CWRU student-founded companies attend conference to showcase inventions

Mark Patteson, Staff Reporter

Last weekend, two teams from Case Western Reserve University attended the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) Open Minds conference in San Jose, California. The event provided representatives from Hole Patch and Disease Diagnostic Group (DDG), two companies founded by CWRU students, an opportunity to showcase their inventions and network with investors.

DDG, founded by CWRU alumnus John Lewandowski, featured their Rapid Assessment of Malaria (RAM) device at the Open Minds conference. The easily portable RAM promises to diagnose malaria cheaper, faster and more accurately than existing methods. It can detect the parasite before symptoms even appear, potentially saving lives with early treatment.

A couple of investors showed interest in the RAM at the Open Minds investor panel and various networking events. DDG already received considerable attention, winning $150,000 in various innovation and business plan competitions, including $25,000 from a previous NCIIA grant. The U.S. Navy is also experimenting with the RAM in clinical trials.

Looking ahead, DDG still needs to raise about $500,000 to continue clinical tests, find a manufacturer and hire a CEO. The RAM won’t reach sales without a bigger investment.

“We want to pitch towards as many investors as possible,” Lewandowski said. “We are looking to find as many financing possibilities as we can get by showcasing the device and using it.”

Lewandowski believes DDG has made good progress.

“The timeline looks pretty good,” Lewandowski said. “We would like to sell them by next year.”

The engineers eagerly await more clinical data. Finding a manufacturer will bring production to scale: Lewandowski’s brother Mark, a mechanical engineering student, still makes prototypes in CWRU’s Think[Box]. By hiring a CEO, Lewandowski hopes to speed up the process and raise DDG’s profile.

For Hole Patch, which is still in the research and development phase, the NCIIA conference offered a valuable learning opportunity. Nicholas Barron, who co-founded Hole Patch with fellow senior Mayank Saksena, said “We were there to learn as much as we can and make good connections.”

Barron and Saksena used the conference to practice their pitching, presentation and networking skills and to refine working together as a team. The team participated in several exercises, including a five-word pitch. The team came up with “all weather temporary road repair” to describe the company’s patent-pending product, a durable bag of fluid placed in potholes to support passing cars.

Like DDG, Hole Patch has performed well in various competitions, including CWRU’s Saint-Gobain competition and previous NCIIA events. Using grant money from the competitions, Hole Patch created several promising prototypes. Now, the team works to find an optimal design, weighing aspects like price against durability.

“The set of materials in our hands all work, we just need to find the best one” Barron said.

Though Barron acknowledged that juggling student and business responsibilities is a difficult time commitment, he remained optimistic.

“I’m working as fast as I can, and optimistic about staying on schedule,” he said.

He plans to develop a new prototype by next winter to use in large scale testing with various municipalities.