Wharton isn’t the only place you can find entrepreneurs at Penn.

Two Neuroscience graduate students, Krystle Karoscik and Medha Sengupta, recently won the National Institute of Health Neuro Startup Challenge. The competition involved creating a company to market a medical invention, and required competitors to develop a business plan, a market strategy and pitches to investors. Competitors could choose from 16 different products.

The NIH invention they chose is an air gun-based technology for studying traumatic brain injuries. “What’s revolutionary about it is that it can change pressure frequencies to study anything from mild [traumatic brain injuries] all the way to blast-induced [traumatic brain injuries], and it can also study human cell lines in real time,” Karoscik said.

Karoscik and Sengupta had worked closely together for two years before Karoscik learned about the contest and suggested to Sengupta that they enter.

“It was a great experience for us, I think, because we got to really use all our scientific knowledge, but also learn about the business side of things,” Sengupta said. “I was always interested in research, but I really wanted to do something that went beyond lab research, that was actually translating or applying research in healthcare or medicine.”

The process began a year ago, and Sengupta and Karoscik won each phase of the competition as they progressed. “We went to Atlanta, Georgia in February to the Neuro Launch Demo Day Investor Conference,” Karoscik said. “We presented our poster there that outlined our entire project — the science and business aspect.”

Although the device was originally developed for soldiers, who are most likely to undergo blast-induced brain trauma, Karoscik and Sengupta are looking into additional possible applications. “Hopefully we’ll be able to use it for other applications like sports injuries, concussions, pediatric patients that have epilepsy and falls.” Karoscik said.

They also see additional possible routes for their business model. “We have the device for research purposes right now but we’re looking to branch off into other areas, hopefully into imaging and drug development,” Karoscik said. Sengupta is most interested in the eventual application for drug development.

Karoscik said one of the most exciting things about the win was being partnered with the NIH and with healthcare leader Richard Merkin. “Getting our names tied with Richard Merkin is awesome because he’s a really big name,” Karoscik said. Through the competition, they have also been connected with potential investors, and are heading to San Francisco this fall to present to more.

Overall they agree it was a great learning experience.

“You really don’t have competitions that allow you to experience the science side plus the business side of things, so this was a really good opportunity to get involved with,” said Sengupta.

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