August 21, 2017
Eye Cures First Gear

Pitt Associate Professor Robert Shanks (seated) and Jes Klarlund, received $20,000 to advance their innovation toward commercialization following their presentation at the conclusion of the most recent cohort of the Pitt Ventures First Gear program.

EyeCures Team Accepted into Phase I Ventures Accelerator Program


A more effective delivery system for medicated eye drops and a medical device to improve hearing screenings in real-world environments received a combined $25,000 to advance these innovations towards commercial licensing at the demonstration day for the most recent Pitt Ventures First Gear cohort held at the Human Engineering Research Lab (HERL) at the Bakery Square complex in East Liberty.

A total of 13 innovation teams, five from HERL, participated in the cohort. The teams worked alongside experienced business mentors to conduct customer discovery interviews to determine the value that their innovation could deliver in the marketplace. Each team received $3,000 to assist in this discovery process through the NSF I-Corps program, for which Pitt is an inaugural site. The teams can now apply for the national I-Corps program, which provides up to an additional $50,000 in funding.

The awards to the EyeCures ($20,000) and Hearing for Health ($5,000) teams are sponsored through the Chancellor Innovation Commercialization Funds, established last year to provide promising early-stage innovations funding to reduce technical or market risk, making them more attractive to potential investors or licensees.

EyeCures, from the lab of Associate Professor of Ophthalmology Robert Shanks, is an eye drop that can be used to deliver therapies to the eye, and which only has to be applied once or twice per day. The innovation has recently been accepted into the Phase 1 Ventures startup accelerator program operated by Philadelphia-based University Science Center. Pitt formed the partnership with Phase I last year. EyeCures will be the second Pitt team to enter the program, which provides assistance in applying for federal commercialization grants and identifying startup leadership.

“The First Gear program introduced us to fundamentals of business principles, reshaped the basic focus of our emerging EyeCures company from drug development to drug delivery, introduced us to the local entrepreneurial community, and provided a path forward for our scientific ideas to commercialization,” said Jes Klarlund, the project’s entrepreneurial lead. “Some work was required, but the benefits were very substantial.”

“For people who have not gone through First Gear before, it helps them to learn about intellectual property, business principles, marketing, and to receive an evaluation of their concept or prototype.”

HERL Director, Rory Cooper said the First Gear program brings several benefits to his lab.

“First, for people who have not gone through First Gear before, it helps them to learn about intellectual property, business principles, marketing, and to receive an evaluation of their concept or prototype,” he said. “And for seasoned inventors, it helps make our inventions and our research better and can help lead us to new ideas and inventions, particularly through the discussions with the end-user customers. I’ve used First Gear to vet ideas for further R&D.”

The next First Gear cohort begins September 15, 2017. Click here to apply.

First Gear teams include a principal investigator (PI) which must be a Pitt faculty, an 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).


Teams participating in the cohort included:


PI: Stephen Badylak
EL: Juan Diego Naranjo
M: Mark Collins

Esophagel is an extracellular matrix hydrogel that can be delivered orally and minimally invasive methods to the esophagus to control inflammation, promote tissue remodeling and provide homeostatic signals to cells without systemic effects

PI: Robert Shanks
EL: Jes Klarlund
M: H.P. Beers

EyeCures is an eye drop that needs to be applied only once or twice per day to achieve maximum therapeutic benefit with minimum discomfort. Unlike toxic and unsafe competitive alternatives such s Mitomycin C, steroids, Cyclosporine, etc., EyeCures is safer, more efficacious and faster acting.

Legal Triage
PI: Elizabeth Van Nostrand
EL: Alix Ware
M: Greg Coticchia; Eric Boduch

For lawyers, corporations and people who need easy access to laws, Legal Triage is a tool to find relevant laws that utilizes filters instead of keywords to find results. Unlike other legal search engines, it provides simplified summaries of relevant laws in minutes.

The Physical Mind
PI: Rory Cooper
EL: Mark Greenhalgh
M: George Coulston

The Physical Mind aims for a brain and body wellness connection. By connecting the physical brain with the mind through imagery, technology, education and wellness, it hopes to create programs that promote both the user’s physical and personal well-being.

Peri-Operative Nutritional Habilitation (PreHab)
PI: Joseph Losee
EL: Ryan Schroth
M: Peter Theis

For healthcare systems that want to reduce the costs of extended stays and high readmission rates due to poor wound healing, PreHab is a service that provides personalized perioperative nutrition to the patient’s door through a proven computer-based dieting program that allows healthcare providers to reach and assess more at-risk patients without the added cost of a nutritionist.

Automated Terrain Detection
PI: Rory Cooper
EL: S. Andrea Sundaram
M: Mark Adkins

Automated Terrain Detection is a system for power wheelchairs that alerts users to potentially risky terrains, assists users in difficult driving conditions and allows users to drive who previously could not.

PI: Rory Cooper
EL: Brandon Daveler
M: Tad Hale

For wheelchair users who cannot perform pressure reliefs or reposition themselves, pneumatic powered seating functions are cheaper, lighter weight and waterproof, unlike electric powered seating functions. Pneumatic powered devices are beneficial to users and insurers alike due to their simpler design and maintenance.

Portable TMS
PI: Carmen Andreescu
EL: Helmet Karim
M: Bill Gaussa

Patients with treatment resistant major depressive disorder who are eligible for transcranial magnetic stimulation, but cannot access the therapy due to the time commitment involved and high cost, can benefit from Portable TMS, which is a cost-effective device that can be used at home.

SPDx Diagnostics
PI: Chakra Chennubhotla
EL: Maurice Marx
M: Lansing Taylor

SPDx is a digital pathology software for diagnosing breast tumors that provides a more efficient and less error-prone diagnostic workflow than current solutions. It works by identifying regions of interest of high diagnostic value leveraging spatial statistics to enhance diagnosis.

PI: Morgan Fedorchak; Jenny Yu
EL: Michael Washington; Katie Duncan
M: Jan Berkow

OcuDerm provides a thermoresponsive platform for control of an injectable gel filler for chronic and acute eye wound healing as well as aesthetic and mechanical support applications. Unlike hyaluronic acid fillers, which are degradable, lack drug delivery capabilities, and are dependent on the experience of a specialist, OcuDERM can improve the overall customer experience through the incorporation of anesthetic, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic drugs, reducing pain, redness and infection risk.

Smooth Ride
PI: Rory Cooper
EL: Cheng-Shiu Chung
M: Lynn O’Donnell

Smooth Ride is an active suspension system for powered wheelchairs that increases stability and comfort on difficult roads unlike passive spring-damper systems.

Mobile Robot
PI: Rory Cooper
EL: Saleh Alqahtani
M: Randy Eager

A mobile robot is a technology for assisting older adults and people with disabilities who need assistance to access their vehicles by carrying their personal items, shopping bags, luggage, manual wheelchairs, etc. Unlike other wheelchair lift products build in fully modified vehickels, the robot can be attached ot any kind of vehicle with minimal modification and can be operated autonomously or semi-autonomously, reducing the dependence on caregivers or assistants.

Hearing for Health
PI: Catherine Palmer; Jeffrey Vipperman
EL: Erik Rauterkus
M: Eric Bengel

Hearing for Health is a device to screen hearing in real world medical environments using WHO guidelines that can be used as an amplifier to assist with communication between health providers and patients.