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Union Innovation Challenge to take place April 14

April 7, 2016

Photo of Robert Sumichrast
Pamplin College of Business Dean Robert Sumichrast speaking at the 2015 dedication ceremony of the Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Six student entrepreneur teams will pitch their ideas for new healthcare, wellness, or medical devices – in a competition for funding for their projects – during the second annual Union Innovation Challenge.

The event takes place from 4:30-7 p.m., April 14, at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, in Roanoke, and is being presented by Pamplin College of Business’ Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, in partnership with Union Bank & Trust and Carilion Clinic.

The public is invited, with guests asked to register in advance. The event includes a poster session by student teams, a keynote panel discussion, pitches by the finalist teams, and a presentation of awards. First prize is $7,500 toward the winning team's project. The runner up team will receive $2,500.

“Innovating in health care is ultimately about improving outcomes for patients,” said Pamplin Dean Robert Sumichrast, one of several senior university leaders participating in the event. “Not only does innovation have the potential to enhance a patient’s treatment, it also has the potential to enhance our regional economy in important and sustainable ways. The Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Virginia Tech developed the Union Innovation Challenge because we need more entrepreneurs in the Roanoke and Blacksburg region who are focused on addressing the health care challenges of the future.”

The contest drew 47 entries, which were cut down to the following six finalist teams.

BioactiVT developed a solar-powered pulse oximeter to aid health care providers in developing regions where access to electric power may be an issue. Team members are:

  • Jorge Cadena of Manta, Ecuador, who earned his bachelor’s in electrical engineering in 2015 and is working toward a master’s in that subject,
  • Andy Cohen of Crozet, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering,
  • Jay Pennington of Dayton, a junior working toward bachelor’s degrees in computer engineering and mechanical engineering,
  • and Priya Venkatraman of Ashburn, a senior majoring in materials science and engineering.

CP Sensing System developed a non-intrusive sensing system to quantify the arm movements during physical therapy of children suffering from cerebral palsy. Team members are:

  • Harrison Bolinger of Newport News, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering,
  • Jack Cunningham of Swedesboro, New Jersey, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering,
  • Elizabeth Green of Charlotte, North Carolina, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering,
  • and Daniel Seppala of Blacksburg, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering.

GeneRisk developed a software platform for identifying children at risk for developing autism. Team members are:

  • Ajay Kumar of Ashburn, who is working toward a Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of Massachusetts.
  • Anusha Kumar of Ashburn, a sophomore majoring in management,
  • and Karthik Kumar of Ashburn, who earned a Virginia Tech degree in computer science in 2013.

Haven developed technology that incorporates jewelry with interchangeable parts and has GPS capability and a personal microphone for personal safety. Team members are:

  • Kirby Emerson of Mercer Island, Washington, a sophomore majoring in industrial design,
  • Ashlyn Jenkins of Mechanicsville, a first-year student majoring in marketing and public relations,
  • Ruby Kang of Vienna, a sophomore majoring in accounting and finance,
  • Reed Koser of McClean, a freshman majoring in general engineering,
  • and Emily Wills of Mechanicsville, a first-year student majoring in marketing.

Illuminate developed a catheter made up of a polymer that illuminates under florescence, eliminating the need for X-rays in certain circumstances. Team members are:

  • Carly Landers of Ashburn, a junior majoring in industrial design,
  • Grace Ma of Reston, a senior majoring in engineering sciences and mechanics,
  • Joe Rittenhouse of Wilmington, Delaware, who earned his bachelor’s in materials science and engineering in 2015 and is working toward a graduate degree in that subject,
  • and Dominik Takanaka of Reston, a senior majoring in industrial and systems engineering.

The Keystone Project developed a device for monitoring and relaying vital information to caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorder. Team members are:

  • Srikar Manjuluri of Centreville, a sophomore majoring in physics,
  • Vaishnavi Somanchi of Herndon, a sophomore majoring in computer science,
  • Arjun Balaji of Herndon, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering,
  • and Shiva Challa of Herndon, a sophomore majoring in biological systems engineering.

Members of the keynote panel are expected to include Carilion's chief financial officer, Don Halliwill; Virginia Tech's vice president for research and innovation, Theresa Mayer; Union's chief banking officer, Tony Peay; and the founder of Clinovations, Trenor Williams.

The contest, held for the first time in 2015, is intended to benefit both its participants and, ultimately, the economy of the region, according to those involved in running it.

“Helping entrepreneurs start, grow, and renew businesses is one of the most important things a university can do to create jobs,” Apex Systems Center Executive Director Derick Maggard said. “New innovations and entrepreneurial ventures in the health and wellness industry provide a vast array of opportunities for our students, and can ultimately have a huge impact on the future of our region’s economy."

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