Undergrads place in Olin Cup for first time
Four Washington University undergraduates were the first undergraduates ever to place in the Olin Cup entrepreneurial competition last week.
Seniors Abigail Cohen, Andrew Brimer, Jon Koo and Chris Cassidy were awarded the second-largest prize in this year’s competition, winning a $30,000 investment toward their medical supply startup business called Sparo Labs.
The four team members developed a kind of microphone that works as a spirometer, or a device that monitors lung pressure and, by extension, lung health. The device, which pairs with a software program compatible with smartphones, tablets and computers, can be produced for just $10, a fraction of the cost of current spirometers.
Each group member plans to work for the business full-time after graduation. Brimer said the biggest hurdle ahead of them is achieving FDA approval, not only for the hardware component but for the software as well.
“In order to get there we’re going to need more funding and more product development,” Brimer said. “We’re really focusing right now on doing this as a full time job in addition to classes.”
In its 11th year running, the competition sponsored by the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies offered the three top-scoring start-ups a total of $140,000 in funding.
The winning start-up, MMBiosensing LLC, patented a new method of detecting the bio-markers of a heart attack, won $50,000, and the third-place team, Emergent Sensor Technologies, makes filtration devices that improve beer brewing efficiency, was awarded $20,000—in addition to $25,000 from the Skandalaris Student Venture Fund.
Brimer and Cohen initially developed the $10 spirometer while working with the Washington University Engineers Without Borders–Engineering World Health Design Team. While taking the Hatchery course offered through the Skandalaris Center—a feeder course for the Olin Cup, they brought Koo and Cassidy into their group.
Cohen noted that while they may have been less rehearsed than some of the other groups in the competition, they were still able to benefit significantly from it.
“It was a great way for us to get feedback from a lot of different people from an environment that was really competitive, but also our peers and people who were really well connected,” Cohen said. “It didn’t really feel during the competition that we were treated any differently being undergraduates.”
“It’s been really great this year the traction we’ve gotten,” she added. “That’s really encouraged us to really push forward and keep moving and we think the best way to do it is to put all of our energy into it.”
After securing FDA approval, Sparo Labs looks to officially launch sometime in 2015.
“We’ve gotten a lot of support from all sides of the Wash. U community,” Cohen said. “Everyone has been very supportive of what we are doing and has been very excited for us.”