Doctors may eventually be able to detect cancerous tumors at much earlier stages, thanks to nanotechnology that won the 2007 Georgia Tech Business Plan Competition.
The winning TIGON team, who received a $10,000 prize February 28 in an awards ceremony at the College of Management, developed a multi-phase business plan for bringing to market the nanotechnology research of Matthew Rhyner, a Georgia Tech doctoral student in biomedical engineering.
Participation in the annual Business Plan Competition is open to all Georgia Tech students and alumni who've graduated within the last five years. Intended both to educate and facilitate startups, the competition often leads to the creation of real technology-based businesses.
Rhyner, who is due to complete his PhD in December 2007, would like TIGON to join the ranks of past winners who've found real-world success. He received help realizing this dream from his teammates: David Madden, a Georgia Tech MBA student, as well as Emory law students Tom Rafferty and Meadow Clendenin.
They formed their team as participants in the TI:GER® (Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results) program, a unique collaboration between Georgia Tech and Emory Law School that brings together PhD, MBA, and law students to work on commercializing innovative technologies.
"We've been working on the plan for a long time, so to finally win was a big validation for all the time and effort we've put into it," says Rhyner, whose team also finished in the top three of Nanochallenge 2006, an international business plan competition held last fall.
He says he was inspired to create better diagnostic tools for cancer after losing several family members and a close friend to the disease. Developed in collaboration with Emory professor Shuming Nie and Georgia Tech bioengineering doctoral student Andrew Smith, Rhyner's patent-pending nanotechnology can detect cancer and other diseases through the injection of illness-hunting imaging probes into the body.
With current technology, clinicians can only detect tumors that are at least 1 billion cells in size. But the TIGON probes can potentially detect tumors with as few as 10,000 cells – a stage when cancer is much easier and less expensive to treat. TIGON products could also be used to determine if localized cancer was spread through metastatic lesions after the primary tumor was removed – a method of detection that is currently unavailable.
"In order for this research to impact people, it needs to be moved out of the lab into the marketplace," says Rhyner, who is now seeking investors and a CEO for the company, which could serve as a vehicle to commercialize other technologies as well.
While awaiting regulatory approval for clinical use of its products – a process that could take years – TIGON plans to initially sell its nanotechnology to researchers, a market worth $600 million, according to the first two phases of the company's business plan.
David Madden would like to stay involved with TIGON after earning his MBA in May 2007. After five years in the auto industry, he came to Tech to grow as an entrepreneur, starting Container Exchanger, an online brokerage for returnable packaging systems, while in school.
Participating in the Business Plan Competition was an extremely valuable educational experience, Madden says, because of the feedback received from the successful venture capitalists and entrepreneurs judging the competition. "They're able to point out holes in the plan and better ways to communicate your value proposition," he says.
Other teams honored
The total value of the awards given in the seventh-annual Business Plan Competition was $67,000.
Yaplet LLC placed second (winning $3,000) in the overall competition and won the Most Fundable Award (a package of legal, financial, and other services worth $45,000), which goes to the team considered most ready to enter the marketplace by judges. Led by MBA student Christina Might and her husband, Matthew, a doctoral student in computer science, Yaplet offers a free online chatting service that allows Web users to connect with each other in real time through any Web site. Yaplet also won the Showstopper Award ($500), which honors the team that did the best job selling itself to judges in a trade show held the night before the final-round competition.
Two teams tied for third place in the overall competition, Intelligent Drug Delivery Technique and Pharmaceutical Intelligence, winning $1,250 each. The former team, whose polyketal-based drug delivery system can increase the efficacy of drugs by more accurately targeting affected cells, includes MBA student John Frazer and bioengineering doctoral students Bryan Bell and Stephen Yang.
Pharmaceutical Intelligence, a bioinformatics company offering technology that can expedite the drug discovery process and target cures for major diseases, includes MBA student Crystal Gilpin and three students in the Master of Science in Management of Technology program: John Daniels, Rick Priester, and Shanker Subramaniam. Pharmaceutical Intelligence also won the Elevator Pitch Award ($500), in which teams got only one minute to verbally sell their business concepts – the amount of time they might have in an elevator with a potential investor.
This year, Georgia Tech added an Undergraduate Team Award ($500), designed to involve more undergraduates in the Business Plan Competition. Sustainable Refrigeration Inc., including biomedical engineering students Inn Inn Chen, Royal Law, and Yang Lin, took this honor for their plan to develop the technology for a low-cost, environmentally friendly refrigerator for domestic and medical uses, particularly in developing nations. They also won the Sustainability Award ($500), which recognizes the plan that best addresses environmental concerns and/or demonstrates social responsibility, and received another $500 for placing in the top five finalists.
The Sustainability, Showstopper, and Elevator Pitch contests were open to all thirteen teams that participated in the competition's preliminary rounds, while only the five finalists could compete for the top awards, including Most Fundable.
Sponsors of the 2007 Business Plan Competition include askforensics, Ford Motor Company, HLB Gross Collins P.C., McMahon Willis Design, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, and Palo Alto Software.