Crowdsourcing Challenge to Commercialize Medical Inventions
The Neuro Startup Challenge was a crowdsourcing contest to speed up the licensing, development and marketing of products based on medical innovations.
National Institutes of Health, United States
In August 2014, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA launched a crowdsourcing competition in which they didn't want a single idea to be submitted. That's because they already had lots of them.
"We turned the challenge model on its head," said Rosemarie Truman, the CEO of one of the event's collaborators, the Center for Advancing Innovation. "In this case you're not going to come up with the idea. We have the ideas."
Working with NIH Intellectual Property
What the contest organizers wanted were the best teams to commercialize their inventions. The aim was to overcome some of the challenges that the NIH faces when it tries to commercialize federal innovations, such as regulations that make it difficult for it to spin off inventions and form startups.
During the contest, participants had to develop an elevator speech and business plans, and find potential funders for any one of 16 neuroscience inventions. Among them were a brain cancer specific target which can be used in diagnostics as well as having potential therapeutic applications, and a new compound for treatment of Neurofibromatosis Type 1 for brain cancer.
This crowdsourcing venture drew a healthy response, with more than 578 students from around the world forming 70 teams. During its two phases the teams were mentored by experts to produce their business plans and financial models.
Building Companies around Promising Technologies
The first phase involved developing a two-minute elevator speech and an executive summary outlining potential commercial products and company visions. The winners of this phase then went forward to the next stage where they had to develop a 10-page business plan and a 20-minute live pitch.
From all of this activity, the judges selected 13 winners. Their prizes included $2,500 in cash and mentoring to help them launch their startups, incorporate their business, apply for licensing and more.
Among the winners was a startup called IntelliPanel that plans to commercialize a blood test for gliobastoma. This is the most aggressive and most common form of brain cancer. It is hoped that the blood test will be an improvement on current diagnostics of invasive brain biopsies and MRI images.
Other winners included a blood-based test to detect cancer in humans and pets and a new way of treating traumatic brain injury. This involves diffusing compounds directly through the skull.
Winning the competition doesn’t guarantee commercial success. There are still numerous hurdles to be tackled such as securing FDA approval, proving the technology works as intended and securing customers.
If the startups do well, the NIH will receive royalties on its inventions, and this crowdsourcing approach could become a model for other federal agencies to get their innovations to market. It could prove to be a very affective way for government organizations to spin their inventions into profitable companies.
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