Entrepreneurship Powered by Engineers

Apr 19 2018 | By Jesse Adams | Video: Columbia Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Design

A system for better targeting pancreatic tumors, a device that brings augmented reality into the operating room, and a new method to improve water treatment earned top honors at the 2018 Columbia Venture Competition (CVC)’s Technology Challenge, held April 5 on the Morningside campus.

In a two-way tie, the Columbia Engineering-sponsored challenge handed out first place honors and $20,000 each to companies with products for improving medical care. vaSAR Technologies, a system that provides real-time AR guidance for radiologists performing vascular interventions, was the brainchild of Gabrielle J. Loeb ’18PS, Shirin Sadri ’21PS and Samantha Siu ’18CC. TempRes Technologies, which offers precisely targeted chemotherapy, is led by chemical engineers Professor Jeffrey Koberstein and Porakrit Leophairatana PhD’17 along with Professor Tamas Gonda and postdoc researcher Chathuranga De Silva from the medical school.

Meet the finalists of the Technology Challenge: Advance H2O, Insta Power, MentorPro, TempRes Technologies, and vasAR.

“Our product, Gemzin, is a unique drug carrier system, designed to be used with direct-injection therapy, that can improve clinical outcomes in pancreatic cancer by accumulating drugs within tumors and gradually releasing them directly at tumor sites, minimizing side effects,” De Silva said.

Taking third and $10,000 were AdvanceH2O, which employs innovative techniques for monitoring and analyzing water treatment. The company includes earth and environmental engineers Professor Kartik Chandran and postdoctoral researcher Halil Kurt.

Each year, CVC brings together student, faculty and alumni entrepreneurs from across the university for the opportunity to earn seed funding. Overall, more than 200 startups competed for a share of the $200,000 prize pool awarded across four separate tracks.

In addition to tracks geared toward addressing urban problems and delivering customer-proven products straight to market, Columbia College also sponsored an Undergraduate Challenge, where engineers were also well-represented. Oxy2, a collaboration between Jady Tian ’21 and Elvis Zhang of Brown University, won first place and $25,000 for nanotechnology products to help protect people from air pollution. Taking third place and $10,000 was Gallo Fueling, a fuel delivery service to be deployed in high-density cities, from Sambhav Anand ’20, Justin Donovan ’19CC, Ben Jones ’20CC, and Kanishk Vashisht ’20.

The competition, now in its tenth year, was followed by the StartupColumbia Entrepreneurship Festival, a full day of panel discussions and presentations exploring how visionary enterprise is transforming realms as diverse as computing, space travel, and social movements. Professor of Electrical Engineering Michal Lipson joined other women entrepreneurs on stage to talk about her experience bringing research on silicon photonics to market, while former NASA astronaut and Professor of Mechanical Engineering Mike Massimino participated in a panel on the commercialization of space exploration. Jeanette Wing, director of the Data Science Institute and a professor of computer science, described at the event how members of the Institute are working to promote the responsible use of data for the public interest.

“The headlines are right before us every day,” Wing said. “You do not want to find yourself on the hot seat in front of Congress.”

The festival was organized by Columbia Entrepreneurship and the Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs (CORE), the university’s undergraduate entrepreneurship society. Each year, Columbia University awards some $2.4 million to promising Columbia entrepreneurs. See a full list of winners from the Columbia Venture Competition.