Pitt innovators with ideas ranging from an injectable gel to improve nerve injury recuperation, to a data platform for discovering cancer treatment targets, to a non-invasive fetal genetic test, and more, participated in the latest cycle of the Pitt Ventures First Gear commercialization program. The Pitt Ventures First Gear program offers education, mentoring and funding to Pitt innovators seeking to move their research and innovations into the market.

The program culminated with a judged pitch competition in April that provided additional funding for a 1st place recipient, Working for Kids: Building Skills and a 2nd place recipient, Emoto.


“The First Gear program was a huge help as we have finished the process of developing the Working For Kids community education program,” said Judy Cameron, Professor of Psychiatry, Neuroscience, Obstetrics-Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences. “Perhaps the most valuable aspect was the customer discovery where we interviewed, and then thought together about the suggestions made to us by 83 potential customers from different walks of life. Their thoughts really opened our eyes to different potential customer groups who would benefit from the Working For Kids: Building Skills educational programs, from parents in impoverished communities, to pediatricians delivering care and advice to parents, to law enforcement and judicial system employees working with families facing significant life stresses. The First Gear program has given us many ideas that we will be following up in the coming year.”

First Gear is part of the NSF I-Corps Site program, through which each team is initially awarded $2,000 to $3,000 towards commercialization and qualifies the team for additional NSF I-Corps funding of up to $50,000. Consistent with the requirements of the I-Corps national program, the teams consist of an academic lead (AL), entrepreneurial lead (EL), and a business mentor (M) who work together to understand their customer, the market and the value their innovation provides for customers and investors. Read about each innovation below!

I-HITS (Individualized Hand Improvement and Tracking System)
AL – Amit Sethi/Ervin Sejdic EL –Catherine Leece M – Chip Hanlon

Stroke results in weakness in one hand, limiting the ability to complete daily tasks such as dressing, eating, driving, etc. I-HITS allows patients with stroke to accurately self-monitor their hand improvement and obtain feedback and periodically tailored treatment at home, motivating patients to take charge of their rehabilitation and empowering therapists to deliver personalized treatment outside of the clinic.

Emoto (Emotion Prostetics)
AL – Greg Siegle EL – David Rabin/Kathryn Fantauzzi M – Lorenzo Soletti

Emoto is wearable sensor and stimulator with a mobile app that helps people take control of their stress with enhanced recognition of one’s own and others’ emotions. It has sensing technology that allows users to measure their physical signs of stress in real-time and visualize them via a simple dashboard on the app. The wearable component of the innovation is also equipped with a low electrical current generator that allows users to directly modulate their stress level.

AL – Bryan Brown EL – Travis Prest M – Lorenzo Soletti

NeuroGel is an injectable gel to improve the outcomes of any peripheral nerve injury in conjunction with current clinical standards. NeruoGel harness components of the native nerve biology to facilitate nerve regrowth and speed recovery.

Working For Kids: Building Skills
AL – Judy Cameron EL – Alexandra Miragaia M – Robert Huemmrich

Working For Kids: Building Skills provides education tools to quickly and effectively train parents, community members, teachers, day care workers, and health care providers about children’s brain development. It helps children achieve an age-expected level in social-emotional, language and problem-solving skills.

Know What You Know (KWYK)
AL – John Maier EL – Ankita Mathur M – Dan Seitam

Know What You Know (KWYKTM) is a testing approach to assess a person’s confidence, caution and accuracy in information. This multiple choice question system has potential applications in assessing entrepreneurs, education applicants, and employees.

TDI – Tumor-specific Driver Identification
AL – Xinghua Lu/Gregory Cooper EL – Jenny Liu M – Mark Collins

TDI uses multiple types of “-omics” data to identify drivers in a tumor-specific and data-driven manner, and to provide analysis of tumor drivers for discovery of new cancer targets. The knowledge of driver genomic alterations will have significant values in terms of finding targets for precision medicine of cancer and patient prognosis prediction.

AL – Sahcin Velankar EL – Luka Pocivavsek M – Vasu Rao

TopoSystems is a technology allowing for continuous surface renewal at solid/liquid interfaces. Using topographic surface actuation, polymeric surfaces prone to fouling because of their contact with complex fluids are renewed allowing for optimal surface performance. The problem of surface fouling is wide spread in many sectors including biomedical, in particular vascular grafts, and industrial, such as membrane filtration technologies.

AL – Cameron Dezfulian EL – Brian Lupish/Alec Kaija M – Dennis Wist

ThreadRite is a device designed to use electrical impedance to guide the user as to when an intravenous (IV) catheter has entered the blood stream, permitting more accurate placement of the IV into patients. This is aimed to overcome the frequent occurrence of missed IV attempts which causes pain and suffering to patients and therapeutic delays frequently.

Interactive Natural Language Processing
AL – Harry Hochheiser EL – Gaurav Trivedi M – Eric Boduch

Natural Language Processing techniques (NLP – a field of Artificial Intelligence) find information from volumes of unstructured data (such as healthcare records) for analysis. This technology combines text-visualizations to help its users make sense of NLP results, revise models and understand changes between revisions to improve accuracy.

Fall Sentinel
Al – Richard Boyce EL – Katrina Romagoli M – Mark Adkins

Fall Sentinel is an automated medication therapy risk-monitoring system designed for the nursing home setting that increases patient safety. The system uses a prediction algorithm to calculate a patient-specific risk of experiencing a fall within a given time period of recent medication changes, accessible on a web-based dashboard.

HIV Cognition Biomarkers
AL – Velpandi Ayyavoo EL – Jay Venkatachari M – Bill Gaussa

HIV Cognition Biomarkers is a quick, accurate, cost effective blood based diagnosis kit for diagnosing cognitive disorders in individuals with HIV. It determines the risk to develop impairments in activities of daily living and loss of memory, as well as determine the progression of the cognitive disorder and aid in better management to improve the quality of life.

AL – Aleksandar Rajkovic EL – Gabriel Rajkovics M – Dave Satina

Tropho is a non-invasive genetic test for pregnant women. This unique method isolates fetal cells from maternal cells from a basic blood draw. These fetal cells can be used for the non-invasive diagnosis of genetic disorders through genome sequencing, avoiding current invasive testing which has not yet been achieved commercially.

The 4 PillarsTM Immunization Toolkit
Al – Tricia Nowalk EL – Jonathan Raviotta M – Robert Huemmrich

The 4 PillarsTM Immunization Toolkit is a web-based quality improvement learning management system targeted to primary care physicians. The toolkit’s content is centered on immunization, and it offers researchers in any field to create interactive public health interventions that can be delivered to a wide variety of professional audiences.

If you believe your research at Pitt has resulted in an innovation that can benefit society, the Innovation Institute has opportunities to help you get it to market. If you are an inventor, you can learn more about the Pitt Ventures Gear program! If you are an entrepreneur or company interested in licensing these technologies, please contact jireland@innovation.pitt.edu.