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Students Pitch Ideas to Venture Capitalists in Business Plan Competition

A team of four Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) students representing Poseidon Laboratory earned first place in the KGI Business Plan Competition on April 30.

This year’s winning team consisted of Kaniel Cassady, PPM ’19, David Leishman, MBS ’19, Andrew Okimura, MBS ’19, and Daniel Wang, PPC ’19.

The competition is part of the ALS 458 course, which was started in Fall 2003 by David Galas and Robert Curry. The course provides students with a hands-on opportunity to plan a new life science business. Each team was matched to a specific patented or patent-pending life science technology seeking external commercialization.

The course is co-taught by Jim Sterling and Joel West, both professors within KGI’s Henry E. Riggs School of Applied Life Sciences.

“This course shows students how to apply everything they’ve learned at KGI by writing a complete business plan for a new venture, either as a KGI spinoff or a new division of an existing company,” West said.

“Our judges were again led by Trustee Bob Curry, a venture capitalist and CEO, and also included another VC and two life science executives.”

Sterling added: “We are grateful to have such outstanding judges who question and critique the presentations and provide constructive criticism to the teams. They complimented the students on the completeness of their written plans, their professionalism, and the persuasive presentation of their panel pitches.”

With guidance from corporate liaison Rajika Perera, the four KGI students from the winning team presented their plan on the Poseidon platform that focuses on the development of antibody-like-proteins (ALPs) with advantages over existing antibodies including lower cost and smaller size.

“Overall, the opportunity of pitching to actual life science venture capitalists and industry executives allowed everyone to showcase and defend the sheer amount we learned in the entrepreneurship class,” Cassady said.  “That the judges selected our plan for first place is a testament to the hard work by each team member and the clear guidance we received from our Poseidon’s executive team, our professors, and key opinion leaders in the field leveraged through the KGI network.”

By producing a lead library targeting nonimmunogenic and intracellular epitopes, this ALP platform provides more affordable and versatile reagents for protein-detection based assays such as flow cytometry and ELISAs. This technology offers a novel basis for cell selection, as ALPs can target nuclear-resident proteins in live cells, which current antibody technologies cannot accomplish.

Earning second place in the Business Plan Competition was the UniPor Biotechnologies team of KGI students working alongside liaison Grace Yee of UC Riverside. The students included Alex Acosta, MBS ’20, Hunter Hurley, MBS ’19, Somayeh Mohammadian, MBS ’19, and Alexandra Obata, MBS ’19.

Limitations of prevailing biological gene delivery approaches, including viral vectors and electroporation, may preclude large-scale manufacturing and constrain development of cellular therapies. UniPor’s high-throughput unicellular microinjection device offers a single-site, microinjection of genetic materials into cells in bulk.

This platform is applicable to the manufacturing of many types of cellular therapies, namely CAR-T, and provides an inherently simple, safe, versatile, and scalable solution to reduce manufacturing costs and to accelerate and increase the yield of successful product.