For the first-time in a virtual setting, Virginia Tech students pitched commercialization ideas for biomedical products to a "Shark Tank"-style panel of judges during the annual Health Sciences and Technology (HS&T) Hokie Pitch.

The competition involved students from the translational biology, medicine and health graduate program, who worked with real-world mentors, selected intellectual property, and created an entrepreneurial plan to develop and commercialize biomedical discoveries. 

Their work came into focus with teams making their pitches to a panel of judges and splitting $4,000 in cash prizes.

Winners were:

  • 1st Place $2,000, CytoKure Immunotherapies, a potential therapy to restore function in autoimmune diseases; team members Emma Henry, Jonathan Church, and Yuyang Dong; mentor, Greg Feldmann; intellectual property consultant, Natalie Melville.
  • 2nd Place $1,000, Lung Protect, a new way to make lung cancer screening more accessible; team members Fatima Quddos, Meghan Sedovy, and Chris Ding; mentor: Kevin Bloomfield; IP consultant: Zach Williams.
  • Most Creative $1,000, EZ-Cath, a safer, more comfortable intermittent urinary catheter; team members, Gates Palissery, Caiti-Erin Talty, and Addie Hayes; mentor, Victor Iannello; IP consultant: Zuzana Mironovova. 

Rob Gourdie, a professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at Virginia Tech who has founded several biotech companies, planned the commercialization exercise.

“The talent to bring a discovery forward, make a pitch, and fill a need for something in the world is an important part of the ecosystem of biomedical science, and science in general,” said Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology and executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “We want graduate students to experience the entire ecosystem, which involves perceiving a need, identifying an innovation, and making the case to investors. It is a process where everyone involved has an opportunity to really change the world.”

The competition, now in its sixth year, was sponsored by the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Carilion Clinic, Luna Innovations, and Woods Rogers PLC.

“I take my hat off to the students who had the courage to dive in, do the work, and present their ideas, as well as to the sponsors for providing their time, expertise, support, and prize money to make the competition possible,” Gourdie said. Students who pitched ideas in previous competitions served as intellectual property coaches for this year’s teams.

During the course, students interacted with Virginia Tech faculty and commercialization executives, including Mark Mondry, a professor of practice in entrepreneurship and associate director of LAUNCH, part of Virginia Tech’s LINK+LICENSE+LAUNCH team, which supports corporate partnerships, technology commercialization, and start-ups. 

Also teaching were Mark Van Dyke, formerly of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics and now associate dean of research at the University of Arizona; Samy Lamouille, an assistant professor at the research institute and chief executive officer of Acomhal Research Inc.; and James Ramey, managing director and fund manager at Middleland Capital’s VTC Innovation fund. 

Linda Collins, administrator of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute Center for Heart Reparative Medicine Research, assisted Gourdie with coordinating the teaching block.

The pitches were judged by 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; Troy Keyser, director of Carilion Innovation; Fourd Kemper, a mergers, acquisitions, and venture capital attorney at Woods Rogers law firm; James Garrett, senior vice president and general manager at Luna Innovations; and Ramey.

Some of the students, teachers, and judges involved in the 2020 HS&T Hokie Pitch competition. At upper left are Michael Friedlander, vice president for health sciences and technology,, and Rob Gourdie, a professor at the research institute and founder of several biotech companies, who planned the commercialization exercise and the pitch competition.

Hokie pitchers
Some of the students, teachers, and judges involved in the 2020 HS&T Hokie Pitch competition. At upper left are Michael Friedlander, vice president for health sciences and technology, and Rob Gourdie, a professor at the research institute and founder of several biotech companies, who planned the commercialization exercise and the pitch competition.