Stephen Smagula is the grand prize Winner of the Phillips Grand Challenge, an innovation challenge sponsored by Phillips, during a reception held at the O'Hara Student Center, Wednesday, November 1, 2017. 1726

Stephen Smagula, who previously took the top prize last November in the Philips Grand Challenge, received the top award at the demo day for the most recent cohort of the Innovation Institute’s First Gear Program.

April 10, 2016

The Circadian Activity Profiling System (CAPS) was selected as the recipient of a $20,000 award at the demonstration day for the most recent cohort of the Pitt Ventures First Gear program. The CAPS is a platform that allows consumers, and their clinicians, to evaluate whether their circadian rhythms may be increasing their dementia risk.

The technology is being developed by Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Epidemiology, Dr. Stephen F. Smagula, who previously landed the top prize in the inaugural Philips Grand Challenge last year. Leveraging a large dataset from the University of Pittsburgh Sleep & Chronobiology Center, Dr. Smagula’s system tracks whether the user’s 24-hour activity profile is associated with risk for cognitive impairment.

Smagula has been advised by mentors Robert Huemmrich and Ray Milhelm.

The runner-up, receiving $5,000, was a team consisting of Dr. Jeffrey Gusenoff, Associate Professor of Plastic Surgery, Dr. Beth Gusenoff, Assistant Professor of Plastic Surgery, and graduate student Steven Donahue. They are developing a wound healing device for alleviating foot pain.

Their project has been advised by mentors Mark Adkins and Dave Satina.

Funding for the awards is from the Chancellor’s Innovation Commercialization Funds established in 2016 to provide high potential innovations from Pitt labs with resources to continue the path toward commercialization.

Judges for the demo day included:

  • Larry Miller, Executive in Residence, Innovation Works
  • Ray Houck, CEO, Aclipse Therapeutics
  • Matt Lancaster, Chapter President, Keiretsu Forum Mid-Atlantic


First Gear teams receive $3,000 from the NSF I-Corps program to conduct pre-commercialization activities, such as market research and customer discovery. All teams completing the program are eligible to apply for the national I-Corps program, which provides another $50,000 in funding to continue on the path toward the market.

First Gear teams include a principal investigator (PI) which must be a Pitt faculty, and entrepreneurial lead (EL), typically a graduate student or postdoc in the investigator’s lab/school, or from the Katz Graduate School of Business, and a business mentor (M). Other participants in the cohort included:

Development of a fashionable face mask that protects against germs and humidifies dry air on airplanes

PI: John Maier
EL: Katie Inman
M: Don Morrision, Tory Moore

ForFiltrate Solid-Liquid Filtration

Improved simulation algorithm for oil and liquid filtration that prevents clogs, and reduces shutdown/change-out and testing time

PI: Joseph McCarthy
EL: Siying Zhang
M: Dick Heilman, Paul Rohich


A rare diseases biotech providing personalized medicine solutions for disorders of fatty acid oxidation & energy metabolism

PI: Al-Walid Mohsen, Jerry Vockley
EL: Vaidurya Paladugu
M: Mark Collins, Leon Perez

FRED (Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiological Dynamics

Software platform to build models that simulate behaviors in populations

PI: Donald Burke
EL: John Cordier
M: Eric Boduch, Ian Magazine

If you are a Pitt investigator interested in learning more about the commercialization process for your lab’s discoveries, consider attending an upcoming Innovation Igniter session. These two-hour workshops help participants discover the value their ideas may offer to customers, as well as define who potential customers are and how to reach them. The Igniter workshop is a prerequisite to entering the First Gear program.

Upcoming Workshop:


June 20, 2018, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. WPU 548

Click here to register.