MatriTarg Laboratories, a venture created by a team of Harvard fellows seeking new ways to diagnose and treat solid organ fibrosis, claimed the grand prize — and $40,000 in award money — in the inaugural Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge.
Sponsored by deans from across the university and hosted at the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab), the challenge invited students and fellows from across Harvard’s Schools to develop entrepreneurial solutions that facilitate the delivery of affordable health care.
“The help the i-lab has provided has really been invaluable, especially for someone like me,” said Derek DiRocco, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), and a co-founder of MatriTarg. “I didn’t start as someone who wanted to grow a business — I’m more in science — so it was very helpful to have assistance in growing our company and our ideas.”
DiRocco and co-founder Rafael Kramann, also a Harvard postdoctoral fellow at BWH, and their research adviser, Benjamin Humphreys, created MatriTarg to find and commercialize new diagnostic biomarkers and drug targets for solid organ fibrosis, a progressive disease that affects major organs and usually is not diagnosed until its late stages.
As winners of the grand prize, DiRocco and Kramann will continue their i-lab residency with dedicated workspace, mentoring, and access to expert resources throughout the summer.
Three other student-led teams were named runners-up and awarded funds to help launch their projects. First runner-up CareSolver, founded by Harvard Business School (HBS) students Shana Hoffman and Arick Morton, received $20,000 in funds. The venture is a Web platform for family members and informal care providers to increase quality care of the elderly.
The two second runners-up, Broadleaf Health and Education Alliance, a nonprofit enterprise striving to integrate mental health care for children at schools in India, and SQ, a mobile application that allows individuals to manage and share information about their sexual health, each received $7,500.
“When we bring people together across disciplines and across schools, as this challenge has done, things happen that would otherwise be unimaginable,” said Jeffrey Flier, dean of HMS and co-chair of the challenge. “I have great confidence that we’re going to see some great outcomes from the work in this competition.”
The four winning teams were among eight finalist teams selected from more than 50 applications to compete for $75,000 in prize money. The challenge was supported by friends and alumni of Harvard.
Each team developed a project to address one of four areas: redesign of health delivery, changing behavior, computation and data analysis, and stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. The eight finalists teams received $5,000 each and residency at the i-lab for the spring semester, and were assigned expert mentors and given support from specialized workshops to perfect their projects for Demo Day.
“There is no more important problem and opportunity that faces humanity today than what exists in the arena of healthcare,” said Nitin Nohria, dean of HBS and co-chair of the challenge. “This is an area that begs for innovation. The scale of opportunity runs the entire gamut, and this is a truly remarkable challenge.”
The Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge was one of three challenges hosted by the i-lab this year, along with the President’s Challenge for social entrepreneurship and the Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge. All were designed to strengthen Harvard’s entrepreneurial community and foster cross-School collaboration.
Gordon Jones, managing director of the i-lab, said, “This is a cross-University space, a resource for students who are focused on developing skills and accessing resources across the university to take their dreams as far as they can go.
“This challenge is representative of that vision, helping students transform their nascent ideas into implementable solutions. We hope that the skills these teams have learned here at the i-lab during the challenge will not only help them with the projects they’re working on today, but throughout their careers and their lifetimes.”