DDG vies for $1 million Hult Prize for startup contributing to social good

A team of students from Case Western Reserve University, developing a hand-held malaria testing device, is competing in the regional finals of the fifth annual Hult Prize, the world’s largest student competition and startup platform for social good, this weekend.
The Case Western Reserve team is vying against 247 student-led finalists in six regions internationally for $1 million in startup funding from the Hult Prize Foundation.
“This is our opportunity to change the world and solidify the CWRU student body's place in global health care," said John Lewandowski, 23, who founded the malaria-testing venture, Disease Diagnostic Group (DDG), while earning a master’s degree in engineering management at Case Western Reserve.
In partnership with former President Bill Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative, the Hult Prize Foundation identifies and launches disruptive and catalytic social ventures that aim to solve the planet’s most pressing challenges.
An effective, inexpensive device
The Case Western Reserve group is developing a hand-held Rapid Assessment of Malaria device, called RAM, which its developers say can provide a faster, more accurate and far cheaper diagnostic test than those used now.
“There are an estimated 1 million deaths from malaria infections annually, and 95 percent of those are children under the age of 5,” said Brian Grimberg, professor of global health and disease and DDG faculty leader. “If we could accurately detect all the malaria infections in the world and then quickly deliver treatment, there would be almost no deaths from this parasite.”
Other group members include: master’s of engineering management student Utkarsha Hazarnis, 23, from Mumbai, India; mechanical engineering student Mark Lewandowski, 20, who is John’s brother and also from Shaker Heights, Ohio; biochemistry student Sam Shi, 19, of Scottsdale, Ariz.; and law student Mark Einsiedel, 23, of Youngstown, Ohio.
Grimberg and Hazani have begun collecting patient samples using RAMs in Peru and India. The group plans to submit the field trial data to a World Health Organization pre-qualification committee, which requires medical devices meet global standards of quality, safety and efficacy before permitting widespread use.
To help fund development, the team recently won first place and $10,000 at the MIT $100K Accelerate Contest and second place and $10,000 at Baylor University’s Baylor New Venture Competition.
The Hult Prize
The 2014 Hult Prize will focus on helping the 250 million people around the world suffering from chronic diseases—a challenge identified by Clinton.
The CWRU team plans to leverage the clinical relationships, distribution partners and business model developed for DDG in this effort.
“We are giving entrepreneurs from around the world a platform to innovate and revolutionize the way we think about servicing the poor,” said Ahmad Ashkar, CEO and founder of the Hult Prize. Ashkar attributes the competition’s success to a shift in the global economy and the millennial generation’s refusal to live in a world with inequality.
The Case Western Reserve team will meet with 46 others at the Boston regional today and pitch their plans to the judges Saturday. The other host locations are in San Francisco, London, Dubai, Shanghai and Sao Paulo.
Each regional finalist was chosen from more than 10,000 applications, representing more than 350 colleges and universities in over 150 countries.
"We’re not only excited to compete in the Hult Prize regional final, but also to learn from the other individuals attending from all over the world,” said John Lewandowski, who is now earning a PhD at MIT while working on the malaria detector.
Following the regional finals, one winning team from each host city will move into a summer business incubator. There, participants will receive mentorship, advice and strategic planning as they create prototypes and set-up to launch their new business.
The Clinton Global Initiative will host the final round of competition at its annual meeting in September in New York, where delegates will select a winning team.
Other competitions
The team is a finalist in a number of upcoming national business plan competitions, including the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance Open Minds conference, which awarded them a$25,000 grant. DDG is a video finalist and is seeking voting support for a cash prize.
DDG and another Case Western Reserve student team, Hole Patch, are among the 17 winning teams nationally who will present their innovations to experts and the public at Open Minds. Hole Patch founders Nicholas Barron and Mayank Saksena are developing a quick fix for potholes: a bagged liquid that acts like a solid under the force of a passing car. Street crews would just throw a bag in a pothole and leave it there until they have the warm weather and time needed to make a permanent fix.
At Open Minds, teams will have a chance to win cash prizes to further their ventures.