Disease database wins Ursinus student entrepreneur contest

Aubrey Paris, presenting for Globalized Ethics for Medical Science, the Ursinus U-Innovate contest winner. Submitted photos by Brian Garfinkel.

COLLEGEVILLE — Fifteen teams of Ursinus students took the stage at the Lenfest Theater in the Kaleidoscope Performing Arts Center Sunday to vie for a $7,500 first prize and mentorship to develop their entrepreneurial idea.

In the end, a group of students aiming to better document infectious diseases and make the information available to the public on the internet took home the top prize from the U-Innovate competition.

“I don’t know what to say,” said Aubrey Paris, who gave the live presentation of her group’s project at Lenfest.

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When the project, called Globalized Ethics for Medical Science (GEMS), ended, Paris, visibly emotional, stepped forward with her partners Samir Shah and Evan Lord to accept the prize check. The prize also guarantees housing on campus over the summer and a staff mentor to continue working on the idea.

All 15 groups pitched their ideas to a panel of local business leaders, some of them Ursinus alums. One of those alums, Rob Gilfillan, the founder and CEO of Cenero, a Malvern-based audio-visual company, gave a keynote speech on learning from any failure the business world might throw at an entrepreneur.

The competition was facilitated through Ursinus’ U-Imagine Center for Integrative and Entrepreneurial Studies.

Those ideas ranged from a line of dolls to represent demographics largely ignored by toy-makers, to a peer-to-peer college textbook purchasing and selling service, to a wearable device used to measure risk factors for seizures.

Utilizing mobile technology and making a database of infectious disease occurrences across the world along with treatment options for them was the idea that made the GEMS team winners.

Treatment options listed will include considerations for one’s culture, taking into account animal products that may go into some treatments and other such issues.

The system is proposed to be maintained by professionals in the medical field to keep its integrity and will also be completely accessible by the public.

Currently, such a database doesn’t exist, according to Paris’ presentation.

“The idea itself, it’s to fill a need,” Lord said. “I think as scientists and students, we’re here to address problems.”

“Coming from a liberal arts college, I think it really stresses and emphasizes the social aspect of all of our science that we’ve taken,” Shah said.

Lord said they’d been working on the project directly for a semester. The idea was hatched during a course last year, Paris said.

“It’s been really exciting growing this from a paper for a class into something with real-world potential,” Paris said.

Second prize in the contest, and $5,000, went to a mobile application called Missed Moments, developed by Bryan Sadler, Jonathan Monroe and Duncan McLuckie, which aims at creating a more location-specific and private way to capitalize on missed connections than Craigslist currently offers.

In third place, earning $3,000, was another application called Dinosurce, developed by Atticus Graven and Michelle Tanco. Their idea would provide users with a database of where restaurants get their food and characterize things such as whether it is organic or not.

Graven said the name was a “portmanteau of dine, source and dinosaurs, because people like dinosaurs.”

Each team not only gave a live presentation Sunday but also submitted a written business plan to the judges earlier in the week.

At the start of the competition, Ursinus College’s president, Bobby Fong, praised all of the entrants into the contest.

“All of them are winners, willing to risk public scrutiny of their ideas,” he said.

The GEMS team is ready to hit the ground running, this summer.

For those who might be toying with their own business ideas, they had some advice.

“Don’t let people tell you ‘No,’” Paris said. “Because, in pursuing this content, which I think was one of our greatest strengths in the competition, we were reaching out to CEOs, founders of organizations and companies that you would say, ‘How would you even go about contacting these people?’ But there are means and if you want to make it happen it is absolutely possible.”

“We reached out to people who are at the top of their fields and some of them you would never think they would get back to you,” Shah said. “And they end up getting back to you and giving you excellent feedback.”

A certain fearlessness is always good.

“The only thing people really can say is ‘No,’” Lord said. “That’s not that bad.”

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.