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Shane Parkhill (left) and Kieren Patel, both ’16, take first-place honors at the Northwestern University Venture Challenge.


Something ventured, something gained

Kellogg teams win big at 2015 Northwestern University Venture Challenge

By Heather Blaha

6/25/2015 - Kellogg added to its season of impressive case competition victories by taking the top three spots at the Northwestern University Venture Challenge (NUVC) on June 4.

The teams also took home first place wins — and a collective $85,000 — in three categories:
  • Life Sciences/Medical
  • Green Energy/Sustainability
  • Business Products 

Opticent Health took the challenge’s grand prize as well as first place in the Life Sciences and Medical category. With the help of Professors Hao Zhang and Cheng Sun of the McCormick School of Engineering, Kieren Patel and Shane Parkhill, both ’16, developed imaging technology aimed at preventing eye diseases.

Opticent’s first device is currently operational and installed at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, generating its first images of the human eyes. “In the next 6 months, we’ll be further developing and building a handful of devices for clinical research use across the U.S.,” says Patel, a JD-MBA student. “We’ll be fundraising to support building these instruments and to start the FDA regulatory process.”

Patel also thanked Kellogg Innovation and Entrepreneurship Executive Director Linda Darragh, Clinical Associate Professor David Schonthal ’09 “and all the people in the KIEI program for helping us along the way.”

GTrans – First place winner in Green Energy and Sustainability; second place overall

Durgendra Singh ’16 and McCormick School of Engineering graduate students Zhiyuan Sun and Joseph Arnold developed GTrans as part of an NUvention: Energy course with the goal of improving safety and reliability of Lithium-ion batteries. Later, Adithya Mohanakrishnan ’16 joined the team to focus on sales and marketing. “Lithium ion batteries are unsafe and when many batteries are assembled together in a battery pack, the safety risk could be very high,” Singh says. “If a single battery is exposed to high temperature or catches fire, it can explode and increase the surrounding temperature.”

The GTrans technology, developed at Professor Harold Kung’s lab in Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, is a thermal responsive polymer coating on current battery separators. The coating will prevent the failure of one battery from impacting surrounding units.

Moving forward, Singh adds that GTrans will focus on developing prototypes for customers’ validation: “We are targeting to get our first customer by early next year,” he says. “In the meantime, we plan to pursue possible joint ventures and look for investors who can fuel our growth.”

MDAR Technologies – First place winner in Business Products; third place overall

For co-founders Jesse Chang ’16 and McCormick School of Engineering graduate student Nathan Matsuda, as well as Chris Gezon ’16 and Marc Gyongyosi (WCAS17), improving visibility while using emerging robotics technologies (self-driving cars and precision agriculture) means widespread improvement on cost and performance benefits for a variety of industrial and automotive applications. “Our MDAR technology, spun out from Professor Oliver Cossairt's computer science lab, possesses the unique ability to operate in outdoor conditions that hamper other imaging sensors,” says Chang, a JD-MBA candidate.

By improving existing vision systems and enabling “entirely new uses of robotic technology,” MDAR has its sights on the future success and benefits of their now early-stage development, says Chang.

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