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2020 Incubation Fund Awards Support Seven Early-Stage Innovations Across Duke

Duke Incubation Fund Winners Spring 2020

The winners of the Spring 2020 Duke Incubation Fund awards have been announced, representing early-stage innovation happening across the University. Seven projects will receive funds totaling more than $135,000.

The Incubation Fund, run by Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (I&E), supports ideas from Duke’s innovation ecosystem with the potential to go to market. While many resources exist at Duke to support research and commercialization, the Incubation Fund is among the only opportunities for innovations still in the ideation stage. The Fund is made possible by a gift from I&E advisory board member Jeffrey Citron and his wife, Suzanne.

“The Incubation Fund fills that early-stage funding gap that allows a project to advance from research to market,” said Sharlini Sankaran, Director of Translational Programs at I&E. “Thanks to the Citrons’ generous gift, we have been able to support a wide range of technologies and products, each of which has the promise to greatly benefit society.”

Among the Fund’s goals is to foster and support innovation from all corners of Duke. While previous awards have supported faculty, staff, and students representing schools and departments ranging from the School of Medicine all the way to the Dance Program, this year’s awardees represent Biomedical Engineering, Pharmacology & Cancer Biology, Electrical & Computer Engineering, and the Department of Mathematics.

The Incubation Fund awardees for 2020-2021 are:

Roarke Horstmeyer, Pratik Bokadia, and Amey Chaware – SafineAI: Basic blood tests require significant manual effort and are ubiquitous bottlenecks in healthcare systems. SafineAI seeks to develop a new “intelligent” computational microscope that, combined with cloud-based machine learning algorithms, will automate blood analysis and open up new diagnostic possibilities.

Chris Counter and Siqi Li: Using a sequencing methodology to detect cancer-causing mutations in the gene KRAS, this team seeks to develop an early detection blood test for mutations linked to nearly one quarter of all cancers.

Teng Su and Jennifer L. West: By leveraging cardiac pathology post myocardial infarction (MI, commonly known as heart attack) and a novel enzyme-mediated radical polymerization technology, CardioXo aims to develop a smart targeted nanocarrier based on naturally occurring fatty capsules called exosomes that can recognize and repair the injured heart tissue after an MI incident.

Zhongxi Li and Stefan Matthias Goetz: Through development of a rapid prototyping system, this team seeks to create plug-and-play-type customization for electric power conversion. This will enable rapid research and development of new products at the heart of many electric devices, including electric vehicles, medical devices, and almost all renewable energy generation devices.

Martin Brooke and Stuart Pimm: This team seeks to develop new long-range drone technology through the Rainforest XPRIZE in order to make low-cost, detailed assessment of rainforest biodiversity achievable in previously inaccessible regions with limited on-site skilled personnel. The $10M Rainforest XPRIZE is a five-year competition to enhance our understanding of the rainforest ecosystem.

Feilun Wu and Lingchong You: Each year, a large amount of pesticides contaminates the environment, leading to significant health risks and harm to the ecosystem. This team seeks to develop a platform for continuous and controlled release of enzymes, proteins, and peptides for bioremediation.

Hau-Tieng Wu, Yu-Lun Lo, and Bo-Shiang Ke: Many adults exhibit mild to severe obstructive sleep apnea systems, and the majority of them go undiagnosed due to limited lab-based examinations and poor accuracy of home-sleep testing devices. This team seeks to develop a wire-free, comfortable, and reliable home-sleep testing device to screen apnea symptoms based on predictive algorithms.

Safine AI Device
SafineAI Device


The early-stage support provided by the Incubation Fund can prove decisive in whether progress continues on a project. “Our simulations and early prototypes showed promising results, but we are short of resources to scale up the system to match the industrial interests. The Duke Incubation Fund is a crucial thrust to materialize our vision,” said Zhongxi Li.

Duke I&E also works to simultaneously support Incubation Fund awardees and provide Duke students with experiential learning opportunities, as in the case of Michael Klien, inventor of the Hydrean, a meditation tool. Klien, whose product was featured at the annual Invented at Duke celebration, was also selected to be the client for an I&E Capstone course project.

“The course presented me with a wonderful opportunity to work with engaged students who took their research into potential markets seriously. The unearthed numerous valuable observations, feedback, and potential strategies,” Klien said.

With the Fund, which was established in 2017, entering its fifth funding cycle, numerous previous awardees have gone on to receive follow-on funding from investor groups and federal entrepreneurial programs—including Duke spin-out inSomaBio, who received a Coulter grant and an STTR grant.

Line Snugglers, created by Marybeth Tetlow and Ryan Shaw of the School of Nursing, are waterproof sleeves and adjustable vests to protect IV lines in infants and children; this concept received an Incubation Fund award in 2018, and the products are now on the market.

“It’s so gratifying to see so many of our early Incubation Fund investments come to fruition,” said Sankaran. “I have no doubt that this latest round of Incubation Fund awardees will also continue on to make positive impacts in people’s lives.”

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