NIR Diagnostics Wins Wharton Business Plan Competition Michelson Grand Prize with Device That Can Predict Wound Treatment Complications
Dr. Pitamber "Pitou" Devgon, whose team recently won the 2009 Wharton Business Plan Competition (Wharton BPC) for a wound assessment device, has come a long way since his first, somewhat rocky, entrepreneurial venture in college when he created one of the original portals helping U.S. students trade textbooks.
After launching the portal, known as the Student Information Network (S.I.N.), the site received so many hits that his dorm room computer died and Devgon found himself sued by the college bookstore for taking away business. Making matters worse, a promising deal with AOL fell through. "After I cried for about a month, I received incubator funding from another university that was interested in the technology and I deferred medical school to work on that project," he said.
That business was going well, but Devgon left after a year to pursue his passion--medicine. However, during the third year of his residency in internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, he felt the entrepreneurial itch and enrolled in Wharton's healthcare entrepreneurship course where he was able to combine both interests [To learn more about Wharton's healthcare entrepreneurship course read the "Get it Started" article, "Excellent Prognosis"].
As part of the Wharton course, he worked on a team to write a business plan for a product that assists in the feeding of premature infants. The business, TracNatal, looked promising and the team entered the Wharton BPC, making it to the semi-finals in 2008, but then had to withdraw because of IP issues with the inventor.
With those three entrepreneurial experiences behind him, Devgon was more prepared than ever to enter the Competition again this year as a first-year Wharton MBA student, with a new concept. His team, NIR Diagnostics, wrote a business plan for InfraVue, a first-of-its-kind diagnostic device to better monitor the healing of complex wounds and predict complications using near infrared technology.
The wound assessment tool most physicians use today is an ordinary ruler. A doctor typically measures a wound with a ruler to see how much it has shrunk from previous visits. This rudimentary approach means about half the time doctors miss opportunities to adjust therapies and alter patient outcomes, says Devgon.
"Thanks to the Healthcare Entrepreneurship Course last year, we realized we had to be very focused," says Devgon. "There is so much technology out there and we wanted something we could sink our teeth into, so we picked a device within a niche market. We didn't want to be competing in a giant field, but rather one that is underserved and rapidly growing."
In the presentation at the Wharton BPC Venture Finals, Devgon explained that the market for this device, driven by an increase in obesity and diabetes, is worth $1.1 billion. With no infrared technologies currently on the market for wound care, he said that the path is clear for InfraVue to gain acceptance by home health agencies, extended care facilities, and outpatient wound care centers. The device costs $35,000, but the team plans to emphasize a more affordable leasing model. As for IP issues, they aren't likely to get in the way this year, as the team has outlined a clear path to licensing the technology and the inventors are supportive of the process.
After deliberations, the judges awarded NIR Diagnostics the Michelson Grand Prize of $20,000. The team also won over the Venture Finals audience which chose NIR for the $3,000 "People's Choice" Award. Devgon's team includes graduating Wharton MBA students Xiaoming Fang and Bosun Hau as well as Dr. Armen Karamanian. Karamanian is an M.D. from Argentina completing his PhD at Penn's School of Medicine with formidable experience in the Wharton BPC, having reached the semi-final round three prior times. One of Karamanian's teams made the 2008 finals and another, Fodius, received acceptance to WEP's educational incubator, the Wharton Venture Initiation Program.
The NIR Diagnostics team says it is fully committed to moving the company forward this summer in Philadelphia. Their immediate goals include completing the licensing agreement, expanding the human pilot study, and pursuing seed and early-stage funding.