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Cross-faculty team wins ProteusIC top prize, audience choice award

on April 21, 2021

Another exciting year for the Proteus Innovation Competition has come and gone as we added new partner institutions and awarded over $25,000 in prizes to five teams.

Operating for the first time in a virtual environment, the competition saw its best year yet – receiving quality submissions from 57 student teams comprised of 191 individuals, some from all over Ontario, Alberta and even an international team from China. Teams overcame the challenges brought on by the pandemic and competed by creating abstracts and business plans, then making pitches to a panel of judges.

The competition, founded by WORLDiscoveries at Western and grown to partner with McMaster University, University of Windsor, University of Waterloo, University of Guelph and Laurier University, brings together students to compete in finding a viable path to market for novel technologies developed at the partner institutions.

It’s a key event within the Western Entrepreneurship ecosystem, awarding each winning team $5,000 and the chance to license the new technology and form their own startup.

“Proteus highlights so many things from our regional innovation community,” said Souzan Armstrong who is Interim Executive Director of WORLDiscoveries and oversees Proteus, “it’s a learning opportunity for all participants interested in entrepreneurship. It brings interdisciplinary people together to work on a common goal and it has the potential to bring technologies developed right here in Southwestern Ontario to market for the improvement of society.”

Team vGen Solutions (pronounced nu-gen, using the Greek letter nu); formed by Western students Connor Holmes (BMOS), Farshad Murtada (Health Sciences), Rick Sugden (Health Sciences), Jason Liu (Ivey) seized one of the $5,000 prizes. vGen produced a winning commercialization plan for the forming multiple disulfide bonds in a peptide process produced at the University of Windsor by John. F. Trant’s lab.

Left to right: Connor Holmes, Jason Liu, Farshad Murtada, Rick Sugden

The team also took an additional $1,000 audience choice award at the competition’s pitch finale event, where the audience voted on their favourite pitch out of the five winning teams.

Murtada and Sugden have been longtime friends and later met Holmes at Western. The three connected with Liu at the competition’s launch event and decided they would make a good team with complementary skill sets.

“Our team was able to leverage our differences to our advantage since each one offered different insights and perspectives, which proved to be extremely helpful in coming up with a business plan,” noted Holmes.

They chose the Windsor technology because of their interest and experience in life sciences and business while believing it has the potential to disrupt the biochemical industry. Developing a commercialization plan for the technology proved to be challenging, but the team persevered.

“Don’t be afraid to find problems, embrace them and work around them,” said the team “when we first started, there were many things that we didn’t understand about the technology or how to take it to market.”

The team pored over patents, textbooks and publications to understand the science behind the technology. They also reached out to industry professionals to discuss ways of how it could be brought to market.

“There were moments where we were a little nervous, but in the end we tackled each problem head on and resolved them along the way,” said Holmes.

The team members have all been interested in entrepreneurship and saw Proteus as a way to get started. They all hope to launch their own company someday. Team vGen has expressed interest in licensing the technology from the University of Windsor to form a startup and take it to market.

You can view vGen Solutions winning pitch below:

2020 Proteus Innovation Competition winning teams are:

Team CAD15 Consultants for its commercialization plan for a pain measurement application developed by Western’s Dave Walton. Team members: Connor Buffel, Kevin Parker

Team RubberCycle for its plan to commercialize the recycling of vulcanized rubbers through an organic polymers process developed by researchers at McMaster University. Team members: Ryan Krause (Ivey), Matthew Fung (Schulich Medicine & Dentistry), Anusha Samarabandu (Engineering), Irene Zhu (Brescia)

Team vGen Solutions for its commercialization plan for forming multiple disulfide bonds in a peptide process developed by John F. Trant’s lab at the University of Windsor. Team members: Connor Holmes (BMOS), Farshad Murtada (Health Sciences), Rick Sugden (Health Sciences), Jason Liu (Ivey)

Team MacWest for its plan for the muscle training and recovery device developed by Jamie Burr at the University of Guelph. Team members: Jacob DiCarlo, Vladyslav Podskalniy (Schulich Medicine & Dentistry)

Team BioGryphs for its plan for the phytotoxicological field-based monitoring device developed by Kevin Stevens at Wilfrid Laurier. Team members: Rebecca Bradley, Brooke Rathie

ecommCross-faculty team wins ProteusIC top prize, audience choice award