For the fourth straight year, Virginia Tech students will gather in Roanoke to pitch commercialization ideas to a panel of judges in a biomedical, “shark tank”-style competition.

With a focus on health sciences and technology, the HS&T Hokie Pitch will involve 30 students who have worked with real-world mentors, selected intellectual property, and created an entrepreneurial plan to develop and commercialize biomedical discoveries.

The competition is set for Dec. 6 at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. 

Cross-disciplinary teams of Virginia Tech students from the College of Engineering's Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, the Pamplin College of Business, and the translational biology, medicine, and health (TBMH) graduate program will compete for $7,000 in cash prizes.

“People might think it is a simple matter to take a good idea from the laboratory and turn it into a real-world product,” said Rob Gourdie, a professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. “In reality, many great ideas never make it beyond the ideation stage. Commercialization is an extremely complex process that involves a combination of biomedical, technology, business, and marketing skills.”

Gourdie, who has founded several biotech companies, planned the commercialization exercise with Mark Van Dyke, an associate professor in the College of Engineering's Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics; and Mark Mondry, a professor of practice in entrepreneurship in the Pamplin College of Business.

Students learn how a laboratory invention is patented, licensed, and developed into a marketable biomedical technology.

The commercialization module is built into the TBMH graduate program’s gateway class, led by Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech's vice president for health sciences and technology.

“It is important to give students opportunities to step outside of their comfort zones and get them thinking in unaccustomed ways,” Friedlander said. “The Virginia Tech environment is perfect for bringing together business students, engineers, and biomedical scientists who normally would not cross paths on campus and get them involved in interdisciplinary projects, because that is what happens in the real world.”

Throughout the gateway course, TBMH graduate students learn about contemporary translational research advances in neuroscience, immunology and infectious disease, metabolic and cardiovascular science, cancer, and tissue engineering and reparative medicine.

TBMH students also learn about implementing discoveries into the marketplace, including how to commercialize discoveries, develop intellectual property, navigate regulatory affairs and clinical trials, bolster venture capital and investor support, and launch a new start-up.

Then, together with the business and engineering students, they work in teams to identify promising health sciences intellectual property and develop plans for commercializing that idea.

“A real benefit of this program is the different backgrounds of the students and how they learn from each other," Van Dyke said. "There are many levels of strategy involved in building a comprehensive business plan that can only be successfully accomplished in a multidisciplinary team. I’ve seen students see that they can do well in an unfamiliar space and that their collective expertise is greater than they may have initially thought.”

Teams will compete for $7,000 in prize money provided by the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Luna Innovations Inc., Carilion Clinic, the Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and the Woods Rogers law firm.

“It’s human nature to keep within your areas of expertise and experience, but when students uncover new ways to solve problems through collaboration with those from other disciplines, it deepens their understanding on how to reach success,” said Mondry, a professor of practice in entrepreneurship with the Pamplin College of Business. “Part of the experiential learning process involves exploring new opportunities and the ability to ‘fail’ in a safe environment so that students can take what they've learned, pick themselves up, and try again.”

Judging the presentations will be Friedlander; Maria Clarke, a senior vice president and private client adviser for U.S. Trust and a member of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute advisory board; Nick Conte, general counsel and senior vice president of Carilion Clinic; Fourd Kemper, a mergers, acquisitions, and venture capital attorney at Woods Rogers law firm; James Garrett, vice president of the technology development division at Luna Innovations; and Jeff Conroy, chairman and co-founder of Embody Inc., which develops collagen-based medical devices for the repair of tendon and ligament injuries.