Success Story

  • Tech Tournament winner with check

Entrepreneurs compete for better future at Tech Tournament

Illuminate Therapeutics, a game changer in the way head and neck cancers are treated, earned the grand prize cash award of $75,000 at the Invent Penn State Tech Tournament, held April 28-29 at the Penn Stater Hotel & Conference Center, during the 2022 Invent Penn State Venture & IP Conference. The Tech Tournament is a dynamic, timed-pitch event featuring the best and brightest of Penn State’s early-stage innovators seeking additional capital to help their fledgling startups take one step closer to commercialization.

Daniel Hayes (professor of biomedical engineering, College of Engineering) presented Illuminate Therapeutics and claimed the $75,000 check to the elation of a packed room during the Conference’s closing ceremonies. According to Hayes, Illuminate Therapeutics technology takes advantage of the $1 billion head and neck cancer treatment market by using light-controlled nanodelivery to provide precise, minimally invasive tumor reduction and mitigate severe side effects relative to current treatment protocols.

Hayes was joined by six other entrepreneurs, whose ideas were borne out of Penn State research and who were staking their claim for the $160,000 in prize money during the Tech Tournament competition.

“The Tech Tournament this year was truly remarkable,” said James Pietropaolo, associate director, Penn State Office of Entrepreneurship & Commercialization. “The incredible research presented by each of the Tech Tournament teams is on the path to commercialization and making a difference in all of our lives. Congratulations to all four teams that won prizes as well as all participants for the tremendous work they are putting forth.”

The competition was moderated by Erika Swift, operations director at Penn State College of Medicine’s Center for Medical Innovation. She was joined by the event’s judges: Sharon L. Ross, manager, QED Proof of Concept Program, University City Science Center, Philadelphia; Steve Carpenter, senior vice president, Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central PA; and James Pietropaolo.

In addition to Illuminate Therapeutics, three other Tech Tournament companies walked away with winnings:

  • Taking second place and $50,000 in prize money was NPep Therapeutics, presented by Scott Medina, Ph.D. (assistant professor of biomedical engineering, College of Engineering), which uses ultrasound-controlled nanomaterials to track, guide and activate on-demand the precision delivery of proteins into cells.
  • BioRes, presented by Joseph Mattocks (PhD candidate, Eberly College of Science), took third place and $25,000 for its protein-based method for extracting and separating rare earth – a group of critical materials because of their technological importance yet lack of sustainable domestic supply.
  • Rounding out the awards was Epicrop, presented by Sally Mackenzie, Ph.D. (Director of the Plant Institute, Huck Chair of Functional Genomics, professor of biology and plant science, Eberly College of Science), which earned the People’s Choice Award and received $10,000 for its development of a system for the detailed investigation of epigenetic behavior in plants, which can help improve worldwide crop production by increasing a plant’s resilience to stress.

Other companies competing in the 2022 Tech Tournament included:

  • Archty Therapeutics, presented by Marco Archetti (associate professor of biology, Eberly College of Science), is an early-stage company testing an antiviral for COVID-19 based on a novel approach for defective interfering RNA.
  • Bold Therapeutics, presented by Xiaojun (Lance) Lian (associate professor of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering), which developed a method to apply stem-cell differentiation and genome editing techniques to treat or cure Type 1 diabetes.
  • MicroFlap, presented by Mohammad Tofighi (professor of electrical engineering, School of Science, Engineering, and Technology from Penn State Harrisburg), which is a non-invasive skin flap blood perfusion measurement for use in reconstructive plastic surgery.

Companies participating in the 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.

The conference hosted more than 450 attendees and 60 companies from across the Penn State entrepreneurial ecosystem. They were joined by 40 investors and 30 sponsors during the two-day event.

The conference and Tech Tournament showcased the power of partnership and collaboration across the entrepreneurial and investor community so startups can accelerate their ideas to market to not only advance economic development but improve humankind.

To learn more, visit the Invent Penn State website. To view more Penn State technologies in development, visit the IP Navigator. To view more Penn State-affiliated startups, visit the Startup Navigator.