Nov. 9, 2017

Batten-Sponsored Social Entrepreneurship Startup Poised for Global Impact

Building a better bandage brought Ashwinraj Karthikeyan to the national stage this month, where the fourth-year UVA student minoring in Social Entrepreneurship took home the bronze medal at the prestigious Collegiate Inventors Competition.

Karthikeyan, an aerospace engineering major at UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, is being advised by Batten’s Bala Mulloth, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, and is enrolled in Mulloth’s Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship course.

“It has been great to work with a student to help create a real, patentable product, and enter this competition, and to actually have the potential of creating a venture which will have tremendous impact across the world,” said Mulloth. “That, for me, has been really exciting, especially since social entrepreneurship is a cornerstone of Batten.”

Karthikeyan and his supporters have been developing his wound-care dressing, called Phoenix-Aid, through his company inMEDBio LLC. “There have been several students who’ve definitely been a big factor in helping us out throughout the years,” Karthikeyan said, along with others at UVA and ongoing partner Microionic System LLC, a manufacturer of activated carbon. 

But it was Karthikeyan—the inventor, founder, and project manager—who stood before the judges at the Nov. 3 competition hosted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a 20-minute presentation of his innovative health-care product to fight infection from chronic wounds.

“It was an honor to even be selected as one of the six finalists at the competition,” said Karthikeyan.

Karthikeyan’s landmark invention targets a huge need, especially in developing countries. Standard bandages of gauze and cotton are less effective at both stopping bleeding and spurring rapid cell replacement and healing. Typical dressings, often bulging swaths of material, require daily replacement and assistance from medical professionals. When wrapped around feet, for instance, such bulky dressings make walking difficult. And the risk of infection remains serious.

inMEDBio LLC cites a World Health Organization estimate that, in 2014, more than 40 million cases of chronic wounds cases were reported worldwide.

Karthikeyan’s solution is a five-layer bandage that can remain over the wound for more than one day. Phoenix-Aid allows airflow to dry the wound while stopping bleeding and improving the growth of new skin.

The competition judges panel consisted of some of the country’s most influential inventors and innovation experts who knew how to ask tough and thorough questions.

“There was a lot of information to give to them for a very good understanding of where we are,” Karthikeyan said, including the background of development of Phoenix-Aid. “The number one thing is, they don’t want to see a technology that has been invented just sitting on the shelf. They wanted to see a technology that’s actually commercialized, something that people would use.”

Karthikeyan and the other 28 finalists, all undergraduate or graduate students, also met with inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, whose museum is housed in the patent building.

In addition to the bronze medal, Karthikeyan received a cash award of $2,500, which he put into InMEDBio. In the past, the company has benefitted from other awards, including a $25,000 first-place prize from Venture Well as this year’s BMEidea competition winner.

That award succinctly described Phoenix-Aid as “a safe, cost-effective, and comprehensive wound care dressing designed to prevent infection and accelerate the wound healing process of chronic wounds, specifically diabetic foot ulcers.”

Karthikeyan said Phoenix-Aid focuses on the “ABCs” of wound care: accelerate healing, block infection, and comfort the wound. He became aware of deficiencies with current bandages when, in high school in Wisconsin, he saw a co-worker in a retail business die of an infection after an otherwise routine surgery.  

Karthikeyan said the wound problem is especially acute with diabetes patients in places with limited medical care. A native of Chennai, India, Karthikeyan traveled to his hometown to study the problem and consult with physicians and other medical personnel, as well as with business leaders, about the potential for Phoenix-Aid. He and others with inMEDBio also consulted in the United States with doctors, patients, and industry professionals—about 700 people.

Mulloth has great confidence in Karthikeyan’s invention, and ability to commercialize the venture. 

“I believe for Ashwin to be able to really maximize the impact of what he’s doing, it’s not enough to produce great research, but to champion that research into the market through social venture creation. I think that’s the next stage for him, after he graduates. I think only then can we address the real mission of the company: to improve the lives of millions of people in the world.”

(photo courtesy of The Cavalier Daily)

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