Seventy-one teams to compete in NIH Neuro Startup Challenge


More than 70 teams composed of 568 students and entrepreneurs have been accepted to compete in the Neuro Startup Challenge, an open innovation competition designed to bring promising brain-related inventions to market. The challenge has teams competing to commercialise 16 National Institutes of Health-conceived and -developed inventions involving therapeutics, diagnostics, prognostics, and medical devices for a range of brain diseases.

“We are thrilled about the high quality teams from 96 universities that have entered the challenge,” says Richard Merkin, founder and chief executive officer of the Heritage Provider Network (HPN). In addition to post-docs, PhDs, law and business students, team leaders have added venture capitalists, clinical research outsourcing organisations, law firms and serial entrepreneurs on their teams to increase their probability of success. Each team required a seasoned entrepreneur as well as two graduate students.


The challenge was launched in August 2014 by HPN in collaboration with NIH and the Center for Advancing Innovation. The teams selected to come into the challenge are from universities, research institutes, and hospitals from the United States and abroad. More than 20% of the teams are from outside the USA. In addition to deliverables due at the end of each of the three phases of the challenge, teams will participate in 40 rigorous, entrepreneurship and start-up training sessions.


The first phase of the challenge requires the teams to develop elevator speeches, a 350-word executive summary outlining potential commercial products and a company vision. These products will be posted on public voting website from 12-16 January, 2015, to be voted upon by the public. 


Winners of the elevator speech phase will move on to compete in the second phase of the competition in which teams will develop a 10-page business plan and 20-minute “live” pitch presented to a panel of judges. Winners of the business plan phase will receive US$2,500 per team provided by the Heritage Provider Network, and will move on to phase three of the competition, the start-up phase. The start-up phase requires the remaining teams to launch their start-ups, including incorporating their business, applying for licenses, and raise seed funding.


“This is an excellent model for commercialising NIH technologies, while also providing real-world, hands-on experience in creating start-up businesses to all of the Challenge participants and creating the next generation of entrepreneurs,” says Joseph M Conrad III, NCI Technology Transfer Specialist and NIH Coordinator for the Neuro Startup Challenge. 


The Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI) evaluated the teams who wanted to enter the challenge on more than 40 criteria. “We wanted the teams that were accepted into the challenge to look like successful start-ups; therefore we rigorously evaluated the teams based on criteria that VCs, foundations and others would use to provide funding,” says Rosemarie Truman, founder and chief executive officer of CAI. “Based on the extraordinary effort the teams have devoted so far, I expect novel, creative and differentiating approaches to the elevator speech phase and invite people who have an interest neuroscience to vote and provide constructive feedback.”