2024 Business Plan Challenge Pitch Competition Supports Innovation for Health Care Challenges

Dr. Denise Howard ConsenSurg

“In this accelerator, we not only have our faculty explore their deep scientific questions but also help them expand their mindset to think of themselves as innovators and entrepreneurs,” said Loren Busby, director of BioVenture eLab, a part of Enterprise Innovation. She shared these remarks at the 2024 Business Plan Challenge pitch competition, which took place at Uris Auditorium on June 4.

The accelerator’s cohort of 24 participants went through weeks of didactic instruction focusing on different commercialization and startup topics, including industry research, intellectual property strategy, research and development plans, as well as legal, regulatory and financing aspects of company formation.

Ten teams set out to develop business plans based on Weill Cornell Medicine, WCM-Qatar or Cornell University inventions or technologies. Each team received guidance and feedback on their plan and investor pitch from industry mentors throughout the program. In addition to the traditional therapeutic areas, this year’s technologies encompassed digital platforms and devices utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

This competition creates bridges between academic researchers and industry to move innovations from the lab to patients. “Weill Cornell Medicine needs to bring innovations to the market through collaboration with industry and other entities so that we can scale up the impact we have as a biomedical research institution,” said Dr. John Leonard, senior associate dean for innovation and initiatives and the Richard T. Silver Distinguished Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology.

Final Round of Competition

The Business Plan Challenge culminated in a Shark Tank-style pitch competition with five teams putting their knowledge and marketing skills to the test. The teams presented their innovations, market opportunity and business development plan. They also answered the judges’ questions regarding their products’ edge over the competition. The panel of judges included industry leaders with diverse investor interests that matched the finalist presentations: Dr. Igor Splawski, chief scientific officer of Yarrow Biotechnology, has decades of experience in industry and biologics. Michal Gilon-Yanai, partner of Two Lanterns VC, has a background in computer science, law, business, healthcare IT startup and software technologies investment. Dr. Nil Gural, senior associate of Polaris Partners, and George Wang, investor of AV8 Ventures, are both experts in early-stage biotech consulting and management. Dr. Meera Mani (Ph.D. ’08, M.D. ’09), partner of Town Hall Ventures, works in healthcare technology and tech-enabled services with a mission to support innovation that helps underserved populations.

The Winners—Innovating for Tomorrow’s Health Care Landscape

After some intense deliberation, the first-place prize was awarded to ConsenSurg, a prospective app that aims to revolutionize the surgical consent process and provide consistent, equitable pre-op education to patients.

Speaking from her experience as a gynecologic surgeon, Dr. Denise Howard, vice chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine, pinpointed several major flaws in the current surgical consent process, which she called "confusing and overwhelming." Without individualized counseling, patients are often reluctant to ask questions when they don’t understand a procedure, which is further complicated when a language barrier exists.

Dr. Howard proposed ConsenSurg, a tablet-based, interactive counseling tool and electronic consent form that clearly explains a surgical process in a patient’s preferred language. Patients can immerse themselves in interactive learning with visuals about their procedures at their own pace. They’re also informed of the benefits and drawbacks of the procedure with evidence-based data. At the end of the counseling, a series of questions confirms patient understanding.

ConsenSurg has the potential to empower patients, help surgeons be more efficient, reduce surgery cancellations and health system liabilities, which translates into cost reduction.

“I’m honored to have been chosen [for first place] and the selection is a validation of the potential value of our proposed product,” Dr. Howard said. “We are grateful to the BioVenture eLab and Weill Cornell Medicine for the opportunity to participate in programs like this and so appreciative of the support to develop ideas that have the potential to change medicine and deliver effective, equitable care.” With the $50,000 prize, Dr. Howard plans to create a prototype and test early models.

A team of two men and one woman holding a big check

Team StewardGuard (from left): Dr. Khanh Pham, Dr. Maryam Maqsood Ahmed and Madu Nzerem.

Runners-up StewardGuard and TwiXimo received $25,000 each.

StewardGuard leverages AI and machine learning to support doctors in prescribing and monitoring antibiotic use. It extracts data from a patient’s hospital record, cross-references physician notes and standard-of-care guidelines to generate recommendations for antibiotic choice.

This software could improve workflow, reduce errors and the overprescription of antibiotics, especially in small for-profit and state community hospitals where a traditional stewardship framework isn’t available. 

“Our journey has been profoundly rewarding. We are grateful for Loren Busby’s and BioVenture eLab's unwavering support in demystifying entrepreneurship that has enabled a path towards a tangible impact on patient care and antimicrobial stewardship,” said Dr. Khanh Pham, instructor in medicine and physician-scientist in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Weill Cornell Medicine on behalf of the other members, Madu Nzerem from New York University and Dr. Maryam Maqsood Ahmed from Cornell University.

A young Caucasian woman in dark, short hair holding a big check

Dr. Elena Valdambrini representing TwiXimo Therapeutics.

Dr. Elena Valdambrini, a postdoctoral associate in Dr. Francis Barany’s lab, presented on new technology being developed by TwiXimo Therapeutics to create protein degraders targeting BRD4. Finding drugs that could break down the BRD4 protein could potentially treat cancers dependent on MYC, an oncogenic driver in many cancers including non-small cell lung cancer.

The CURE-PRO platform quickly and efficiently produces novel, small protein degraders composed of two molecules joined together with a linker: a ligand that recognizes and attaches to BRD4 which is linked to an E3 ligase that breaks down BRD4. They have proof-of-concept data both in vitro and in vivo for the target BRD4 and plan to conduct studies in disease models. They envision the new paradigm of treatment can be applied to other solid tumors.

“Participating in the Business Plan Challenge gave us the opportunity to learn from and network with many different experts in their fields,” said Dr. Francis Barany, professor of microbiology and immunology. “We were thrilled to be recognized by the judges and receive prize money to advance our ideas to ultimately benefit cancer patients.”

The Business Plan Challenge serves as a launch pad for many Weill Cornell Medicine startups with past winning teams forming companies, running pilot studies, successfully raising funds and taking new technologies to market to meet urgent health care needs.

Many Weill Cornell Medicine physicians and scientists maintain relationships and collaborate with external organizations to foster scientific innovation and provide expert guidance. The institution makes these disclosures public to ensure transparency. For this information, see profile for Dr. Francis Barany.

Weill Cornell Medicine
Office of External Affairs
Phone: (646) 962-9476