Grad students win national business plan competition
Oct 9, 2015 | Atlanta, GA
Nathan Evans and Brennan Torstrick are men with a plan – an award-winning plan, as it turns out.
The Georgia Institute of Technology Ph.D. students have been hauling in the hardware in business plan competition for Viapore, a project built around technology they developed.
Their most recent success, a victory in September at the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society (TERMIS) World Congress in Boston, might be the most impressive yet for the research duo, because this time they were on their own.
Viapore was created in the TI:GER (Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results) program at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business, by a team that included Evans, Torstrick, Tech MBA students Anne Hewitt and Matthew Kroge, and Emory Law student Brad Schweizer (who also has an MBA).
In previous competitions, the business-minded trio – Hewitt, Kroge and Schweizer – were generally on hand to present the team’s plan. But it was just Evans and Torstrick at TERMIS.
“We had been leaning heavily on our teammates in previous competitions,” says Evans, who is pursuing his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering (MSE), and has worked in the lab of Ken Gall (who recently became chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University). “But by the time we got to the TERMIS competition, we were fluent on the business side of things.”
Torstrick, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student in the lab of Petit Institute Executive Director Bob Guldberg, adds, “the technology intuitively makes sense to a lot of people. They get it.”
Part of their TI:GER training involved gathering feedback from potential customers as well as key opinion leaders, like surgeons and their advisors, among others.
“The market need is obvious,” Torstrick says.
That was a message that came across at previous competitions as well. Viapore beat 20 other teams to win the TiE Atlanta competition (The Indus Entrepreneurs), and made it to the semifinals in the other contests, including the Global Venture Labs Investment Competition (considered the “Super Bowl of Investment Competitions”) in May, in Austin, Texas.
“TERMIS was different,” Evans says. “The other competitions were mostly MBAs who found a technology in a university and were leveraging that. The fact that Brennan and I are engineers and the inventors who are heavily involved in research and technology was an advantage at TERMIS, where the focus is on tissue engineering.”
Viapore spun out of the duo’s thesis research. It’s something Evans (nearing the end of his fourth year) began working on in January 2012, and Torstrick (early fourth year) got into in August 2012. The surface porous PEEK implant technology they have developed over the last three-plus years addresses a major clinical need.
“PEEK is a popular polymer implant material, due to its favorable biomechanical and clinical imaging properties, but surgeons have found that it does not integrate well with bone and can easily slip out of place,” Guldberg says.
So, the duo combined their skills in mechanics of materials and bioengineering to come up with an improvement, developing a porous implant for fusion surgeries that will reduce the need for revision surgeries by providing faster and better integration with bone and tissue than nonporous implants.
And with their multidisciplinary teammates from the TI:GER experience, they’ve devised a successful plan to bring the product to market.
“I’m really impressed that they have taken an innovative development from the research laboratory and created an award-winning business plan for translating it into a product to help people who need back surgery.”
Along the way, the Viapore team also created a perfect slogan for the product: “We’ve got your back.”
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience