UGA Engineering student startup receives VentureWell grant

Assistant Professor Zion Tse, undergraduate researcher ChaKaria Hunter and Ph.D. student Austin Taylor

An idea for a new surgical device to assist physicians treating cancer, developed by two students in the University of Georgia College of Engineering, has been awarded $5,000 in the initial stage of the VentureWell Entrepreneurship Team (E-team) program.

VentureWell is a nonprofit organization that funds and trains student inventors and entrepreneurs who want to address significant problems through new technology-based ventures. Its E-Team Program helps student teams move new technologies out of the lab and classroom and into the marketplace. The UGA team is one of 50 nationwide to receive funding in the latest round of E-Team grants.

Austin Taylor, a Ph.D. student, and ChaKaria Hunter, an undergraduate, are developing an assistive surgical arm for interventional oncology. The device is designed to be a low-cost, high-precision tool for surgeons performing procedures such as biopsies or ablation.

“We put our plan together quickly so I was excited it stood up to the competition,” said Hunter, who drew on her experience as an intern with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) this summer to develop the idea for the surgical arm.

Both Taylor and Hunter work in Assistant Professor Zion Tse’s Medical Robotics Lab in the College of Engineering. They’re also collaborating with the NIH Center for Interventional Oncology on the assistive surgical arm project. Drs. Braford Wood, Reza Seifabadi and Sheng Xu of the NIH serve as the UGA team’s clinical advisors.

The VentureWell award includes seed money to help the students refine their early stage prototype. In addition, Taylor, Hunter and Tse will attend a three-day workshop at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in January, where they will learn how to refine their business plan and articulate their innovation in the marketplace.

“When we go to the training sessions we will be surrounded by a lot of smart people who can help us refine our business plan,” said Tse. “This is an exciting learning experience for our team.”

Teams completing VentureWell Stage 1 training have the opportunity to apply for the next two stages. Stage 2 teams receive an additional $20,000 in grants and attend a workshop designed to help them develop and validate their business model. The teams also receive six monthly coaching sessions. In Stage 3, the ASPIRE program, students receive their final training, designed to help them develop a case for partners and investors to invest in the business.

Photo: A student-led startup in the University of Georgia College of Engineering has received a $5,000 VentureWell Entrepreneurship Team grant to further develop their plan for an assistive surgical arm for interventional oncology. From left: Assistant Professor Zion Tse, undergraduate researcher ChaKaria Hunter and Ph.D. student Austin Taylor.

Writer: Mike Wooten

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