Health Tech — Big Winner in Open Studio Awards

Hundreds of festive red balloons spelling out Cornell Tech greeted visitors for a day of innovation at the campus on Roosevelt Island, May 20. Inside the Tata Innovation Center with stunning views of the campus and beyond, students and alumni showcased their cutting-edge projects and budding startup ventures in a year-end Open Studio Celebration. Then beneath billowy white tents on the lawn, eleven Open Studio finalists pitched their projects, competing for one of the coveted Startup Awards — a post academic investment valued at $100,000.

“This year’s Startup Awards finalists have all made major strides in solving problems in healthcare, data privacy, housing, and other fields, and I am incredibly proud of all that they have accomplished in their time at Cornell Tech,” said Greg Morrisett, the Jack and Rilla Neafsey Dean and Vice Provost of Cornell Tech. “It has been a wonderful experience watching these students rise above the challenges of the past year to build some truly impressive companies.” 

Open Studio is part of the campus’ re-imagination of graduate tech education. A critical component of the master’s program at Cornell Tech and the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, the class teaches students with an entrepreneurial bent how to identify and refine a good product idea, create a business plan, pitch to investors, and bring their ideas to the marketplace. Since its inception, nine of their numerous startups have been acquired by larger companies.

Five student startups selected by a panel of tech industry leaders and Cornell Tech faculty and staff won the ninth annual Startup Awards competition — the capstone of the Open Studio curriculum. Three focused in health tech. In addition to receiving up to $100,000 worth in pre-seed funding, they are offered space on campus to build their company. Two of the winning companies, Nobul Health, now called Truffle Health, and Abstractive Health, are comprised of students from the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute’s Health Tech Hub.

Abstractive Health uses machine learning and natural language processing to extract data from a patient’s chart and provide physicians with a streamlined, automated summary. “Instead of the doctor having to comb through all of the data from a patient’s full record, they’re able to quickly read our summary and understand who that patient is,” said Vince Hartman, CEO who co-founded the company with fellow health tech graduate Sanika Bapat, CTO, and a third team member who joined Open Studio from the Parsons School of Design.

Working in coordination with Weill Cornell Medical Center, Abstractive Health is currently testing to ensure their AI-generated summaries are at the same level as those written manually. They have published their results in scientific journals and are looking forward to the next step — conducting a pilot with Weill Cornell.

“I loved the program,” said Hartman, who received his bachelor’s degree at Cornell University in 2008. He was working as a consultant when he got in touch with Associate Dean and Professor Deborah Estrin, the founding director of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute’s health tech hub. “She connected me with Weill Cornell Medical Center, which helped me find advisors for my research and got me running,” he said. “There’s no program in the U.S. that has that sort of connections and can help you build a really innovative health tech company.”

The other Startup Award winners were:

  • Kaveat — helps people understand their contracts by translating the legal jargon into simple plain English
  • Canary Privacy — helps businesses test, monitor, and fix privacy issues on their websites and apps to protect user data and ensure compliance
  • MyLua Health — a digital maternal care platform that predicts risk of pregnancy complications via a patient app and clinician dashboard

As part of the Open Studio programing, the American Technion Society sponsored a lunch and roundtable discussion for a delegation of 25 visiting Startup MBA students from the Technion to discuss their work.

The Technion Startup MBA (SUMBA) is for students interested in setting up a technological venture. Its goal is to provide students with business management tools as well as an understanding of the processes involved in launching a startup. Its focus on innovation and tech management helps students develop entrepreneurial ways of thinking and problem-solving. Spread over nine mini-semesters for 21 months, the program serves as an incubator for developing deep technologies and implementing them in businesses.

The visit to Roosevelt Island is the first for SUMBA students, said director Sara Lev. “And I hope we have the opportunity to come every year. It’s an essential part of the program.”

Omer Stoller, a first-year SUMBA student who received his Technion bachelor’s degree in 2019, came to SUMBA for guidance in bringing his fledgling startup Kanso Diagnostics to commercialization. “Sara has a wide network of investors and consultants who help us with the business regulations side and academics,” he said. Kanso helps patients check for bacterial, viral, and fungal infections with at-home test kits comprised of an advanced lab on a chip equipped with a CRISPR diagnostic system. The kits can accurately detect multiple pathogens and genetic biomarkers — in just minutes. After receiving a grant from the Israeli Innovation Authority, Kanso Diagnostics is currently raising its seed round.

Ronen Ben-Arie earned his Technion master’s degree in biomedical engineering and is now on track to graduate from SUMBA in July 2022. He came to SUMBA with an idea for diagnosing men suffering from varicocele, the most common infertility pathology in men. Varicocele is an abnormal dilation and tortuosity of the veins inside the spermatic cord in the scrotum, which impairs the quality of the sperm. Ronen is now seeking seed funding to finish development and start clinical trials for Zoya Medical, which would use non-invasive imaging alongside AI and a computer vision algorithm to make a same-day diagnosis.

“SUMBA is an amazing program,” said Ben-Arie, explaining that the combination of classwork and industry mentorship is unique. “It is the best MBA program in Israel, especially if you have a startup idea.”