While college is a stepping stone to greater things for many people, a growing number of Stony Brook students have dreams that include launching businesses of their own, some even while still in school. WolfieTank — Stony Brook’s cross-campus pitch competition — is designed with these students in mind, providing a challenging event that not only is fun, but also sparks the innovative and creative minds of entrepreneurial students.
Inspired by the popular TV show “Shark Tank,” WolfieTank was conducted virtually on February 24, giving teams a unique opportunity to showcase their talents.
Alumni judges included Dipita Chakraborty, client partner at Fractal Analytics Inc.; Derek Peterson, CEO and founder of Soter Technologies; and Bob Williams, president of IV Matters Inc. Five teams delivered prerecorded presentations featuring the following business ideas:
- Active Sight – an exercise tool for visually impaired people
- IO-Rem – an IV product for medical emergencies
- EOS Solar — technology to deliver efficient solar energy to more communities
- C.E.N.T.S. — a smart device for emergency stretcher data collection
- “Hocus Pocus” by Ultrasound Simulation – a portable ultrasound training tool for hospitals and first responders
After a series of live Q&A sessions that followed each presentation, Hocus Pocus was named the winning business idea, taking the top prize of $1,500.
“The judges felt that their solution was extremely well designed, researched, good marketing plan and a detailed business model for implementation,” said event moderator David Ecker, director of iCREATE at Stony Brook, which sponsors WolfieTank. “I felt that ultrasound simulation for medical training is very timely with the pandemic, solutions that are implementing engineering driven medicine are vital for our work in the future of healthcare.”
The winning team is part of the Medical Device Innovation Clinic, a multidisciplinary group of medical professionals, masters students and undergraduates across majors. The team is part of Stony Brook’s VIP (Vertically Integrated Projects) Program.
“We heard about this market need from Lauren Maloney, our clinical mentor, who is the director for paramedics at Stony Brook Hospital,” said Ultrasound Simulation co-presenter Alex Eichert, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering and chemistry. “She had written a paper about the lack of medical ultrasound training for first responders and had just published it at the beginning of the fall semester. She suggested it as a potential project for us and we decided to run with it.”
Eichert explained that EMTs and paramedics make critical decisions in determining to which facility patients go and what intervention might be necessary to save a life. Sometimes a key step is obtaining ultrasound information to diagnose a potentially fatal condition. In order to make an accurate diagnosis, users need to be well-trained in the complex ultrasound technology.
“Physicians and medical students have access to ultrasound training technology that adequately represents a hospital environment,” said Eichert. “However, EMTs and paramedics have no such device to prepare them for using an ultrasound in a moving environment like an ambulance or helicopter; 305 of collapsed lung cases have been misdiagnosed in ambulance settings due to an unfamiliarity with the technology from lack of training. This is what we are setting out to correct.”
Eichert said he didn’t know what to expect going into the final competition, but knew it would be tough.
“Preparation was hard at the beginning,” he said. “We had to start working on this over winter break. But once we started getting input from our group and mentors, all of it started to really come together. We definitely put in a lot of hours. One night we started working at around 8 pm and didn’t finish until around 4 am.”
“We were well-prepared due to our team’s background research and use of the amazing resources available to us at Stony Brook Hospital,” added co-presenter Daniella Hébert, a senior majoring mechanical engineering. “We’re very grateful to the staff that took the time to speak to us about the patent process and medical simulation.”
Ultrasound Simulation team member Thea Kumar, who also co-presented, described the experience as “nerve-wracking.”
“The judges were tough, but it went well overall,” said Kumar, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. “This win means that we have a budget to buy components. VIP teams don’t usually get funding, so we used our personal parts or bought them with our own money. The prototyping stage requires trial and error, so having money to fund us is something we’re all really grateful for.”
“Moving forward, we plan to test multiple different mechanical and software systems for our device,” said Hébert. “After reaching the optimal configuration, we hope to begin the patent process and test our device with paramedics and other volunteers at the hospital. We’re lucky to be a part of a group with so many different skill sets and opportunities for growth with each new semester.”
The team also has their sights set on the 2021 Stony Brook Entrepreneurs Challenge.
“Since August, these students, as part of one of the Vertically Integrated Project teams, have been working on creating a prehospital ultrasound simulation hardware/software combination in response to a need found via prehospital research conducted here at SBU,” said Maloney, a clinical assistant professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, and one of VIP Program’s faculty mentors. “They are one of the most engaged, dynamic and self-motivated group of students I have gotten to mentor. I attribute that to getting to work with other students across majors, colleges/schools and even stages of education in the VIP Program. I’m very proud of all they’ve accomplished.”
“I’m excited that we were able to close the innovation loop by having an InnovateIT [iCREATE make-a-thon event] winner and a VIP team as finalists,” said Ecker. “It shows how the Innovation and Entrepreneurial partnership we have built at iCREATE has become a reality. This has been a goal we have been working toward for many years.”