Medical Innovations Win Big in 20th Annual UC Davis Business Competition

UC Davis Grad Students Develop Stroke Diagnosis Method

Winning Big Bang! team StarBio
Winning Big Bang! team StarBio developed a new diagnostic method to identify certain kinds of strokes. Team members pictured, top to bottom, are Teri Slack, Diedra Shorty and Shabnam Jafari. (Courtesy photo)

A team of UC Davis graduate students captured both the $20,000 first prize and the $10,000 Health Sector Award in the 20th annual Big Bang! Business Competition at the University of California, Davis, Wednesday night.

Biochemistry and molecular medicine doctoral students Shabnam Jafari and Diedra Shorty along with Teri Slack, an MBA student at the Graduate School of Management (who earned her organic chemistry doctorate from UC Davis in 2017), made up the winning team. A team of undergraduates from Johns Hopkins University won the $10,000 People’s Choice Award (decided by an online vote on team presentations) and the $3,000 Food, Ag & Health Innovation Award.

The first-place team’s venture, Davis, California–based StarBio, has developed a new diagnostic method that quickly and accurately identifies ischemic stroke patients. In a medical emergency where speed is critical, the Rapid Homogenous Point-of-Care Evaluation (HoPE) reduces assessment from hours to minutes to improve time-to-treatment and patient outcomes.

The competition, organized by the Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, has been helping entrepreneurs start or grow business ventures for two decades through the competition, workshops, mentoring and networking opportunities. It is open to the public.

The annual awards show, streamed this year via Facebook Live due to the COVID-19 pandemic, announced the winners of $100,000 in prize money for innovations in food and agriculture, health, energy and technology. Prizes for Big Bang! include $18,000 awarded in three Little Bang! pitch and poster competitions.

New HoPE for stroke patients

StarBio’s innovation is welcome news for the more than 15 million people across the globe — 800,000 in the U.S. — who suffer a stroke each year. Following a stroke, a patient loses 2 million brain cells each minute due to reduced oxygen and nutrients.

“There is currently no method available to quickly and effectively differentiate between stroke types,” says Shorty. “This is important because the treatment of an ischemic stroke differs greatly from a hemorrhagic stroke — and incorrect or delayed diagnosis can lead to loss of brain function or death.”

StarBio’s innovation employs a diagnostic method funded by the National Institutes of Health and developed at the UC Davis Medical Center. It uses a drop of blood to detect specific biomarkers for ischemic stroke in just five minutes. It is readily portable; first responders and medical triage specialists require no special training to use it.

The startup will use the prize money to perform stroke-specific validation studies and to file additional patents on the technology. “One year from now we will prepare for launching our product for use in treatment facilities across the U.S.,” said Slack.

An improved pediatric feeding tube

Pediafeed of Baltimore, Maryland, won both the $10,000 People’s Choice Award and the $3,000 Food, Ag & Health Innovation Award. The team of eight biomedical engineering undergraduates at Johns Hopkins University is developing a novel pediatric feeding tube that features secure retention and easy insertion/removal, reduces displacement, and provides children with a reliable method of assisted feeding.

“In the neonates and infants population, nearly 22 percent of tubes are displaced within three months of placement, leading to gastric leakage, skin irritation and infection, and hospital readmission for tube replacement,” says Pediafeed co-founder and CEO Katherine Hu, a 2016 Davis (California) Senior High School alumna.

“This is particularly debilitating for these children, who are at the most critical stage of development.”

Pediafeed will use the prize money to create robust, to-scale versions of its prototypes and develop a pediatric bench-top testing model.

Other winners

An additional $39,000 in Big Bang! prizes were awarded Wednesday. They are listed with a link to their website or their videos used in the competition, where applicable.

  • Azuza Beverage of San Dimas, California: Technology makes a better nonalcoholic beer. Food + Agriculture Sector Award, $10,000.
  • EdgeSense of Baltimore, Maryland: Marker to improve postoperative breast cancer care. Innovations in Technology Award, $3,000.
  • Nebula Care of San Francisco: A telehealth platform that provides culturally competent mental health support with an inclusive and label-free approach. UC Davis Health Innovation Award, $3,000.
  • Pacific Fleet LLC, of Sacramento: Helping school bus fleets go electric. Energy Sector Award, $10,000.
  • PHIXED SYSTEMS of Davis: Advanced analytics platform technology for bio-manufacturing. CleanStart Award, $3,000.
  • VHomes, of Los Angeles: Real-estate SaaS (software as a service) building future of budget travel. Technology Sector Award, $10,000.

Media Resources

Marianne Skoczek, UC Davis Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, cell 415-425-0878,

Karen Nikos-Rose, News and Media Relations, 530-219-5472,

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