From Space to Sustainable Spinoffs: USF Muma College of Business Students Win Patenthon Competition With NASA Technology
By Elizabeth L. Brown
TAMPA (February 25, 2022) – A team of University of South Florida students won first
place at the inaugural Patenthon competition, an event where college students took
NASA-patented technologies and turned them into new business ideas that addressed
global sustainable development goals.
USF’s top four-person team — Briana Pando, J. Nathaniel Willis, Pratham Kumar Kaudap, and Prathyusha Pappi Reddy — took the grand prize for their winning pitch for a device that uses a nanosensor array chip to diagnose medical conditions by measuring the human breath.
The team comprised of three USF Muma College of Business graduate students in the entrepreneurship program and one USF student pursuing a master’s degree in biotechnology in the Morsani College of Medicine.
They beat out six other teams who pitched ideas before a panel of judges. They won an in-kind package to set up a limited liability company and a start-up license from NASA.
Pando said that while she does not have a business-degree background, she has always had a keen interest in entrepreneurship and nanotechnology.
“It was a great experience to be involved in the event with such an exceptional team,” she said. “We had not met before the Patenthon, but we were very compatible with our goals and quickly learned how to work well with one another.”
Teams were tasked to pitch a new business idea using one NASA-patented technology, chosen from a list of seven inventions available from its patent portfolio. Under NASA’s Technology Transfer University (T2U) program, participating universities, including USF, use NASA-developed technologies in the classroom, allowing student entrepreneurs to build case studies and learn about commercialization and licensing opportunities.
The available patents cover four main topics: health; environmental and sustainability; modeling and simulation; and artificial intelligence.
Teammate Willis, who is pursuing a master’s degree in entrepreneurship and applied technologies, said it was important to begin the design process by first building empathy for the users.
"Our team chose to focus on undiagnosed conditions within adults and children. Our proposed product would leverage a nanoarray sensor to detect biomarkers in the breath and be able to identify underlying health conditions, like diabetes," he said.
Willis added that the experience was challenging yet rewarding.
“I work in health care technology,” he said. “I decided to put my skills to the test and see if I had what it takes to pitch in front of total strangers. It was challenging to go from idea to pitch in under 24 hours. They only gave us four minutes to pitch, but we delivered a powerhouse pitch in just three minutes.”
Pappi Reddy, who is also a graduate student in the entrepreneurship and applied technologies
program, said the competition gave her a chance to see what entrepreneurship is like
in the real-world, outside the classroom.
“Learning entrepreneurship and experiencing entrepreneurship are both two different things,” she said. “Events like these are where one gets to live like an entrepreneur and tackle all the tasks and strive to sustain their business.”
The three-day event was held during National Entrepreneurship Week and hosted by Hillsborough Community College. The USF Center for Entrepreneurship and the Florida SBDC also provided mentors to help participants.
Aside from USF, students from the University of Tampa, Hillsborough Community College, Pasco-Hernando State College, the University of Florida, and the University of Central Florida.