CurveAssure, a student startup developing a spine monitor device for adult spinal deformity and spinal degeneration data collection, took the $12,000 top prize at FastForward U’s Fuel Demo Day on Dec. 2.
Fuel is a semester-long, nondilutive accelerator to equip Johns Hopkins University student startups for long-term success. This fall, over 40 JHU student startup teams applied for Fuel. Of the 40 applicants, 20 were invited to interview, and 9 student teams were selected.
The extracurricular program’s curriculum includes customer acquisition, marketing development and entrepreneurial finance. The cohort teams met twice a week and engaged with FastForward U staff, student mentors and ecosystem mentors in addition to 18 special guest speakers. Each team also connected with at least three mentors for one-on-one advising.
The much-anticipated conclusion of the accelerator is Demo Day, where teams showcase their campaigns and products to three judges and an audience of entrepreneurs and supporters. Each participating team receives a $5,000 stipend, and select teams are chosen to receive additional prize money. Fuel’s Demo Day prizes were made possible with the generous support of the Johns Hopkins Federal Credit Union’s $20,000 sponsorship of the event.
Over 120 people attended Demo Day alongside 80 remote audience members. The fall semester’s judges panel consisted of Margaret Roth Falzon, chief operating officer at Squadra Ventures; Zac Fox, senior professional marketer at Under Armour; and Markus Proctor, founder of Innovators of Progress, EduPal and Venti, and director of technology at the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.
Falzon says all teams displayed successful presentations and approaches that others hoping to successfully participate in accelerator programs or pitch competitions can benefit from utilizing.
“A pitch competition is just as much a performance as it is presentation,” says Falzon. “When you’ve rehearsed, you’re clear, concise, engaging, and get people excited about what you are doing, regardless of their own knowledge of your space. Use that to your advantage, especially when the types of companies in your cohort vary greatly. In this situation, practice makes the pitch.”
Selected by fellow cohort members, the $3,000 cohort prize was awarded to Drūl. Led by Brent Ifemembi and Nelson Ndahiro, Drūl’s device collects saliva, isolates harmful bacteria and quantifies bacterial concentration to identify the early onset of oral disease. The prize money will be used to acquire more samples and improve accuracy in detecting diseases, says Ndahiro.
“The Fuel Accelerator allowed us to connect with and learn from some of the brightest and most creative student-entrepreneurs at Hopkins,” says Nelson. “During the accelerator we learned valuable lessons on how to adjust our pitch to capture an audience’s attention while clearly communicating the value proposition that our company was providing. This imbued us with a confidence to adapt and to be able to talk to anyone about our company.”
Selected by those attending the event, the $5,000 audience choice prize was awarded to MedSetGo. Founded by Shrey Kapoor, the MedSetGo app is a platform for patients and caregivers to access high-quality, affordable and reliable nonemergency health care services on demand. Stipends and prize money will be used toward customer acquisition, says Kapoor.
“I’m incredibly thankful to FastForward for the opportunity to accelerate our investor readiness, for encouraging us to dream bigger than we ever did, and for shaping the story behind why MedSetGo is going to be so relevant in people’s everyday lives in helping them get the care they need at home,” he adds.
The grand prize winner selected by the three judges was CurveAssure, led by graduate students Evan G. Haas and Antony Fuleihan. CurveAssure’s spine monitor device collects data used to treat patients with adult spinal deformity and spinal degeneration. The data collected is intended to assist in recommending treatment, including surgical and nonsurgical conservative options, and physical therapy.
CurveAssure will use the awarded $12,000 to move forward with an upcoming validation study. “The funding will help purchase the remaining sensors and instrumentation we need to complete our next-generation prototype for an exciting study we are starting in the next six months,” says Haas.
Networking opportunities and collaborative efforts provided by FastForward U hold lasting impact for CurveAssure, says Haas. Mentorship was another significant factor to their success, Haas adds.
“We want to thank our clinical mentor, Dr. Nicholas Theodore. His support has been instrumental to our progress,” he says. “We would like to further thank Youseph Yazdi and Soumyadipta Acharya. Everyone in the Center for Bioengineering and Design program, in addition to JHTV, created an entrepreneurial-friendly environment in which new ideas can flourish.”
FastForward U’s accelerators run each semester. Fuel’s next application cycle is open now and will remain open until the end of January 2023. The new cohort will begin in early February and will conclude at the end of the spring semester.