Medical device company wins MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition

New wearable balance aid to benefit aging adults

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 9, 2005 — For the fourth year in a row, a medical device company has won the Robert P. Goldberg Grand Prize in the MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition held last night at MIT. Balico, which has designed a wearable, vibrotactile balance aid that will benefit aging adults and individuals whose primary sensing systems are affected by disease, was awarded $30,000 in startup money.

First runner-up was Nanocell Power, whose patented technology will enable the viability of fuel cells for portable electronics. Vacuum Excavation Technology, which has created a new, patented excavation device, was named second runner-up. Each runner-up team received $10,000.

Members of the Balico team, winner of the 2005 MIT $50K Photo: Members of the Balico business team are (l to r) Baruch Schori, who is enrolled in the Biomedical Enterprise Program and pursing master's degrees in both the MIT Sloan Fellows Program in Innovation and Global Leadership and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology; Harry Lee, a PhD candidate in the MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science program; Kathleen Sienko, a PhD candidate in the Harvard-M.I.T. Division of Health Science and Technology Medical Engineering-Medical Physics program who holds an SM in Aeronautics & Astronautics from MIT; and Jimmy Robertsson, a research engineer at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary who holds an MS in Mechotronics Engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology.

The oldest and best known among university business plan competitions, the MIT $50K has launched more than 80 companies from teams that have competed. These companies — which include Akamai Technologies (NASDAQ: AKAM) and others acquired by Microsoft, Motorola, and Broadcom — have, in turn, employed more than 1,600 people and have a valuation of over $4 billion. Below are descriptions of this year's winners:

Balico, Robert P. Goldberg Grand Prize Winner

Maintaining an upright posture is something most of us take for granted. If any of our primary sensing systems are affected by disease or age, however, our ability to balance can be greatly compromised. At least half of the United States population is affected by a balance or vestibular disorder sometime during their lives. Balico is a privately held medical device company that will develop and commercialize a wearable vibrotactile balance aid that accurately senses and displays body tilt to help reduce the risk of falls. Balico's platform technology, VibeAid, uses micro-electro-mechanical-systems (MEMS) accelerometers and gyroscopes in combination with mathematical algorithms to accurately estimate a person's body tilt. This tilt information is then presented to the person by small vibrating elements strategically placed around the waist.

Nanocell Power, 1st Runner-up

Nanocell Power's patented manufacturing process provides more efficient distribution of expensive catalyst and carbon nanofibers in the fuel cell membrane. This can decrease the size of fuel cells in portable electronics by 80 percent, increase the power output of military fuel cells by 400 percent, or cut the cost of automotive fuel cells to 20 percent that of today's technology.

Vacuum Excavation Technology, 2nd Runner-up

Because the top ten feet of soil are densely packed with utility wires, gas mains and sewer pipes whose location is often poorly mapped, excavation with traditional backhoes often damages utilities and puts operators at risk for catastrophic injury. Vacuum Excavation Technologies offers a new, patented excavation device that works with existing machinery to enable efficient operation without risk to utilities or operators.

Seven finalists were chosen last week from 86 entrants with 250 team members participating. Judges, including noted venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and patent lawyers, selected the winning teams based on their potential of becoming leading firms. This year's other finalists were HealRight, Previva, Inc., Renal Diagnostics, and TissueVision.

“As a founding judge of the $50K, I have witnessed firsthand the development of a powerful entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Joe Hadzima, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan and Managing Director of Main Street Partners LLC, a venture development and technology commercialization firm. “Now, as the new chairman of the MIT Enterprise Forum Global organization, I am working to translate the lessons learned from the $50K and its MIT Entrepreneurial Ecosystem to help the 23 MIT Enterprise Forums in the U.S. and the around the world to grow and enhance their own unique entrepreneurial ecosystems to enable innovation and entrepreneurship — this is the important and lasting legacy of the $50K.”

Each finalist team presented its plan to an audience that included venture capitalists and business leaders at the Final Awards Ceremony in MIT's Kresge Auditorium. Newly inaugurated MIT President Susan Hockfield offered opening remarks. Keynote speaker was David Edwards, the scientific founder of Advanced Inhalation Research, and cofounder of AIR/Alkermes, Pulmatrix, and MEND. The event reached a global audience through a live Internet broadcast.

“The MIT $50K's value is in the learning how to become an entrepreneur,” said Lawrence Walmsley, a colead organizer and student at MIT Sloan School of Management. “Participants take a new business idea, build a team around it, formulate a strategic mission, and develop and articulate it into a business plan. With mentoring available through the $50K, they hone their pitching skills and have an opportunity to present to industry specialists, which often results in the launch of a real business.” Along with the winners, the majority of the finalists and other entrants report that they are planning to launch businesses built around their business plan.

The strength of the MIT Competition over others is the combination of students from one of the top management, engineering, and science schools in the country. The MIT $50K organizers each year share best practices with competitions around the world through their Global Startup Workshop, which was attended this year by 230 students from 32 different countries.

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