Biomedical innovations shine in high-stakes Hokie Pitch event
Graduate students pitched entrepreneurial ideas to solve health problems.
Virginia Tech students showcased their sharpest ideas to turn biomedical breakthroughs into commercial opportunities during a dynamic “Shark Tank”-inspired event at the annual Health Sciences and Technology Hokie Pitch at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in Roanoke.
The competition, featuring participants from the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health Graduate Program, centered on the selection of intellectual property, collaboration with business mentors, and the creation of entrepreneurial strategies to bring biomedical discoveries to market through new companies.
Ideas this year ran the innovation gamut. The first-place team, Pulmwell, pitched a portable device to noninvasively monitor asthma. Second place finisher CardioVision Technologies presented a software package designed to more precisely implant cardioverter-defibrillators in pediatric patients and infants born with heart defects.
Rob Gourdie, professor and the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund Eminent Scholar in Heart Reparative Medicine Research of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and director of the institute’s Center for Vascular and Heart Research, together with Linda Collins, administrator of the Center for Vascular and Heart Research at the institute, orchestrated the transdisciplinary commercialization exercise, expressing his excitement about the event, which culminates a semester-long course on biomedical commercialization in the graduate program's first-year curriculum.
“Hokie Pitch is consistently electrifying,” Gourdie said. "Witnessing students dive into research, unearth intellectual property, shape robust business plans, and confidently present their ideas to judges in the spotlight is a testament to their remarkable professional progress."
The exercise creates a scenario that stretches students beyond their comfort zones to develop skills they will need in their professional lives.
“We strive to embolden students to communicate effectively across disciplines and engage diverse audiences in the journey from discovery to commercialization,” said Michael Friedlander, vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech and a judge in the competition. “This demands a blend of content expertise, analytical and communication skills, and ongoing practice to transform discoveries into impactful health care solutions and to carry those ideas forward to meet real world market needs and demands.”
Throughout the Hokie Pitch, participants delved into identifying biomedical needs, researching undisclosed intellectual property for viable solutions, and crafting compelling cases tailored to attract potential investors. In all, 23 students made up five teams competing for $2,000 for the first place team, $1,000 for second place and $500 for third place. The competition was sponsored by Woods Rogers Vandeventer and Black law firm and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.
Honorable mentions went to
- Team OncoTag, marketing a medical device that utilizes a marker to increase the accuracy of of post-resection radiation treatment: Andrew Willison, Rebekah Thomas, Roxanna Farzad, Rabeya Khondaker, Madison Wypyski; mentor: Cynthia Lawrence, Carilion Clinic; student intellectural property (IP) mentor, Emily Tirrell
- Team Yourigami, pitching a product designed to improve gastrointestinal imaging and noninvasively deliver effective treatment for GI damage and disease: Abigail Doku, Jacob Blaukovitch , Dilruba Yeasmen , Carley Elliott, Cristina Pokhrel; mentor: Francis Farrell, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine; student IP mentor, Meghan Sedovy
In addition to Friedlander, who is also the executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, the judging panel included Fourd Kemper representing Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black law firm, James Ramey of VTC Ventures, and Debbie Petrine from Commonwealth Care. Each brought a unique perspective and expertise to evaluate the innovative pitches.
Hokie Pitch marks the finish of a semester-long commercialization graduate teaching block led by Gourdie in the fall introductory translational biology, medicine, and health graduate course.
Students were instructed by commercialization executives and Virginia Tech faculty, including Gourdie, Ramey of Middleland Capital VTC Innovation Fund; and Mark Mondry, director of LAUNCH, part of Virginia Tech’s LINK + LICENSE + LAUNCH team, which supports corporate partnerships, technology commercialization, and start-ups.
In addition, Assistant Professor Samy Lamouille, postdoctoral associate Spencer Marsh, and Zach Williams provided instruction during the course, as did Mark Van Dyke, formerly of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering and now associate dean of research at the University of Arizona-Tucson.
The event is sponsored by Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.