November 30, 2017

Pitt Ventures First Gear Fall 2017 Cohort Demo Day winners included, from left, the OH Alert team of Eunice Yang, Associate Professor of Engineering at Pitt Johnstown, student entrepreneurial lead Sean Cadden and Elizabeth Katrancha, Assistant Professor of Nursing at Pitt Johnstown. The Nitrix team is represented by student entrepreneurial lead Sam LoPresti and business mentor Leon Perez.

By Mike Yeomans

A biomaterial bandage for closing chronic wounds and a fall detection and prevention system were both awarded a total of $25,000 from the Chancellor Innovation Commercialization Funds at the most recent Pitt Ventures First Gear Demo Day.

Taking the top award of $20,000 in the pitch competition was OH Alert, a wearable technology that asssesses individualized heart rate variability data to predict and warn a person of low blood pressure before it happens to prevent a potential fall. The system was developed by Pitt Johnstown Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Eunice Yang and Elizabeth Katrancha, Assistant Professor of Nursing.

Yang said that she learned from the other team presentations each week of the First Gear program, and took advantage of weekly office hours with entrepreneurs in residence at the Innovation Institute.

“These meetings helped our team to solidify and, at times, redefine goals and propelled us forward with the support we needed to be successful.”

In addition to capturing the top prize at the First Gear Demo Day, the OH Alert team in October was awarded $25,000 in the Pitt Innovation Challenge (PInCh) competition.

Next up for the OH Alert team is to continue with their customer discovery interviews, obtain further data needed to validate their solution and to seek out additional funding and partnerships, both with industry and in academia.

“The network of connections made through First Gear will help us continue on the path to commercialization,” Yang said.

Nitrix, which is aiming for a less expensive solution for treating chronic wounds, received $5,000. It is one of the latest products of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.  The academic lead for the Nitrix project, Professor of Bioengineering Bryan Brown, is no stranger to commercializing his discoveries. His research into an injectable material for healing nerve injuries was recently spun out of the University into a new company, Renerva Inc.

Sam LoPresti, the project’s entrepreneurial lead, said First Gear helped in engaging clinical experts to learn what needs they have in wound care and in proving that the technology his team is developing is an advance over current standards via small animal studies.

The Nitrix project was advised by volunteer mentors Leon Perez and Peter Vercilla.

First Gear is designed to assist Pitt investigators with determining if their discoveries are commercially viable through a series of customer discovery and value proposition defining exercises. All First Gear teams are paired with one or more experienced business mentors who assist them in completing the Lean Launchpad methodology underlying the program’s curriculum.

Each participating team also receives $3,000 from the NSF I-Corps program to help fund the customer discovery and market research exercises. The next First Gear cohort begins in January. Click here to learn more and apply.

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).

The other teams participating in the fall 2017 First Gear cohort included:


Movisu-Fit is developing sensors to assist with outpatient physical therapy for prosthesis users.

PI: Goeran Fiedler
EL: Krista Kutina
M: Eric Bengel


Vital-Dent is developing a system to improve root canal procedures to prevent bacterial infection leading to root infection.

PI: Juan Taboas, Herbert Ray,
EL: Jingming Chen, Adam Chin
M: Denny Wist, Kerry Hanahan

interACTION: ADL for Low Back Pain

intertACTION: ADL for Low Back Pain has created a wearable technology capable of assessing a patient’s activities of daily living including physical activities, spinal motion and postural alignment to allow clinicians to monitor patient progress and deliver customized interventions.

PI: Kevin Bell
EL: Prashanti Patil
M: Robert Huemmrich

Flash Non-Interference Tool for Reducing Length of Cardiac Surgery

Flash is a surgical tool that improves the operating experience and reduces time for cardiac surgeries.

PI: Youngjae Chun
EL: Seth Stern
M: Kuang Zhang


Ortho-Tag is an implantable biosensor device that can detect early surgical infection. The technology is based on research by Lee Berger and the late Marlin Mickle.

PI: Michael Berger, Lee Berger
EL: Jonathon Salazar
M: Jessica Sinclair