UCI startup receives $300,000 Grant from National Institutes of Health

In The News
October 24, 2017 By Hai Truong

UCI startup Syntr Health Technologies has received a Phase 1 grant for $300,000 from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Small Business Innovation Research Grant Program (SBIR) through the National Institutes of Health, specifically the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The funding will help the startup further research and development of a therapeutic device using stem cells to treat diabetic foot ulcers, enabling it to proceed with animal studies. The company seeks to address a problem that affects over 29 million Americans, or roughly 10% of the population, who are afflicted with diabetes mellitus (DM) which carries an annual sum of $245 billion in health-related costs. Over one quarter of those individuals are undiagnosed and therefore at risk for severe complications. Up to 25% of diabetic patients carry a lifetime risk of developing a diabetic foot ulcer, a condition plagued with poor healing, infections and ultimately, amputation.

Syntr Health Technologies is a UCI alumni-led startup participating in UCI Applied Innovation’s Wayfinder incubator program and located in the Cove’s collaborative workspace. The team was formed by a group of engineering students from the BioENGINE undergraduate senior design class. Dr. Derek Banyard, a research fellow in the Center for Tissue Engineering in the Department of Plastic Surgery at UCI Medical Center, partnered with the team and they founded the company in July of 2016. The BioENGINE program is a part of the Bridging Innovation Gaps (BIG) initiative at UCI Applied Innovation, which seeks to help promising UCI research reach the market. Additionally, the team has benefitted from the support and guidance of Dr. Jered Haun, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Dr. Alan Widgerow, Professor of Plastic Surgery and director of the Center for Tissue Engineering.

The senior design course is led by Michelle Khine, professor in the department of biomedical engineering, director of faculty innovation at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering, and director of BioENGINE. Syntr’s core product foundation is based on technology developed at the Center for Advanced Design & Manufacturing of Integrated Microfluidics (CADMIM), a National Science Foundation (NSF) Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC). The technology was first conceived and introduced to the BioENGINE program through a collaborative effort by UCI’s School of Biomedical Engineering and Center for Tissue Engineering. The first prototype of Syntr’s technology was made possible by an award from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), which distributed grants to various BioENGINE teams based on their proposals.

Recent UCI graduate and Syntr CEO Ahmed Zobi credits the connectedness of the entire Cove ecosystem with helping the startup get off the ground. “Throughout our senior design class, we learned via workshops at the Cove at UCI how to pitch, create effective decks, and prepare for investor meetings. After graduation and admittance into the Wayfinder incubator program, we accessed the diverse network of Experts-in-Residence who provided us industry and regulatory perspective. Thanks to a compressed version of the NSF I-Corps program offered through Applied Innovation, we refined the value proposition of our business and better defined our customer segment. Through the prototyping labs at the Cove, Syntr’s engineering team has progressively iterated on the device, thus generating new intellectual property which is now patent-pending. By working with TriTech SBDC, an ecosystem partner with residency at the Cove, we refined our SBIR application to secure this funding, which we have been pursuing for a year now,” said Zobi.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is highly competitive and encourages domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) that have the potential for commercialization. Through a competitive awards-based program, SBIR enables small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from its commercialization. “This SBIR funding will allow us to test our device and therapeutic in an animal model. The study is critical for determining safety and efficacy of our therapeutic,” explained Zobi.

The SBIR win comes on the heels of several others for Syntr. As a result of their hard work, Syntr has received top awards in several business plan competitions such as the BioAccel Solutions Challenge, UCI New Venture Competition, Tech Surge, Arizona State University’s Innovation Open, ICTS Shark Tank Competition, Beall & Butterworth Competition, and the Designing Solutions for Poverty Competition through the Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation. “These experiences have been instrumental in refining our pitch and conveying our message to audiences, whether they are academics, investors, or potential customers,” said Hugo Salas, chief operations officer of Syntr.

Syntr’s success certainly reflects Applied Innovation’s intention with the Cove. “Syntr Health Technologies is a perfect example of the innovation that is possible when collaboration, entrepreneurship, and expertise come together in an ecosystem built for impact. The Cove was designed precisely for this,” said Richard Sudek, executive director and chief innovation officer of Applied Innovation. “We are excited to see many other startups follow in Syntr’s footsteps as the Cove ecosystem continues to grow.”

Research discussed in this announcement is supported by the National Institute Of Diabetes And Digestive And Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R43DK116389. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.