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mDiagnostic Wins First Prize in MinutePitch

A team led by graduate student Akshaya Shanmugam of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department won the $1,000 first prize in the UMass Innovation Challenge MinutePitch competitionon Oct. 29. The competition was featured in a Springfield Republican article on November 11. Shanmugam’s team, mDiagnostic, is developing a low-cost, accurate test for hepatitis C., and the team’s faculty advisor is ECE Professor Christopher Salthouse. Shanmugam’s winning poster was entitled “Lensless Fluorescence imaging with height calculation.”

In addition, Shanmugam recently won first place and also received the “Special Tang Award,” sponsored by the Shirley and Ting-wei Tang Endowment, during the 2013 Ph.D. Poster Session on October 18.

Read the Republican article:

UMass Amherst student entrepreneur teams compete in Innovation Challenge fall MinutePitch

Low-cost tests for deadly Hepatitis C, a computer program that turns social-media "likes" into sales, acne-fighting bacteria and a GPS-enabled pet collar that helps find Fido.

These are not science fiction, but the business ideas pitched by University of Massachusetts at Amherst students at the Amherst’s Innovation Challenge fall MinutePitch competition. The program, established in 2005, is open to University of Massachusetts at Amherst students including graduate students and post-doctoral students as well as undergrads. It is part of the UMass Innovation Challenge.

The teams had a minute to pitch their ideas — a good way to get would-be entrepreneurs to hone their ideas into a sharp focus, organizers said.

mDiagnostic, the team behind the hepatitis test, was the winner, garnering a $1,000 prize. The team was led by Akshaya Shanmugam, who is pursuing a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering.

Rabbly, the social-media software, was second and earned a $650 prize. The team leader was Nathan Tepper, an undergraduate in finance.

Clearocin, which uses bacteria to fight acne, and Rescue Collar both won $300. The Clearocin team was led by senior Dennis Morgan; the Rescue Collar team was led by David Waymouth, an MBA student.

The audience at the contest voted for Babyaga Apparel for the $250 audience choice prize.

But now the focus is on working up a more detailed three-minute pitch for the Executive Pitch and Elevator Pitch competition Dec. 3, said Dennis, of Northborough, who is developing Clearocin with partner Clarissa Ronzio, of Lowell. Both are senior microbiology majors.

"We are also getting samples of bacteria from different labs, learning what might work best," he said.

Bacteria are one major cause of pimples, he said. But bacteria also make protein that kill other bacteria.

"It's their only natural defense," he said.

So the idea is to harvest those proteins and develop a safe and effective way to kill the acne-causing bacteria living on a person's face.

UMass Innovation Challenge also runs a Mini-Plan Competition in March that emulates an investor boardroom experience. Teams pitch their developing ventures to a panel of sponsors for a spot in the Final Business Plan Competition.

The Final Business Plan Competition takes place at the end of the academic year, with teams competing for as much as $50,000. (November 2013)