in the morning ceremony, along with representatives from RBPC and Texas A&M University, including Philippe Hercot, executive professor and director of Aggies on Wall Street at Mays Business School.

TriFusion Devices was the first Texas A&M team to win the Rice competition, the world’s largest student-centered business plan competition. The team received checks totalling nearly $400,000.  

The team illustrates a collaboration between several colleges at Texas A&M, and it bolsters the arena of health care – a priority at Texas A&M and at Mays. “So many faculty and staff members invested in these young people. The team’s success is a beautiful example of collaborating across the university and beyond,” said Mays Dean Eli Jones. “It aligns nicely with our primary mission of advancing the world’s prosperity by developing such areas as entrepreneurship and health care.”

Their project was based on breakthrough additive manufacturing products and services aimed at simplifying and expediting the process of manufacturing custom prosthetic devices. The team applies a revolutionary, patent-pending process that fuses together 3D printed parts to next-generation biomedical devices. The result is a durable, lightweight, custom-fit prosthetic device created within 48 hours, saving time, labor, and materials by eliminating the residual limb plaster-casting process and the current need for test-fit sockets.

TriFusion Devices got their start through Startup Aggieland, a globally recognized, award-winning business incubator and accelerator program at Texas A&M. Through the mentorship and experience provided by Startup Aggieland and other university initiatives, such as the National Science Foundation I-Corps program, TriFusion’s founders were able to incubate their ideas and prepare for the commercial world. In addition to the Rice University Business Plan Competition, TriFusion Devices has received several other top honors, including winning the 2016 Baylor New Venture Competition, the Raymond Ideas Challenge at Mays Business School’s Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship, and the SEC Entrepreneurial Pitch Competition.

Don Lewis, the team’s mentor and coach at Startup Aggieland, said the team has a promising future. “Be on the lookout for this company,” he said. “They are a team to watch because of what they do. They’ve created a revolutionary way to 3D print plastics that are extremely durable and strong, and they are crafting them into very useful objects, like the prosthetics.”

The students plan to open a manufacturing production facility within the next few months in the Bryan-College Station area, Lewis said. Britton Eastburn, a Mays Business School MD/MBA student who was on the team at the time of the victory, has resumed medical school.  

TriFusion Devices competed against more than 750 applicants  on 42 teams from the world’s top universities before 300 judges over a three-day period to emerge as the top startup company at RBPC.

“We are grateful for the support, guidance, and encouragement that we’ve received from the Texas A&M University and Rice University programs,” Teipel said. “The experience and coaching we have received as we’ve launched our venture have proven immensely valuable to our success.”

 

Categories: Centers, Entrepreneurship, Health Care, I-Corps, Mays Business, MBA, News, Programs, Students, Texas A&M

Researchers work to revolutionize how health care institutions clean surfaces

“Technology boot camp” is how Virender Sharma, a professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, describes his experience at Innovation Corps (I-Corps), a National Science Foundation (NSF) program that helps scientists bring their discoveries out the laboratory and toward the commercial market.

“One thing I discovered during this process is that the science is only 20 percent of it,” Sharma said. “The other 80 percent is just business—how you sell it, how you make deals.”

Sharma’s work using ferrate ions—which are iron ions that have lost four or more of their electrons—as a disinfectant has been shown to be extremely successful in the lab, and he was starting to wonder if it was time to make a commercial product.

“I think Dr. Sharma was disappointed when he found out that I wasn’t a consultant who would tell him if his technology has value,” said Chuck Hinton, director of NSF I-Corps at Texas A&M, which is part of Mays Business School’s Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship. “He was going to have to figure that out for himself, and that is the key of this program.”

Although other Texas A&M Health Science Center researchers have participated in regional I-Corps programs, Sharma and his team are the first to participate in a national cohort. The other members of the team were Jashanpreet Singh, a postdoctoral fellow in Sharma’s lab who served as the entrepreneurial lead on the project, and Chetan Jinadatha, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine and chief of infectious diseases at the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System in Temple.

Jinadatha’s work focuses on infections acquired in hospitals and other health care settings, which sicken 722,000 people and kill about 75,000 per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Examples of this type of infection include Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile. “Between 40 and 50 percent of such infections are related to improper cleaning of surfaces,” Jinadatha said.

Current disinfectants are effective at cleaning surfaces but have an off-putting odor and can cause damage to hospital equipment and materials and irritation of eyes and skin. “You also have to read the directions carefully,” Jinadatha said. “They have to be sprayed on a surface, left to sit for a period of time, and then wiped off, or they do not disinfect properly.”

The team completed more than 110 in-person interviews in five weeks with stakeholders and potential customers, including hospital environmental services workers (housekeepers), infection control practitioners, physicians and hospital administrators.

“One great thing we learned is that so many fellow Aggies want to help you,” Sharma said. “They were ready to meet with us, and I was really surprised about how nice everyone was and generous with their time and opinions.” Through this extensive interview process, the team was able to learn what issues people were having with existing cleaning products and what a new product would have to do in order to make their lives or jobs easier.

“This program is invaluable for helping faculty members evaluate the market opportunity and customer need for their technology,” Hinton said.

In this case, Sharma and the rest of the team found that because busy people tend not to have time to spray a disinfectant and let it sit for several minutes, the infectious pathogens aren’t being destroyed, and they go on to infect the next patient.

“I was surprised that there is a real problem with these disinfectants in hospitals,” Sharma said. “They’re often not being properly used, and so they’re not working.”

Ferrate doesn’t have these limitations. Sharma has recently patented his liquid ferrate technology, which solved the inherent issues related to stability of ferrate in solution form, and now needs to be tested for its commercial viability as a surface disinfectant for health care facilities. The team sees the next step as the creation of a spray disinfectant of the ferrate solution.

“There is interest in the product, but we need more data before we can start a small business or collaborate within existing companies to commercialize the product,” Sharma said. The team’s next step is to apply for an Accelerating Innovation Research (AIR) grant that will allow them to further develop their research.

“I’m even more committed to ferrate than I was before,” Sharma added.

Singh was awarded best entrepreneurial lead and the most improved. “That’s really a big deal,” Hinton said. “I’m really extremely proud of this team. They went in prepared and worked hard and ended up being the best one there.”

By Christina B. Sumners, Texas A&M Health Science Center

Categories: Featured Stories, I-Corps, Mays Business, News, Programs, Staff, Texas A&M