News & Events

Beating the odds

Innoblative is winning competitions — and possibly the fight against breast cancer

By Rachel Farrell

  • Capping off a season of wins, Innoblative rang the NASDAQ closing bell on June 13.
  • To date, Innoblative has won 11 awards from competitions, totaling nearly $200,000, including $28,000 at the Northwestern University Venture Challenge on June 5.
  • Innoblative took first place at the University of Texas-Austin’s Global Venture Labs Investment Competition back in May.
  • The team also took fourth-place overall and won the Women’s Health category at the 2014 Rice Business Place Competition, the largest competition of its kind.
  • Innoblative took second place at the Oregon New Venture Championship in April and won for Best Business Plan.

Medical-device startup Innoblative is poised to revolutionize the treatment of breast cancer. And it’s safe to say that people are taking notice.

On June 11, Innoblative took home the first-place BioMedical Engineering Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship award at the Medical Device Excellence Awards in New York, adding to a staggering list of honors, grants and business competition wins. To date, the student-led company has won 11 awards, totaling nearly $200,000.

Most notably, Innoblative won first place at the University of Texas-Austin’s Global Venture Labs Investment Competition, the self-proclaimed “Super Bowl of investment competitions,” on May 3. It also took fourth place overall and second place in the medical division at the April 12 Rice Business Plan Competition, the largest competition of its kind, and won top honors in the Women’s Health category.

The eight-member company, which includes five students from Northwestern University’s business, medical, engineering and law schools, has developed a disposable, radiofrequency ablation (RFA) probe that uses thermal energy to treat a surgical cavity, such as that made after removal of a breast tumor.

From weeks to minutes

The device allows surgeons to perform an intra-operative procedure that eliminates residual potentially cancerous tissue in just minutes. By comparison, current treatments require patients to receive daily radiation for five to seven weeks—a process that’s costly, time-consuming and potentially dangerous. Furthermore, at least 1-in-5 patients need a reoperation due to inadequate treatment.

“There’s nothing quite like it on the market,” says CEO Tyler Wanke ’15, a MMM student and MD candidate. “There are a few devices out there that use radiofrequency energy … Our device is designed for the cavitary setting — for example, a breast cavity.”

A team of surgeons at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, including Dan McCarthy and David Mahvi, developed the idea for the probe. Wanke was brought on board in 2013 to lead the company and recruit an interdisciplinary team of engineers, business leaders and legal consultants.

After filing a patent application for the technology, Wanke and his teammates — which include JD-MBA student Jason Sandler ’15, PhD candidate Curtis Wang ’14 and MS candidate Brian Robillard ’14 of McCormick and Adam Piotrowski, medical device innovation fellow for Northwestern’s Center for Device Development (CD2) — focused on refining the design of the probe, testing models and developing a prototype.

Additional applications

While Innoblative is tackling breast cancer first and foremost, the company believes that the probe has potential to treat a broader range of medical conditions.

“The device could be something that surgeons could use as a general tool during a variety of procedures to treat tissue,” says Wanke. “In other words, other cancer conditions or potentially non-cancerous conditions in the body.

As a next step, the company is focusing on raising investment capital and partnering with a design firm to “further advance the device along the path to commercialization,” says Wanke.

And after ringing the NASDAQ's closing bell on June 13, Innoblative can celebrate a bit.

“Our little company,” laughs Wanke, “is going to be on the big screen at Times Square.”

Watch the Innoblative team deliver their "elevator pitch" at the Oregon New Venture Championship.