This article was written for the Spring 2014 issue of Pitt Magazine. An online edition of the magazine can be found online here: http://www.pittmag.pitt.edu
Little Ideas, Big Results
by Emily O’Donnell
Chemical engineering PhD student Andrew Glowacki is dressed in blue scrubs, standing before a panel of judges and peers in Benedum Engineering Hall. Glowacki informs the audience that they might recognize him from the popular daytime television show “The Doctors,” despite a disclaimer on the screen behind him states that he is not yet a doctor, nor has he appeared on said program. Even so, the proposal he is about to present could easily pop up on the medical advice show in the future.
A PhD candidate in chemical engineering, Glowacki is a contender in Pitt’s second annual Little Idea Competition, which encourages students to develop practical applications for their research. The presentations are based on biotechnology research that participants have conducted with Professor Steven Little, associate professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering.
In Benedum Hall, Glowacki pitches his idea – a treatment for common warts that has has dubbed Wart Abort. “Common warts are caused by HPV [Human Papillomavirus],” Andy informs the judges. “Warts cause pain and unsightliness; current treatments don’t work that well, take a long time to work, or they hurt. “Wart Abort” is a new way to treat warts by harnessing the body’s immune system.”
Personal experience inspired Glowacki’s product. “I’ve been plagued by warts since I was a kid,” he says. Initially he examined the active ingredients in traditional wart treatments, with the goal of developing something more effective. “Wart Abort technology takes the cells that are good at killing the viruses and recruits them.” The product target the wart’s specific location, via a gel or patch.
Other students, too, pitched their ideas. the judges weighed the proposals in four categories: innovativeness, expected financial results, existing intellectual property, and attractiveness to investors. The competition helps to create a culture of innovation and entrepreneurial thinking.
This is exactly what Morgan Fedorchak had in mind when she first suggested the event to Little. A research assistant professor in chemical and petroleum engineering, Fedorchak was inspired by a similar competition held at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. In that contest, researchers proposed their ideas in the time it would take to get an investor interested during a short elevator ride. “I wanted to combine the pressure of an elevator pitch competition with the freedom of creative thinking.” The result was the Little Idea Competition.
In the end, these little ideas can yield big results. In fact, representatives from the Office of Technology Management have expressed interest in patenting some of the proposed products. Perhaps Wart Abort will be among them. Glowacki won first prize for his product idea, and he recieved two prizes — a Mini iPad and a tiny crystalline trophy that fits in the palm of his hand. The judges were impressed by his market research and the persuasiveness of his presentation. The next step is to impress investors and ultimately people everywhere who suffer from warts.
(More information about this year’s competition and the winning products can be found at http://www.littlelab.pitt.edu)