New inventions presented at Brandeis Innovation Showcase
The showcase included a competition, and innovations ranged from digital tokens to water purification tools.
The Brandeis Innovation Center held their eighth Annual Brandeis Innovation Showcase on Nov. 17, presenting the latest inventions from the Brandeis community. The event featured 16 projects, and attendees were able to vote on their favorite one.
The first place winner was Missionable, whose objective is to foster more trust in the digital world with social wallets.
There can be multiple teams for each project if groups from different programs participated in the same work. Three programs were present at the event: Spark, Sprout, and I-Corps. Spark is a spring semester accelerator program where the Brandeis Innovation Virtual Accelerator helps teams build start-ups by providing “entrepreneurship education, pitch training and networking,” according to Brandeis’ web page on Spark. The program concludes with SparkTank, a day where groups pitch their projects and compete to receive up to $5,000 in seed funding.
The Provost’s Office and the Office of Technology Licensing funds the Sprout program, which awards $100,000 a year across multiple projects.
The National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program gives entrepreneurial training and funding to participants. In 2017, the University obtained an NSF I-Corps site grant, becoming one of 10 I-Corps sites in New England.
Missionable, created by a Spark team, and designed by Douglass Guernsey M.A. ’22, who is a student at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, and Varun Edupuganti M.A. ’23, who is a student at the International Business School, won first place. They wanted to build an online platform where institutions could give people digital tokens after verifying they completed a specific social action, such as donating to a university. Users can save their tokens in a social wallet and share it with job recruiters or use it to supplement resumes and college applications. Currently, Guernsey and Edupuganti have partnered with Brandeis and various non-profits to test out their product.
An initiative to devise a resource to make finding off-campus housing easier for local, out-of-state, and international graduate students called Tenant2Tenant won second place, which was also created by a Spark team. Shiko Rugene M.A. ’23, Alton McCall M.A. ’23, Samuel Aronson M.A. ’23, and Andy Mendez M.A. ’23 founded the project in November 2021. The team wishes to eliminate the information gap and allow renters to obtain an optimal housing deal at an affordable price. According to the event guide, their goal is to fully develop an app and website that “evaluate[s] landlords, offers a consolidated place for resources, and connects students with their peers.” In a conversation with the Justice on Nov. 17, Rugene talked about how her personal experiences with housing motivated her to pursue this project. She found the housing process to be frustrating because of the discrepancies between expectations and reality, missing information in the lease, and the lack of accountability.
The teams that formed optical-controlled reusable nano-porous material for water purification won third place. The principal investigator was Prof. Grace Han (CHEM), and there were two teams: the Sprout team and the I-Corps team. The Sprout team consisted of Xiang Li (Ph.D.), and Sungwon Cho ’23. Mingrui Qi M.S. ’22, Scarlett Ren ’24, and Tianyu Gao M.S. ’24 made up the The I-Corps team. The project aims to increase access to clean drinking water, reduce cases of and deaths from diarrheal disease, and treat oil spills and organic solvent pollution. Their wastewater treatment device utilizes “nanoporous materials that are capable of adsorbing organic pollutants and releasing them upon light irradiation,” according to the event guide.
Additionally, there were some projects focused on fighting disease. One group’s research leveraged phosphatase synergy for tissue specific p38 inhibition. Prof. Niels Bradshaw (BCHM) was the Principal Investigator, and the Sprout team included Emily Stadnicki (Ph.D.) and Staff Research Associate Prem Ramasamy. The I-Corps team consisted of Stadnicki, Khaing Hnin Hnin Oo M.A. ’23, and Ci Song M.S. ’23. The project’s goal was to create alternative p38 MAP Kinase inhibitors to treat diseases like autoimmune diseases, myocardial ischemia, and cancer. p38 is a protein that regulates inflammation. Because existing p38 inhibitors have failed clinically, the team worked to identify other inhibitors.
Moreover, CapGun Genomics used Sterile Insect Technique to decrease populations of insects that can cause diseases, such as malaria, dengue, and eastern equine encephalitis. The project was led by Prof. Paul Garrity (BIOL) as the PI, a Sprout team, and an I-Corps Team. The Sprout team included Willem Laursen (Ph.D.) and Research Technician Rachel Busby ’22. Manny Glinsky ’24, Omer Barash ’25, and Viraj Gandhi M.S. ’23 made up the I-Corps team. Currently, chemical pesticides are used to kill harmful insects but using this method kills beneficial insects like bees, as well as negatively impacts human health. Biological control of insects through SIT provides an alternative solution, and while SIT is not a new technique, this project pursues other processes to make male insects sterile. Irradiation is commonly used to sterilize males, but the technique has drawbacks; thus, the team experimented with genetic engineering to target genes required for fertility. Busby stated that one of the reasons this project interested her was the chance to work with nontraditional organisms that are not well studied like mosquitos.
Other people worked on topics related to the pandemic. For example, Prof. Aida Yuen Wong (FA) created her own jewelry brand called ZZZI Jewelry, and the designs are based on her handwritten calligraphy of Chinese phrases that evoke messages of racial equality and common humanity. This jewelry brand responds to the rise in anti-Asian sentiments since the pandemic began, and a portion of each sale is donated to nonprofits that combat racism. Wong hopes her pieces can start conversations and bring people together, according to a Nov. 17 interview with the Justice. Additionally, her production process emphasizes sustainability and ethics by making jewelry on demand to reduce wastage and using 100% recycled gold and conflict-free diamonds.
Another area of interest was food, and one team explored sustainable seaweed farming as a way to improve fish populations, protect vulnerable fishermen from unemployment, and increase the food supply to meet global demand in the future. Beck Hayes M.A. ’22 and Ariel Wexler M.A. ’22 created Sowing Seas of Change, which provides financial aid, training, and channels within the international seaweed market to at-risk coastal communities in the Caribbean and Latin America, so they can transition from fishing to ocean farming.
There were seven partner tables also at the event: the Brandeis Entrepreneurship and Tech Association Club, IBS, the Asper Center for Global Entrepreneurship, MassChallenge, the Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies, the Hiatt Career Center, the Brandeis MakerLab, and MIT I-Corps - New England Regional Innovation Node.