News Release

University of California San Diego Students Take First, Second and Fourth Place at Prestigious Business Plan Competition

San Diego, CA, June 04, 2008 --  University of California San Diego students took first, second and fourth place in a prestigious business plan competition organized at the University of Southern California.

The win highlights UC San Diego’s growing entrepreneurial spirit as well as its world-renowned research.

The first and second place teams presented business plans for the commercialization of Jacobs School of Engineering technologies – nanotube coatings for replacement joints and portable devices for analyzing cells and microorganisms. The fourth place team’s business plan grew out of a Rady School of Management Lab to Market project focused on commercializing a new approach to detecting food pathogens.


A UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering Team Took First Place at 2008 USC Business Plan Competition
First place and $78,000 went to this team of UC San Diego graduate students turned entrepreneurs. (L to R) Bioengineering master’s student Chris Petry, Rady School MBA student Ning Wang, M.D., materials science Ph.D. candidate Karla Brammer and bioengineering Ph.D. candidate Garrett Smith. 

UC San Diego’s big win at the BMES / TATRC Medical Engineering Innovation Challenge at USC on May 20, 2008 also underscores the important role that UC San Diego’s William J. von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and Technology Advancement plays on campus.

“I’m thrilled. This is yet another example of how the von Liebig Center provides an environment that encourages and facilitates successful entrepreneurship in today’s higher education environment,” said Rosibel Ochoa, the acting Executive Director of UC San Diego’s von Liebig Center.

The von Liebig Center catalyzes the commercialization of early stage technologies out of UC San Diego through graduate entrepreneurial education, competitive faculty seed-grants, and the active involvement of business advisors. Each of UC San Diego’s prize-winning teams in the business plan competition benefited from at least one of these von Liebig activities.

The Medical Engineering Innovation Challenge is sponsored by Biomimetic MicroElectronic Systems (BMES) and the US Army’s Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) and promotes innovative medical ideas for US military service members. BMES is a National Science Foundation sponsored Engineering Research Center with headquarters at the USC Keck School of Medicine and USC Viterbi School of Engineering, in collaboration with the California Institute of Technology and UC Santa Cruz.

“I was so impressed by the quality of all 21 proposals submitted this year. It was a great opportunity for teams of engineers, physicians, and MBAs to work together towards commercializing their ideas,” said Sean Caffey, the Director of the Medical Engineering Innovation Challenge, and the Industrial Liaison Officer for BMES. “UC San Diego is definitely a university we want to continue to collaborate with, both in terms of next year’s innovation challenge and BMES more generally.”

UC San Diego was chosen to participate because of its unique leadership in biologics, its budding entrepreneurial spirit, and recent collaborations between TATRC and UC San Diego bioengineering professor Dr. Shu Chien, according to Caffey.

Senior executives at leading technology companies and high-ranking officers in the medical divisions of the US Army, Navy, and TATRC came together to judge the competition and network with the teams. Corporate judges included executives from Advanced Medical Optics, Bausch & Lomb, Eli Lilly, Medtronic, National Semiconductor, Reichert, and Texas Instruments.

First Place: Advances in Accelerating Bone Healing and Implant Performance

The first place team from UCSD is using nanotechnology to speed bone healing in patients with implants made of titanium or other metal alloys. Possible clinical applications include bone screws, dental implants, spinal implants, and titanium components for joint replacements.

UCSD materials scientists and bioengineers have discovered that adding titanium dioxide nanotubes to the external titanium surfaces of screws and other titanium orthopedic implants accelerates bone healing and could potentially lead to quicker patient recovery. Covering titanium implants with titanium dioxide nanotubes also increases the strength of the connection between the bone and the implant device.

Much of this work has been done in the lab of professor Sungho Jin, a faculty in the Jacobs School’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Director of the UCSD–wide Materials Science and Engineering program. The earlier pioneering work on the nanotube biomaterials was done by a postdoctoral fellow in Prof. Jin’s group, Brian Oh. This work has been expanded in recent years to further advanced bio-implant materials and technologies by two graduate students in the group, Garrett Smith and Karla Brammer. Smith, Brammer and bioengineering master’s student Chris Petry partnered with Rady School MBA student Ning Wang, M.D. on the USC business plan project.

Wang was first introduced to this research program at an event sponsored by the von Liebig Center in which UCSD professors showcased their research for MBA students at the Rady School.

The first prize finish came with a $78,000 award – money the students will use to pay for additional product-oriented research and prototype creation towards developing dental implants, explained Garrett Smith a UCSD Jacobs School bioengineering Ph.D. candidate and founding member of the winning team.

“If you are up and moving just one month after a hip replacement instead of three, that’s huge,” said Karla Brammer, a UC San Diego materials science Ph.D. candidate turned entrepreneur working on the project.

“This business plan competition – and the prize money – provides an excellent opportunity for the students to get more experience in the entrepreneurial side of scientific research,” said Jin who oversees the biomaterials and implant research at UCSD in collaboration with professor Lars Bjursten of Lund University, Sweden on in-vivo aspects.

In 2005, Jin received a seed grant from the von Liebig Center to help pave the way for commercializing this research. Jin and graduate student Garrett Smith also recently won a highly competitive UC GREAT Training Grant (Graduate Research and Education in Adaptive bioTechnology) awarded by the UC Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program.

“We have proven that bone grows very well on these nanotubes at an accelerated pace when compared to regular titanium implants. The bone-implant interface is very strong. I have no doubt that this will be a good implant material,” said Jin.

As compared to pure titanium substrate, adding titanium dioxide nanotubes allows osteoblast bone cells to grow much faster and adhere very well. The engineers have observed bone cells growing into the porous nanotube structures.

“Well-anchored cells are happy and want to propagate,” said Jin.

Second place: Counting Cells in the Field

A team of UC San Diego students won second place and $61,000 in funding for their plans to create an inexpensive, portable device for analyzing cells and microorganisms. The tool could be useful for many tasks from diagnosing AIDS by counting CD4 cells to detecting anthrax spores.

Dayu Teng Bioengineering PhD Candidate
Dayu Teng, a bioengineering Ph.D. candidate, led his team to second place at the USC business plan competition.
“Our first goal is to create a small, inexpensive microfluidic device to addresses an urgent need for diagnosing AIDS in developing nations,” said Dayu Teng, the Bioengineering Ph.D. candidate leading this push to connect electrical engineering, bioengineering, medicine and entrepreneurship at UC San Diego.

The patented lab-on-a-chip technology at the foundation of the business plan was developed in the lab of UC San Diego electrical engineering professor Yuhwa Lo.

“Extremely small samples, such as a patient’s blood, will flow through microfluidic channels and optimized optical detection technologies will count and characterize cells and microorganisms,” said Teng.

The technology is a miniaturized fluidic device that interfaces with optics technologies. “We are working to provide a suitcase-size device capable of identifying cells, counting cells and detecting microorganisms. Our devices will be much cheaper than today’s flow cytometers and nearly maintenance free,” said Teng, who took all the available entrepreneurship classes offered by the von Liebig Center and has been mentored by professor Derry Connolly, who teaches the Applied Innovation (ENG 203) course at the Jacobs School.

“The von Liebig Center courses gave me the tools I needed to put the business plan together. Without the von Liebig Center, I would never have been able to do this,” said Teng.

“I am happy that our students are being encouraged to think about commercializing university technologies,” said Lo. It was in his lab that Victor Lien (now a postdoc at Harvard University) and Randy Chen (a UC San Diego bioengineering Ph.D. candidate) developed the miniaturized flow cytometer that the second-place business plan is based on.

For the USC business plan competition, Teng teamed up with Li Cheng and Mike Ye – fist year MBA students at the Rady School.

“This is a great example of how bioengineers, electrical engineers and MBA students can team up and bring out the best in one another,” said the von Liebig Center’s Rosibel Ochoa.

Fourth Place: FlexMBA students flex business and technology savvy

The fourth place team – Jadus BioScience – led by Lada Rasochova, a Rady School FlexMBA 2008 student, is planning to develop diagnostic tests for faster and accurate detection of food pathogens and contaminants.

The business plan grew out of a Rady School Lab to Market project in which FlexMBA students – Lada Rasochova, Stephen Antonysamy, Quan Campbell, and Matthew Titcomb – worked with a local startup to find new diagnostic applications for their proprietary ultrasensitive detection technologies. The students identified an unmet need in the food industry for rapid and accurate detection of food pathogens.

Later, Lada Rasochova teamed up with Jamie Phelps, a UC San Diego graduate student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, to develop military applications to detect, in real time, a variety of contaminants in both food and water based on novel signal amplification approaches. The contaminant list includes bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, bioterrorism agents, chemicals, and chemical warfare agents. The team received $25,000 to build a prototype. These novel detection methods will enable even better and faster monitoring of food supply safety to prevent both unintentional and intentional food borne disease outbreaks among military and civilian personnel, the students say.

The first Jadus product will test for three of the primary food pathogens in packaged fresh produce, Salmonella, E. coli 0157:H7, and Listeria.

Lab to Market is the capstone course of the Rady School of Management MBA program which emphasizes innovation and value creation. In this three course sequence which begins in the classroom and moves into a project-based environment, student teams learn to spot new opportunities, identify business models, and take discovery to market. Lab to Market focuses on generating ideas from students, companies, world class research institutes and UC, San Diego labs and evolving them into viable ventures.

Steve Flaim, a von Liebig center advisor for Life Sciences serves as a Rady School mentor for Rasochova and Antonysamy.

“Steve mentors us on variety of topics related to our MBA education, including entrepreneurship,” said Rasochova, who also has a Ph.D. in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology.

“The goal of the Rady School of Management is to be one of the top business schools in the world and our Lab to Market program is core in its focus on developing innovative, entrepreneurial leaders. We teach how to harness and transform science and technology-based innovations into new projects and ventures that fulfill a market need and add social and economic value,” said Rady School Dean Robert S. Sullivan.

“Companies make progress because they form teams with members from different departments,” said Flaim. “Horizontal activities that similarly break down the silos within universities are great, and this is one of the things we are doing here at the von Liebig Center,” said Flaim.


Media Contacts

Daniel Kane
Jacobs School of Engineering