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Engineers Score Second-place Finish in 2019 Innovation Challenge Final

Yizhuo "E.J." Chen (chemical engineering) and Avi Benmayor (pre-engineering)

Benmayor (l) & Chen (r)

At the 2018-2019 Innovation Challenge Final on April 4, two engineering majors – Yizhuo (E.J.) Chen (chemical engineering) and Avi Benmayor (pre-engineering) – were on team Renovare, which took home $20,000 in seed money as the second-place finisher. Renovare is turning the simple bandage into a device that not only protects wounds but also heals them twice as fast without the use of drugs.

The other members of the Renovare team were George Ryan (chemistry, economics) and Kevin Cutinella (management). Renovare is developing a novel bandage to heal skin abrasions faster than current options by using a polymer membrane and a tiny control system (a chip) to stimulate replication of cells close to the skin’s surface.

Renovare seeks to accelerate the wound-healing process by developing “massaging bandages,” leveraging the mechano-sensitivity of epithelial cells.

Renovare’s team has targeted its product to high-risk consumers, including the elderly, soldiers, laborers, and athletes. A major concern for co-founders Chen and Ryan is whether Renovare should handle its own production, distribution, and marketing or license its product to an industry giant like 3M or Johnson.

Hosted by the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, the Innovation Challenge is a four-part, cross-campus entrepreneurship competition that launches promising ventures to their next level of startup. This series of competitions is designed to help and reward UMass students and young alumni who want to pursue novel business ideas and develop them into marketable products.

According to the Innovation Challenge website, “The six ventures competing for seed money at the 2018-2019 Innovation Challenge Final on April 4 all presented cutting-edge entrepreneurial solutions to real-world problems: technology to hasten wound healing, a video game to teach safe driving skills to teenagers with ADHD, an online microbe-identification service, an affordable device to measure athletes’ speed and motion, proteins that kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and—the competition’s big winner—a video workshop series called Let’s Talk About It, which earned $24,000 of equity-free funding.”

The cross-campus event was the culmination of the Innovation Challenge’s four phases, which started in the fall with the Minute Pitch contest and proceeded through the Seed Pitch and the Semifinal.

At the final, seed money was awarded to four of the six featured venture teams, which pitched their business plans to an independent panel of six judges and a crowd of more than a hundred audience members in the Old Chapel. Each team presented four-minute pitches, followed by six minutes devoted to questions and answers.

In addition to the team prizes, each finalist venture received $1,000. (May 2019)

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