University of California, Davis: Novel Fetal Monitoring System Wins Top Prize in Annual UC Davis Business Competition

Two University of California, Davis, graduate students received the $20,000 first prize for the best innovation in the 22nd annual Big Bang! Business Competition on Thursday (May 26).

Davis-based Storx Technologies has developed a noninvasive device that accurately determines a baby’s well-being in the womb — and helps doctors decide whether the baby can be delivered naturally, avoiding an unnecessary cesarian section.

The innovation was developed in electrical and computer engineering professor Soheil Ghiasi’s UC Davis lab after Ghiasi’s wife experienced a C-section.

$90,000 in prizes
The UC Davis Big Bang!, organized by the Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, has been helping entrepreneurs start or grow business ventures for more than two decades through the competition, workshops, mentoring and networking opportunities. This year the Big Bang! was open to teams with a founder or team lead affiliated with a college or university in California. The prizes are funded by corporate, nonprofit and various other sponsors.

The annual awards ceremony — held in person on the UC Davis campus for the first time since 2019 — celebrated the contestants and announced the winners of $90,000 in prizes for innovations in food and agriculture, health, energy/sustainability and social enterprise.

Sixteen finalists — out of 44 qualifying teams in this year’s competition — pitched their ventures before five judges in a 10-hour marathon judging session. Judges considered the teams’ integrated strategy, steps toward implementation and market opportunity to determine prize winners.

The $10,000 People’s Choice Award winner was selected by online voting that was open to the public.

Health and safety during labor, delivery
Storx Technologies Big Bang! team members Regina Hoang, an MBA student, and Kourosh Vali, a doctoral candidate in computer engineering, met in a fellowship program that helps students with a business idea move their innovation or research off campus and into the world. Vali got involved in the medical device project as a graduate student researcher in Ghiasi’s electrical engineering and computer science lab, where he has worked since September 2018.

After Ghiasi’s wife underwent an emergency C-section, the professor was motivated to seek a solution that would help doctors and patients.

Currently, doctors assess a baby’s well-being during labor and delivery using electronic fetal heart rate monitoring, or EFM. When EFM shows the baby does not have adequate oxygen (fetal hypoxia), and may suffer disabilities or death as a result, doctors typically rush to perform a C-section.

Data published in the journal Clinical Obstetrics & Gynecology has shown that 30% of babies delivered in U.S. hospitals are detected as potentially hypoxic; however, 60% of those detections are false alarms.

The professor’s lab developed a wearable, transabdominal fetal pulse oximeter to measure a fetus’s blood oxygen saturation levels, and in 2020 Ghiasi launched Storx Technologies to commercialize the technology. Grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health have supported the research.

“This breakthrough device will make labor and delivery safer for moms and babies,” said Vali. “It will let doctors know when the fetus’s blood oxygen saturation levels are low — a red flag that indicates the baby needs to come out right away or risk losing oxygen to the brain or organs. In these cases, the device can prevent disabilities such as cerebral palsy and epilepsy.”

The Storx Technologies team will use the prize money to conduct additional market research and customer calls.

“We learn so much by talking to the doctors and nurses who will actually be using this device and hearing about their pain points and concerns so that we can improve it,” said Hoang.

Storx Technologies is continuing to improve the prototype and conducting additional animal and human clinical trials.

Beat Medical wins Human Health and People’s Choice awards
Each year an estimated 33,000 people die in U.S. hospitals due to unplanned extubation — the unintended, uncontrolled removal of a patient’s life-sustaining breathing tube.

“Our innovation upgrades the industry standard,” Marland said, “with a curved bite guard to prevent the breathing tube from kinking and silicon cushions to prevent facial ulcers, it is uniquely exchangeable, preventing unplanned extubations.”

Beat Medical took home three prizes totaling $25,000 — the $10,000 Human Health + Industry Sector Award, the $10,000 People’s Choice Award and $5,000 in in-kind services at Davis-based startup incubator Inventopia.

The startup is currently drafting a provisional patent, says Marland, and will use the prize money to help them obtain a full patent. “This will enable us to commercialize our product and get it into hospitals by 2023. We already have a mold and finished prototype, as well as interested hospitals and letters of intent from distributors.

“Our long-term goal is to expand beyond California, specifically to other states and to Europe within the next five years.”

Other winners
An additional $45,000 in Big Bang! prizes was awarded Thursday. Each winning team is listed with a link to the website or the video used in the competition. All ventures have a California founder or co-founder., of Los Angeles: A healthy, vegan, all-natural alternative to boba milk tea brands high in calories and refined sugars. Food + Agriculture Sector Award, $10,000. Co-founder and chief marketing officer: Jake Grodnitzky, undergraduate student majoring in international business at California State University, Long Beach. Co-founder and CEO Hongjiang “Leo” Liu, Ph.D. candidate in biochemistry, UCLA.
DairyFIT, of Davis: AI platform with customizable machine-learning algorithms to provide farmers insights into their herd to inform decisions. Animal Health + Industry Award, $10,000; in-kind services at agriculture, food and health accelerator AgStart, $5,000. Founder: Catie McVey, Ph.D. candidate in animal biology, UC Davis.
JusCheckIt, of Sacramento: Building the foundation for a new go-to place for legal questions, conversation and help so individuals understand the law and feel protected. Social Entrepreneurship Award, $10,000. Co-founder and CEO: Cameron Gallad, a 2021 UC Davis graduate in communications.
MatterCup of Davis: A deposit-based, circular-use cup sharing system that revolutionizes the takeaway/to-go industry by replacing the single-use cup with a reusable alternative. Energy and Sustainability Award, $10,000. Co-founder: Chantal Deslauriers, undergraduate student majoring communication and art history at UC Davis.