Therese Canares, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, won $10,000 in Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures' second annual "Pitch It On!" competition for female inventors. Canares received the most votes from the nearly 100 faculty, researchers, and investors who attended the Oct. 19 event, part of the AccelHERator, JHTV's programming dedicated to female inventorship at Johns Hopkins.
Canares pitched CurieDx, a digital health startup that uses machine learning to enable point-of-care testing and remote physical exams through smartphones. CurieDx's first product is a strep throat screening tool, through which a photo of a patient's throat is compared with a digital photo library of infected and uninfected throats to determine if the patient has the illness. The diagnosis platform can be viewed by parents, patients, physicians, and telehealth providers.
Each of the three finalists—Canares; Shameema Sikder, an associate professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute; and Jamie Spangler, an assistant professor in the Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering—had 10 minutes to present their technologies. Bahija Jallal, CEO of Immunocore, and Melissa Fensterstock, co-founder and CEO of Landsdowne Labs and a Johns Hopkins University alumna, served as coaches, providing feedback and asking questions about the substance and delivery of each of the pitches.
The event gives the audience a behind-the-scenes look at the translational funding pitch process, which is usually done behind closed doors and involves a panel of reviewers assessing detailed applications.
"When we designed Pitch It On!, we wanted to engage members of the Johns Hopkins community," said Liz Burger, JHTV's senior director for strategic initiatives. "The involvement of industry executives and everyone rooting for Johns Hopkins women makes for a really positive vibe, and I think the popularity of Pitch It On! reflects how much interest there is in learning about these projects and supporting women inventors."
Women found almost 40% of companies in the United States annually but receive only 2% of venture funding. At Johns Hopkins, women make up 44% of the faculty but only 11% of startup founders. The goal of the AccelHERator program, funded by a federal grant from the Small Business Association's Small Business Innovation Research program, is to bring women innovators' research to fruition through applied research, translation, and entrepreneurship.
Canares, who is director of pediatric emergency medicine digital health innovation, was inspired to start CurieDx after her daughter, who was 1 at the time, got multiple ear infections and colds at day care. Her medical training took a backseat to her maternal instincts.
"I remember she would wake up with a fever, and I would give her ibuprofen, tuck her back in, then I would lay awake at night wondering if I did the right thing," Canares said. "Thoughts would race through my head: Is this just a cold or is this something worse? Should I get her checked by her doctor? It was a visceral, anxiety-provoking feeling that I know all parents have been through."
Canares plans to use the $10,000 for research and testing to refine CurieDx's interface, with a focus on getting feedback from physicians.
Sikder pitched EyeLearn, which uses deep-learning algorithms to analyze surgical videos to assess surgeon performance and provide a skill assessment and personalized feedback. Spangler pitched a cell-based platform for the discovery of antibodies against membrane proteins—a fast-growing category of pharmaceuticals, but one where the drug discovery process is time-consuming and inefficient.
Sridevi Sarma, associate professor of biomedical engineering, vice dean for graduate education at the Whiting School of Engineering, and last year's Pitch It On! winner, announced this year's winner after providing an update on EZTrack, which creates a heat map of the brain to help doctors determine the source of seizures in drug-resistant epilepsy patients. EZTrack received FDA approval, Sarma said, and she used the Pitch It On! funding to analyze and enhance the product.
The next AccelHERator event is being planned for the spring, and will focus on networking, mentorship, and idea-sharing among female scientists and entrepreneurs in the local innovation ecosystem. More information will be posted on JHTV's Women in Innovation page in the months to come.