UC entrepreneurs awarded $300,000 in startup competition

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Various university startups were awarded a total of $300,000 in prize money Wednesday as part a systemwide competition for early-stage companies involved in the development of innovative life science technologies.

Formally announced in August, the Prime UC competition is a part of UC President Janet Napolitano’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative, which aims to help early-stage companies affiliated with the university. Prime UC collaborated with Johnson & Johnson Innovation to award one winning startup $150,000 and three runner-up companies $50,000 each.

Prime UC was hosted by QB3, a university research institute that supports innovation in the life sciences through industry partnerships and entrepreneurial programs. According to Neena Kadaba, program director of Prime UC, the idea for the competition was created in early 2015, and Johnson & Johnson Innovations committed to the program in summer 2015.

“The goal was to create a community of active investors, venture capitalists, angel investors and corporate partners who were interested in connecting with various startups throughout the UC ecosystem,” Kadaba said.

The four winning teams were chosen from more than 260 applicants in a highly selective and competitive process involving judges from QB3, Johnson & Johnson Innovations and guest judges who are active investors and corporate partners. On Wednesday, 20 finalists were invited to the last round of the competition at UCSF Mission Bay, after which the final decisions were announced.

Spinal Singularity, a startup founded by UCLA graduates, took home the $150,000 grand prize for developing a smart catheter that could improve the quality of life for paralyzed individuals and people who suffer from bladder dysfunctions.

Together, the three runner-up startups, Sonomotion, Laser Associated Sciences and First Step Medical Technologies, represented UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and UCLA. These startups focused on medical innovations to help treat kidney stones, diagnose and track blood flow in patients with vascular diseases, and monitor the homes of asthmatic children, respectively.

Oren Levy, a UC Berkeley alumnus and CEO and co-founder of Sonomotion Inc., said Prime UC was beneficial to his startup because many investors have expressed interest in Sonomotion since the competition.

“The fact that we were awarded $50,000 was really nice — but the real benefit is the exposure we received from all the investors and all of the influential life science individuals who were either judging or attending the competition,” Levy said.

Startup companies involved in the competition focused on the development of innovative life science technologies related to therapeutics, consumer health, medical services and diagnostics.

To be eligible for the competition, each startup had to have raised less than $1 million in private funding and had to be founded by a university faculty or staff member, or be managed or founded by a university student, alumnus or postdoctoral fellow.

“We absolutely plan to make it an annual event in the life sciences and we also hope to partner with other groups throughout the UC system who might be interested in doing it in other disciplines,” Kadaba said. “It was personally just an incredible experience.”

Contact Maya Eliahou at [email protected].