Scientific Startup Bacteriotix Takes $30,000 First-Place Prize in UMass Innovation Challenge

AMHERST, Mass. - Bacteriotix, a five-member team of students and alumni that is pioneering narrow spectrum antimicrobial agents to treat difficult bacterial infections, won first place and $30,000 in the University of Massachusetts Innovation Challenge Final Business Plan Competition held April 28.

"We are going to change the face of antibiotics and use the power of nature to change the way we treat infections in the clinic," said Sandra M. Robinson of the Bateriotix team.

The second place prize of $20,000 was awarded to 3D Therapeutics, a company whose technology streamlines and accelerates pre-clinical drug development by providing a more realistic understanding of how human tissues absorb and excrete drugs. The research behind the company originated in the laboratory of Neil Forbes, associate professor of chemical engineering at UMass Amherst.

Members of the Bacteriotix team are Sandra M. Robinson, of Clementon, N.J., a 2009 graduate in microbiology; Jenna Farrell, of Easthampton, a 2009 graduate in business administration; postdoctoral researcher Suphan Bakkal, of Istanbul, Turkey; molecular and cellular biology master’s student Shanika Collins, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Christopher M. Roy, of Berlin, N.H., a junior studying microbiology. The foundation for Bacteriotix technology draws on the work of Margaret Riley, professor of biology at UMass Amherst, and Robert L. Dorit, associate professor of biological sciences at Smith College.

The 3D Therapeutics team members are Bhushan J. Toley, of Pune, India, a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering; O. Sinan Yordem, of Istanbul, Turkey, a Ph.D. candidate in polymer science and engineering; Rosamund Combs-Bachmann, of Dayton, Ohio, a doctoral student in neuroscience and behavior, and Stacy L. Pease, of Westfield, an M.B.A. student in the Isenberg School of Management who also earned her B.S. in biology and M.S. in molecular and cellular biology at UMass Amherst.

The Innovation Challenge is a competition for the best innovation-driven business plan produced by teams that include students, recent alumni and faculty advisors. The program includes a preliminary "elevator pitch" contest, mentoring and educational events throughout the academic year, and ends with a spring presentation to investors. This year there were four finalists in the spring competition.

According to Bacteriotix’s Suphan Bakkal, the lessons of the competition have proven invaluable. "The Innovation Challenge showed us how we can apply our research. It took us out of our element--the lab bench--and gave us the tools to move forward with our idea," she said.

"We are all proud of our student entrepreneurs and our past prize winners who are now in the community building their companies and creating jobs throughout the Commonwealth. These tangible results building on our faculty research and academic programs are terrific," said Michael Malone, the Ronnie and Eugene Isenberg Distinguished Professor and vice chancellor for research and engagement at UMass Amherst.

Since 2005, the UMass Innovation Challenge has provided more than $412,500 in awards to 36 different student-led teams. It is designed to help current students and young alumni who have innovative business ideas to develop business plans and move products closer to market. The challenge is an initiative of the Isenberg Program for the Integration of Management, Engineering and Science which is a cross-campus collaboration of the College of Engineering, College of Natural Sciences, the Isenberg School of Management, and the vice chancellor for research and engagement. The founding platinum sponsor of the Innovation Challenge is Wolf Greenfield, whose Edmund Walsh said, "We are excited to be involved with so many promising entrepreneurs and to share our expertise in intellectual property law."

The other platinum sponsor is Saint-Gobain, whose manager of corporate external venturing Michael Mahoney, noted, "We are very happy to be a sponsor of the Innovation Challenge. The competition challenges students to take their book learning and exercise it in a real world application. It’s so much more than you could ever find in a course, and gives participants an edge in the job market."

The UMass Innovation Challenge is supported by Eugene M. and Ronnie Isenberg and the following sponsors: Wolf Greenfield; Saint-Gobain; Joseph Bohan; Paul Carney ’82; CISCO; Forge Partners; Raytheon; VISTAGY; Wayne Boulais ’85, ’88 MS; Stephen Dunne ’89; Michael Tunstall ’82, and Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting.