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Pitt Ventures First Gear Awards

Projects let by Judy Cameron, PhD and Greg Siegle, PhD were big winners at the 2016 Pitt Ventures First Gear commercialization program competition. Their projects earned the top two awards at this year’s competition.  The Pitt Ventures First Gear program offers education, mentoring and funding to Pitt innovators seeking to move their research and innovations into the market.  It is part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Site program.  Each team consists of an academic lead, entrepreneurial lead, and a business mentor who work together to understand their customer, the market and the value their innovation provides for customers and investors.

The first place winner was the Working for Kids: Building Skills project led by Dr. Cameron. In collaboration with entrepreneurial lead, Alexandra Miragaia, MD and her business mentor, Robert Huemmrich, the project provides education tools to quickly and effectively train parents, community members, teachers, day care workers, and health care providers about children’s brain development. It helps children achieve an age-expected level in social-emotional, language and problem-solving skills. The team was awarded an additional $20,000 in funding for the project and qualified for the opportunity to apply for additional funding from the I-Corps L program. 

The First Gear program was a huge help as we have finished the process of developing the Working For Kids community education program,” said Dr. Cameron, Professor of Psychiatry, Neuroscience, Obstetrics-Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences. “Perhaps the most valuable aspect was the customer discovery where we interviewed, and then thought together about the suggestions made to us by 83 potential customers from different walks of life. Their thoughts really opened our eyes to different potential customer groups who would benefit from the Working for Kids: Building Skills educational programs, from parents in impoverished communities, to pediatricians delivering care and advice to parents, to law enforcement and judicial system employees working with families facing significant life stresses. The First Gear program has given us many ideas that we will be following up in the coming year.”

The Emoto (Emotion Prostetics) project, led by Dr. Greg Siegle, , the project is a collaborative effort between Dr. Siegle, entrepreneurial leads, Dr. David Rabin and Kathryn Fantauzzi, and business mentor, Lorenzo Soletti.  Emoto is a wearable sensor and stimulator with a mobile application that helps people take control of their stress with enhanced recognition of one’s own and others’ emotions. It has sensing technology that allows users to measure their physical signs of stress in real-time and visualize them via a simple dashboard on the app. The wearable component of the innovation is also equipped with a low electrical current generator that allows users to directly modulate their stress level.

The project was spearheaded by Dr. David Rabin, a resident in the Psychiatry Research Pathways program at WPIC.” said Dr. Siegle, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Clinical and Translational Science. “Dr. Rabin worked closely with Kathryn and Lorenzo, and his fellow residents, Drs. Shan Gao and Erik Loraas, to develop and implement the project.  All of the teams worked super hard on this project and their achievements are likely to be a strong first step at translation of the work we do here to places outside the pages of scientific journals. I'm very proud of this group."