- New ventures in energy, health, food and agriculture, education
A team of executive MBA students attending UCLA’s Anderson School of Business captured the $20,000 first prize for the top innovation in the 21st annual Big Bang! Business Competition at the University of California, Davis, Thursday night.
Their startup, Los Angeles–based NurLabs, has developed a novel liquid biopsy using materials science and machine learning for early cancer screening. Early detection of cancer increases the likelihood of successful treatment.
The Big Bang!, organized by the Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, has been helping entrepreneurs start or grow business ventures for more than two decades through the competition, workshops, mentoring and networking opportunities. This year the Big Bang! was open to teams with a founder or team lead affiliated with a college or university in California.
The annual awards show — streamed via Facebook Live — announced the winners of more than $100,000 in prize money for innovations in food and agriculture, health, energy/sustainability and education. Prizes for Big Bang! include $17,500 awarded in three Little Bang! pitch and poster competitions.
A mission to end late-stage cancer diagnoses
Top winner NurLabs’ founder and CEO, Sumita Jonak, who has a background in biomedical engineering and chemistry, is joined by a team with diverse backgrounds and experiences: oncologist Abhinav Chandra, regulatory expert Deepa Nagar, operations director Brian D’Souza, technology executive Alan Schiaffino and financial executive Aram Babikian.
For the NurLabs team, the mission to end late-stage cancer diagnoses and give people living with cancer a fighting chance is personal. “All of our lives were upended by cancer," explained Jonak, “so we set forth to tackle the biggest, baddest problem out there.”
The National Cancer Institute reports that liquid biopsies can complement the current standard-of-care screening. Liquid biopsy is a noninvasive test done on a sample of blood to look for cancer cells from a tumor that are circulating in the blood, or for pieces of DNA from tumor cells that are in the blood.
But current first-generation liquid biopsies rely on dead cellular material, which often results in late-stage diagnoses.
In contrast, the NurLab platform detects and identifies material from living cells, said Jonak. “We are examining the couriers carrying cargo between cells. Cancer cells produce at least 10 times more couriers than normal cells, which makes this cancer biomarker easier to detect, before cell death has occurred, at earlier stages.”
The startup has prioritized a liquid biopsy for early lung cancer screening. A growing number of lung cancers are diagnosed in nonsmokers, and today one in five people who die of lung cancer are nonsmokers, suggesting that genetic or environmental factors may play a significant role, the team said.
NurLabs will invest the prize money directly back into the company to “advance our clinical studies and prove the science,” Jonak said.
An additional $70,000 in Big Bang! prizes was awarded Thursday. Each winning team is listed with a link to the website or the video used in the competition. All ventures have a California founder or co-founder.
- AutoMat, of Coto de Caza, California, and Athens, Georgia: Retractable, nonslip, self-disinfecting mat to reduce a pet’s stress during veterinary physical exams. Animal Health + Industry Award, $10,000. Co-founder and partner: Madison Luker, veterinary medicine student, UC Davis.
- Expert IEP, of Davis: Software solution that centralizes communication and uses data to set Individual Educational Plans. Social Entrepreneurship Award, $10,000. Founder and CEO Antoinette Banks, undergraduate student majoring in cognitive science at UC Davis.
- FarmX, of Fairfield: Platform to make digital inclusion for farmers and food-chain players fun, accessible and simple. People’s Choice Award, $10,000. Maria Fernanda Reyes, co-founder and global regulatory affairs manager.
- INN>CHRG, of Davis: Online marketplace for owners and users of level-2 electric vehicle chargers. Energy and Sustainability Award, $10,000. Founder and CEO Angel Daniel Melchor, UC Davis MBA student.
- Nutrible, of Emeryville: Registered dietitians connecting patients to local food banks or helping them purchase healthy foods online. Food, Agriculture and Health Sector Award, $10,000. Founder and CEO Kwamane Liddell.
- Seguros Medical Products, of Sacramento: Medical device that organizes intravenous, respiratory tubing and monitor cables for trauma hospitals. Human Health and Industry Award, $10,000. Co-founder and inventor Antonio Braham, patient care technician, UC Davis Medical Center.
- Zaminka, of Emeryville: Biodegradable, nontoxic, woodlike building material from waste coconut husks. Awarded in-kind services at Davis-based startup incubator Inventopia, $5,000; and in-kind services at agriculture, food and health accelerator AgStart, $5,000. Founder and CEO Shailaja Chadha, a 2019 UC Davis graduate in sustainable agriculture and food systems.