Former Petit Scholar mentor Yogi Patel developed the technology and Team Bioletics developed a sense of direction that led them all the way to first place in the 2015 Georgia Institute of Technology Startup Competition, Monday night (March 9) at the Scheller College of Business.
Open to all graduate students, the program – formerly known as the Business Plan Competition – pits teams of various sizes against each other in a contest designed to find the best startup business. This year, out of the more than 40 teams that started, the team that won is built around technology Patel has developed as a Ph.D. student in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering.
“As a team, the goal is to try and figure out the best options to commercialize the technology. In my case, I focus a lot with electrical stimulation,” says Patel, who works in the Neurolab of Robert Butera.
The competition starts in September with a workshop series as students come together and form teams – interdisciplinary teams are encouraged. In Patel’s case, his team emerged from the Scheller College’s vaunted TI:GER Program (for Technical Innovation: Generating Economic Results), which teaches its student participants that the main hurdles to commercializing research are seldom technology-related. So, TI:GER brings students who are accepted into the program together to form five-member teams. These include two MBAs and two law students who focus on commercializing a Ph.D. student’s research – in this case, Patel’s research.
Team Bioletics was comprised of two law students from Emory, Sarika Mathur and Mark Luo, two MBA students from Georgia Tech, Maggie Lovatt and Hassan El Majidi, and Patel. They won the $15,000 cash prize for first place and something new this year, the Edison Prize, which comes with an additional $15,000, in the form of a convertible note to the winning team’s company.
The competition, presented by Georgia Tech’s VentureLab, forces teams to think beyond the technology, the idea being that most tech startups fail because they start executing before they have a proven business model which includes getting to know who your customers are. Patel’s device is designed to electrically stimulate nerves and control glucose levels. So, Team Bioletics’ targeted customers are diabetes patients. Right?
“When we started, we thought about human patients,” says Patel, whose team considered the challenges and costs of FDA regulation and had to think about another market. “We learned quickly that we can go to the pet market, because there are tons of diabetic pets.”
They did their research, validated their customer base, spent time talking to owners of diabetic pets, talked with veterinarians (“We actually went to the largest vets conference,” Patel says) and industry executives, the experts at VentureLab, and pitched the idea around.
“We also had to test our idea out, see if people would buy it,” Patel says. So they spent January and February showing off a prototype, and asking pet owners if it was something they would buy. Then they spent the past few weeks in the heat of the final rounds of competition, which whittled down to 12 teams before Monday’s finals.
This is all part of Patel’s best-of-both-worlds plan. Nearing the end of his third year of Ph.D. studies, he has plans to enter the academic world while starting a successful company. He is currently researching universities, letting them know he’ll have his Ph.D. within the next year, year and a half, telling them about his research.
But meanwhile, there is more to do with Team Bioletics in the next few weeks. It turns out that there is at least one team from Georgia Tech that will be competing in the madness of March, and they won’t have to take care of the ball or make a free throw. Instead, Team Bioletics will represent Georgia Tech in this year’s edition of Startup Madness, a bracketed competition among Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) schools, March 26-27 in Raleigh, N.C.
Patel and his teammates have a tough act to follow. Last year’s Georgia Tech Startup Competition champion, CheckDroid, went on to win the ACC crown as well.
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience