The Veritas Medical Lightline catheter, University of Utah student developed.

University of Utah student innovators rake in big bucks at Rice University business competition

A medical innovation company founded by a team of University of Utah students won big — to the tune of $153,000 — at the prestigious Rice University Business Plan Competition held April 16-18 in Houston.

Launched by a team of bioengineering and medical students at the University of Utah’s 2012 Bench-2-Bedside competition, Veritas Medical created and is continuing to develop its LIGHT LINE Catheter, which eliminates infection-causing bacteria using high-intensity light. Catheter-related infections are common in hospitals in the U.S. and throughout the world, and the students sought to find a way to eliminate the problem.

“When we first started, we had big plans to change the world,” said Nate Rhodes, a recent bioengineering graduate and CEO of Veritas Medical. “It started out as a learning activity, and we ended up loving the process. We knew we had a really great idea, but we had never done anything like this before, and we weren’t sure how far we would actually get.”

At this point? Pretty darn far.

Veritas Medical took home a competition-best eight awards and finished in fourth place overall at the Rice University contest, which featured teams from many of the world’s top universities including Johns Hopkins, Harvard and Stanford. After repeated trips to the stage to collect prizes, the crowd took notice of the group from Salt Lake City.

“We kept getting looks from people [that seemed to say] ‘You should probably just stay up there,’” Rhodes said. “We thought it was a little too presumptuous to stay up there, so we went back to our seats.”

The team made several more treks to the stage as the awards kept coming. Veritas Medical nabbed the Mercury Fund Tech Transfer Investment Prize ($100,000), the NASA Earth/Space Human Health & Performance Innovation Cash Award ($20,000), the Health & Wellness Innovation Award ($15,000), and the Edward H. Molter Memorial Best Presentation Prize ($10,000). They also won $5,000 for taking fourth place overall and collected a number of smaller cash prizes.

“Winning these awards was a great validation for what we have been working on these past couple years,” said University of Utah medical student and Veritas Medical team member Martin de la Presa. “I am thrilled there are so many people who support our vision and want to join us as we improve the way health care is delivered.”

Ultimately, the best reward the team could win would be seeing their invention help real patients, Rhodes said.

Money, of course, helps advance that goal, and the Rice competition isn’t the first time Veritas Medical has raked in capital for their cause. Combined with $9,000 won at the Bench-2-Bedside event and other competitions, Rhodes said the team has won more than $250,000.

Rhodes said much of the money will be used for research.  The company is currently gearing up for its first animal trial. Rhodes predicted the FDA will approve the LIGHT LINE Catheter in about 18 months.

“I didn’t expect five years ago that I would be a CEO of a startup company,” said Rhodes whose team received extensive support along the way from the University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute and the Center for Medical Innovation. “I definitely credit Bench-2-Bedside with changing what I wanted to do career-wise. I really found a love for being able to create new technologies and do things that would help a large number of people.”

Want to learn more about the program that helped Veritas Medical get off its feet? Check out the Bench-2-Bedside website.

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