AI / Environment / Health / Science

Johns Hopkins and Microsoft awarded $150K to these startups creating digital solutions

The Microsoft Innovation Acceleration Awards gave money to startups detecting wildfire, identifying rectal cancer and developing antibody therapeutics through machine learning and AI.

Johns Hopkins University. ( file photo; source unknown)
Correction: An earlier version of this story drew from a Johns Hopkins University announcement that incorrectly listed professor Jay Pasricha as a cofounder of SpectralDx. The actual cofounder is Applied Physics Laboratory senior research scientist Amit Banerjee. The error has been corrected. (6/16/22, 11:25 a.m.)

Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (JHTV) partnered with Microsoft to give five-figure funding to three startups, founded by faculty and students of the eponymous university, that are addressing environmental and medical challenges.

The total of $150,000, which the companies split equally, was granted via the Microsoft Innovation Acceleration Awards program, which a statement that JHTV released today described as “an extension of a collaboration” that Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and the software giant set up in 2020. The awards, like that collaboration, aim to help JHU-affiliated startups launch, scale and commercialize.

JHTV chose the three winners out of 26 applications from a mix of faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, and licensed startups. The startups were chosen by a panel of experts that included JHU alumni, successful entrepreneurs and key industry players. What made these companies stand out, according to JHTV’s associate director for startup advancement Mark VanderZyl, were their innovative and impactful solutions to real-world challenges. VanderZyl also highlighted the companies’ projected ability to maximize Microsoft’s support and make meaningful progress in the next six-to-12 months.

The awardees were:

  • AbacusBio, founded by Whiting School of Engineering professor Jeffrey Gray and Jeffrey Ruffolo, a molecular biophysics Ph.D. candidate. The company has created software that can predict antibody structure from an amino acid sequence. This software allows the rapid development of next-generation antibody therapeutics. These are the type of therapies used for cancer, autoimmunity and inflammatory diseases.
  • InfernoGuard, cofounded by undergraduate neuroscience and computer science major Nandita Balaji. InfernoGuard uses a network of mounted sensory devices to develop an early wildfire detection and warning system. Balaji has been working on this project with her cofounders since high school. They’ve already tested the system in Yosemite National Park. The award will help the company finalize product development before launch as the founders scale software components, as well as design and build product inventory for deployment. Commercialization of this machine-learning based wildfire risk assessment software is around the corner.
  • SpectralDx, cofounded by assistant professor Simon Mathews, of the School of Medicine’s gastroenterology and hepatology division; and Amit Banerjee, a senior research scientist at the university’s Applied Physics Laboratory. The team is creating a tool that will allow patients to use their smartphones to screen their own stool samples for colorectal cancer. The company plans to use the money to continue research into this camera-based diagnostic tool.
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Johns Hopkins University / Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine / Microsoft

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