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The Tennessee Smart Mobility Challenge Hosts First-ever Pitch Finale

Nano Oncology Solutions, Inc., a nanoparticle drug formulation for breast cancer treatment, won the joint finale of BioTN’s Scipreneur Challenge and TennSMART’s Smart Mobility Challenge on April 27.

The event, which convened life science and mobility leaders, university partners, and entrepreneurs at Baker Donelson in Nashville and virtually across the state, was the culmination of a 10-week entrepreneurship education program presented by BioTN and TennSMART.

In total, four teams of students and entrepreneurs pitched mock businesses based on intellectual property from Tennessee’s leading research institutions. In both the Scipreneur Challenge and the Smart Mobility Challenge, participants create a business plan by researching the market, developing a plan for commercialization, and making a pitch for mock investment and continued research.

Bryan Barringer, the program director of the Smart Mobility and Scipreneur Challenges for TennSMART and BioTN, noted that each participant spent a total of 50 hours over the course of the program developing their businesses, which averages out to one week in the life of a real-world founder.

A panel of industry experts and investors judged the pitches, including Kayla Graff, Founder and CEO of SweetBio; Phillip Wade, Director of Innovation and Solutions Development at Bridgestone Americas; Brian Laden, President and CEO of Appello Pharmaceuticals; Steven King, Director of BioTN’s Life Science Mentor Network; and Scott Rader, Principal and Senior VP of Solas Bioventures.

Here’s a summary of each of the businesses developed during the program:

· Nano Oncology Solutions, Inc. This technology, from a partnership between Cumberland Emerging Technologies and Auburn University, is based on a nanoparticle drug formulation. Team members include Ugur Yurtsever, who holds a Ph.D. in neurosciences and an M.S. in molecular biology and genetics; Angelita Crawford, who holds an MBA and a B.S. in biomedical engineering; and Diana Sa Da Bandiera, who holds a Ph.D. in regenerative medicine and a M.S. in molecular medicine. Specifically, the company would formulate a drug to treat breast cancer by combining Disulfiram, an FDA-approved drug used to treat alcohol dependence, with copper. Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in the U.S. The formulated drug is very low cost, has minimal side effects, and can be combined with chemotherapy and other drugs to increase the life expectancy of patients. Nano Oncology Solutions, Inc. was presented as an important first line of defense for patients that reflects the market shift to more patient-centered care.

Tamp-It. This technology is based on a tamper-aware, anti-counterfeiting container developed by researchers at Vanderbilt University. The company developed a patent-pending shipping box to protect critical products at risk for counterfeit tampering, such as pharmaceutical products and automotive parts. Pressurized sensors can detect if the box has been opened or tampered with at any point along the delivery chain. Custom software was also developed and integrated into a phone app for easy field communication. Team members are Justin Huff, entrepreneur and Director of Operations at Positive Energy Charging Systems, and Brooke Byrne, bioengineering student at Vanderbilt University.

Carcinolytics. Technology licensed from from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was transformed by Carcinolytics into a cancer diagnostics company to predict which patients will be resistant to chemotherapy. There is no clear diagnostic available to determine chemo-resistance, despite being linked to 80-90 percent of cancer-related deaths. This diagnostic, based on a LAMP-1 protein cell expression and assay, would allow for early identification, which could save weeks of unnecessary treatment and hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in in patient costs. Moreover, it could all be done in a normal lab setting. Team members are Matthew Dungan, Ph.D. student from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and Shannon Taylor, graduate student in biomedical engineering at the Vanderbilt Institute for Surgery and Engineering.

EV Shield. Electromagnetic shielding technology developed by researchers at Oak Ridge National Lab has been transformed into a solution for wireless EV charging with EV Shield. Currently, most consumer EVs take at least 30 minutes to charge fully, and the need for permanent charging stations creates infrastructure challenges for providers and utilities and grid operators. Using a high-permeability magnetic material that is compatible with bipolar charging pads, EV Shield could charge a consumer vehicle in less than 15 minutes with no energy loss or risk of electrocution. With the EV market expected to reach $1.87 trillion by 2030, the opportunity is enormous. The founder and CEO is Juliana Yang, an NSF I-Corps alumna who is a graduate student and researcher in the Bioinspired Materials and Surfaces Lab at Vanderbilt University.

Members from each of the formed teams expressed interest in working with the IP holders to move their business concepts to the next stage toward market launch in the foreseeable future. BioTN and TennSMART, in coordination with the respective research entities for the selected IPs, will continue to support these teams and help pave a path for transfer of these compelling technologies from the lab to the open market.

The final pitch event was sponsored by Baker Donelson, Vanderbilt University Center for Technology Transfer & Commercialization, and Launch Tennessee. The teams won a total of $5,000 in cash prizes from sponsors Vanderbilt CTTC and LaunchTN.

If you’re interested in being involved in the next cohort, the Scipreneur Challenge and Smart Mobility Challenge will return in fall 2023. You can find more information about the Scipreneur Challenge at and the Smart Mobility Challenge at

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