Wendy Davis (SOM ’14), the founder and CEO of GestVision and Nicole Bucala (Harvard Business School), the CEO of MIFCOR, were together awarded the $5,000 Yale Innovator Award at the Biotech Entrepreneur Bootcamp following a Pitchoff that featured eight Yale startups built around Yale faculty innovation. The Pitchoff was the final event in the day-long bootcamp which showcased investors sharing their insights into how to build—and pitch—a biotech startup, as well as networking and a Yale Innovator Poster Session.
“You need to differentiate your company as quickly as possible” when pitching to investors, said Vikas Goyal, a Principal at SR One, the investing arm of GlaxoSmithKline, during the opening keynote. He added that SR One is “excited by companies that have a pattern of innovation where they can pave a new path.”
The Pitchoff shed light on a range of new research from Yale with commercial potential including an Intestinal Preservation Unit from the startup Revai, which is being developed through the YEI Fellowship at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) this summer; a molecule called cavtratin from the startup CavtheRX developed by Alfred Gilman Professor of Pharmacology and Professor of Medicine William Sessa that reduces inflammation across a host of diseases; and botanical products to combat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease from the startup Yiviva based on research from Yung-Chi Cheng, Henry Bronson Professor of Pharmacology.
Ultimately, however, the panel of judges—which included leading representatives from 5AM Ventures, Canaan Partners, Osage University Partners, Atlas Venture, Elm Street Ventures and SR One—was divided between two dynamic pitches from Davis and Bucala.
Davis—who has participated in YEI programs and received $100,000 from the YEI Innovation Fund—presented a compelling case for GestVision’s GestAssured test, a simple urine test that can detect a pregnancy condition known as preeclampsia with 85% accuracy. The cause of preeclampsia—marked by high blood pressure and high protein in the urine—is unknown, but the condition effects one in 12 pregnancies and can be fatal. Current tests detect PE with 30% accuracy at best, leading to unnecessary hospital visits and, worse, unnecessary early deliveries that put both mother and baby at risk. Davis, who graduated Yale School of Management with an eMBA in 2014, is developing the startup around research from Dr. Irina Buhimschi, Director of the Center for Perinatal Research at Nationwide Children’s in Columbus, Ohio, who made the discovery while teaching at Yale. Buhimschi is actively involved in the company as a collaborator and advisor.
Bucala’s venture, MIFCOR, is focused on a protein called MIF that can prevent tissue death following heart attacks and traumatic brain injury. It features an all-star team that includes inventor Richard Bucala, Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology & Pathology at Yale and Nicole’s father and Chief Medical Officer Jeysen Yogaratnam, the Clinical Medical Director at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, among others. With a rapid-fire pitch delivery, Nicole relayed the promise of drugs developed from MIF-2, which offers a protective effect to tissues that is twice what is available in research and development right now. The team is currently participating in YEI’s Faculty Venture Creation Program.
Dividing the $5,000 Yale Innovator Prize between these two promising women was “the best possible outcome,” says Bill Wiesler, Director of New Ventures at the Office of Cooperative Research (OCR) which hosted the event. “They exemplify the type of entrepreneurs that OCR seeks to partner with Yale faculty to launch companies and commercialize products.”