PlayPatch, maker of a natural alternative to birth control pills, took the $20,000 first prize and won the $2,500 People’s Choice award in the 16th annual UC Davis Big Bang! Business Competition on Thursday, May 26. The first prize includes $10,000 cash and $10,000 in in-kind services from Davis Roots, a local startup incubator with ties to both the university and the city of Davis.
Five finalists — out of 42 teams in this year’s competition — pitched their ventures to the award ceremony audience before prizes were announced.
The Big Bang! provides workshops, mentorship, financing guidance and networking opportunities to accelerate commercialization and advance the startup process. Organized and run by the UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the competition is open to students, faculty, researchers and staff.
Many of the entries in this year’s competition address biomedical advances, clean tech, global poverty alleviation, and innovation in food and agriculture — all world-leading research areas at UC Davis.
Birth control solution
PlayPatch has created a wearable fertility tracker that makes natural birth control easy. The inventors say the PlayPatch is as effective as the pill and offers a solution for the 6.6 million U.S. women who are dissatisfied with their contraceptive method.
Team lead Justin Klein, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering and a Business Development Fellow at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said: “There is nothing like a deadline to get you motivated and inspire creativity. The multiple rounds of the Big Bang! were valuable in helping us form and cultivate our venture into something with lots of potential to become a real business.
“We feel very strongly that PlayPatch is more than just an interesting idea or a 10-minute pitch,” Klein said. “The prize will help take our prototype to the next level and help us acquire some equipment and pay for things that we couldn’t otherwise afford. Ultimately, it will help reduce uncertainty and make PlayPatch attractive enough that investors will be willing to commit.”
Klein said the company intends to raise a round of seed funding with the goal of selling a product within 18 months.
Faster path to drug approval
ImmunoTag took the $15,000 second prize for its biomedical innovation that prepares efficient antibody drug conjugates. Such conjugates could be used, for example, to target cancer cells or as diagnostic tools. ImmunoTag’s patented technology can link virtually any small molecule to any antibody in as few as 15 minutes, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in drug manufacturing costs, speeding the approval of its drugs through clinical trials, and prolonging and saving the lives of millions of cancer patients each year.
The prize includes $5,000 cash plus $10,000 in in-kind services from Davis Roots.
The startup will use the prize to generate credibility for the company and to line up future investments, said team lead Samantha Feng, a Ph.D. candidate in the pharmacology and toxicology graduate program and a Keller Pathway Fellow at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
“We’ll be improving the prototype generation, and at the same time talking to pharmaceutical companies about partnership,” Feng said.
Prizes reward innovation
Mariss Biosciences received the $4,200 Biomedical Innovation Award, sponsored by UC Davis Office of Research, School of Medicine and School of Veterinary Medicine. Mariss has developed a simple blood test to detect the presence of immune biomarkers for autism spectrum disorder. Their goal is to help parents determine their risk of having an affected child and allow them to initiate early behavioral intervention.
Ag for Hire received the $3,000 Innovation in Food & Agriculture Award, sponsored by the UC Davis World Food Center. The startup aims to eliminate unharvested crops by providing farm owners streamlined access to specialty and seasonal laborers. Ag for Hire will help laborers advertise their skill sets, portfolio work experience, search work requests and negotiate wages.
Eclasstic, a competition finalist, received the $3,000 Global Poverty Alleviation Award presented by the UC Davis Blum Center for Developing Economies. Led by Matthew Vendryes, an English instructor at UC Davis Extension, Eclasstic offers international students and business professionals a blended learning method that combines live sessions and an interactive video-based app to build English communication skills.
Eclasstic plans use the prize money to hire UC Davis students to help it continue to build high-quality training tools for its customers and partners. “We are on a consistent growth path, and as we expand our customer base, we will also seek to add strategic partners in training and online learning,” Vendryes said.
High power batteries
Next steps for the venture, said team lead Sam Zhang, who received a Ph.D. in biological systems engineering from UC Davis in 2015, include improving the technology and business plan to move forward and get patent approval, publicize the technology and attract venture capital.