Success Story

Cranial Devices, Inc. wins $75,000 in virtual tech tournament

Invent Penn State’s 2021 virtual Tech Tournament showcased eight of Penn State’s most disruptive innovations and early-stage startups born out of Penn State’s research enterprise. The startups and inventors pitched their technologies to a panel of three judges for their chance at the $75,000 grand prize. The judges for the event were Alice Cheng, Associate at Upfront; Ilana Diamond, Managing Partner at 412 Venture Fund; and Bruce Shook, CEO at Vesper Medical.

The winner of the $75,000 top prize, Cranial Devices, Inc. (CDI), was led by Barry Fell, a consultant for the Surgery Innovation Group in the Department of Surgery at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. He cofounded CDI with Dr. Randy Haluck, Professor of Surgery at Penn State College of Medicine.

The two previously won at the inaugural 2016 Tech Tournament with their startup SIG Medical Corp., which was acquired by Zimmer-Biomet in 2019.

Fell and Haluck co-founded CDI to advance the Penn State technology called “HydroFix,” an advanced surgical shunt system used to treat Adult Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH). Hydrocephalus is a disease resulting from too much CSF fluid around the brain. NPH symptoms are often confused with Alzheimer’s, but in many cases are reversible with the placement of a shunt. However, hydrocephalus shunts have the highest failure rate of any medical implant being sold today. The HydroFix shunt is designed to mitigate the many risks associated with the current shunts on the market providing a durable treatment solution for NPH patients.

In addition to CDI, two other companies received prizes:

  • GradienT took second place and was awarded $50,000 for “TemperSure,” a stability screening platform for risk-informed drug development.

A large portion of the time and money spent on biopharmaceutical drug development is used to predict which drug from a vast library of candidates is the most stable and will have the longest shelf life. Under the leadership of Penn State postdoctoral researcher in the Eberly College of Science Brad Rogers, GradienT aims to reduce both the time and financial costs in biological drug development by increasing certainty in drug shelf life and expiration dates.

  • ElkosRx took third place and $25,000 for their diabetic foot ulcer (DFU) treatment targeting the underlying pathophysiology of diabetic wounds.

Drs. Patricia McLaughlin, Joseph Sassani, and Ian Zagon at Penn State College of Medicine have developed an easy to manufacture and use, cost-effective, topical treatment for DFUs that improves healing time and skin integrity.

“The Tech Tournament never disappoints, showcasing the outstanding innovations stemming from Penn State research,” said Erika Swift, operations director of the Center for Medical Innovation at Penn State.  “At the Center for Medical Innovation, we are honored when technologies we have been supporting to advance from research translation to commercial application are selected to participate. The Tech Tournament provides these early-stage startups with the exposure and funding to accelerate their ability to move into the clinic and impact patient care.”

Additional startups participating in the 2021 Tech Tournament included:

  • Bio-based extraction of rare earth elements, presented by Joseph Cotruvo, (professor, Eberly College of Science) which has developed a protein-based method for extracting rare earths, a group of 17 metals labeled as “critical materials” by the U.S. Department of Energy for their technological importance yet lack of a sustainable domestic supply.
  • HydroSapient, presented by Kathryn Lawson (graduate student, College of Engineering) which is accelerating the world’s accessibility to reliable and low-cost water resources predications to enable sustainable development.
  • Respana Therapeutics, Inc., presented by Michele Washko, has developed a novel therapeutic approach to treating complications of the flu and other respiratory illnesses like COVID-19.
  • Vitamin K Fermentation, presented by Ali Demirci (professor, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering) aims to make MK-7, which is involved in the prevention of osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases, more widely accessible and affordable for consumers by addressing current limitations in large-scale production.
  • xForm Technologies, presented by Nate Watson (graduate student, College of Engineering) intends to create autonomous construction solutions for the construction industry starting with precast concrete manufacturers and universities.

Companies participating in the 2021 Tech Tournament leveraged the collaborative relationships and support from other startup and incubator organizations across the Penn State innovation ecosystem, including the Ben Franklin TechCelerator, the Invent Penn State I-Corps Program, the Penn State Small Business Development Center and the Center for Medical Innovation.

Visit for more information about Invent Penn State.

To view more Penn State technologies in development, visit To view more Penn State- affiliated startups, visit