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Biomedical Company First in Annual $50K Contest

By Eric J. Cholankeril


Angstrom Medica, a biomedical company which plans to manufacture synthetic bone to be used in surgeries, won the 12th annual MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition.

The runners-up were PantaRei, which produces optimization software for the energy industry, and Iptyx, an organic materials company involved in the creation of specialty dyes for liquid crystal displays.

Angstrom Medica was selected from among seven finalist teams, and received a total of $30,000 in prize money. The two runners-up each received a prize of $10,000.

Teams entering the competition must have at least one member who is currently a student at MIT.

Synthetic bone for surgical use

Angstrom Medica is developing a nanocrystalline synthetic bone material that would replace the steel screws now used in fracture reconstruction surgery. The product will also be used in treating spinal injuries and in plastic surgery.

“Our synthetic bone, in certain cases, is as strong as steel,” said team leader and inventor Edward S. Ahn. Ahn, a graduate student in chemical engineering, defended his PhD thesis on the same day his team won the competition.

Ahn said that he thinks a final version of the product would be approved by the Food and Drug Administration and be available on the market within three or four years.

Jermoluk de-emphasizes decisions

Tom Jermoluk, former chairman of Excite@Home, delivered the keynote address for the event, providing advice for rising entrepreneurs.

“Ninety percent of decisions don’t actually matter,” Jermoluk told the audience. He advised entrepreneurs facing tough decisions to “make a decision and move on.”

Jermoluk went on to stress perseverance, noting, “Lots of entrepreneurs failed a lot of times at a lot of different things before they got the one that hit.”

Participation down one-third

Of the 135 entrants into this year’s competition, 36 were chosen as semi-finalists, and the field was later narrowed down to seven finalists. Lead organizer Elad B. Gil G said of the finalists, “We have a strong representation of all the diversity at MIT.”

There were fewer “dot-com” entrants this year, but “those companies never did well anyway,” Gil said. Overall, the number of entries is down 34 percent from last year’s 206 competitors.

Ahn says that the recent downturn in the economy has had mixed effects on biotechnology companies such as his own. “It allows us more visibility,” Ahn said, but “everyone’s tighter with their money.”

Venture capitalists eye entrants

Max Michaels, competition sponsor and CEO of the venture capital firm KnowledgeCube, attended the awards ceremony to learn about the finalists. “We are looking for a software company,” said Michaels.

Brian W. Chu G, a member of the SmartCure finalist team, found that the competition itself was helpful. “Having to answer all of the judges’ questions” enabled his company to form a clear business plan and be better prepared to obtain funding, he said.

Ahn said that Angstrom Medica has been “getting a lot of interest” from venture capital firms since they won the $50K competition. Their next step is to incorporate officially.