Bioengineering team takes second place at SLU "Real" Elevator Pitch Competition


Stephany Guerrero

The victorious TAP team included from left to right: Stephanie Slania, Asha Kirchoff, Ravi Chandra Yada, Malika Modak, Divya Tankasala and Amelia Johnson
The victorious TAP team included from left to right: Stephanie Slania, Asha Kirchoff, Ravi Chandra Yada, Malika Modak, Divya Tankasala and Amelia Johnson
The SLU “Real” Elevator Pitch competition is a frenzied day in St. Louis for college students to pitch their ideas to investors. Imagine stepping into an elevator and being face-to-face with the investor that could propel your idea forward. It’s the classic elevator pitch scenario.The SLU competition is especially popular for incorporating the elevator into their competition by placing students and judges together on 12 moving elevators for 35 seconds on each. This is where startup ideas get the real-world test.

It’s an electrifying event, and just this last December, a University of Illinois team won second place in the overall competition for Tube Access Point (TAP). TAP is a design system that will centralize IV lines in order to prevent IV misconnections and disconnections due to tangling, which can lead to fatal consequences for the patient.

Malika Modak made the pitch for the team that included Asha Kirchoff, Divya Tankasala, Amelia Johnson, Stephanie Slania and Ravi Chandra Yada.Each elevator had a variety of judges from entrepreneurial backgrounds. The judges each had 10 business cards to selectively give out to their preferred contestants.Modak ended up with 24 cards from supportive entrepreneurs.

“I was personally just happy we made it to the final three. I hadn’t expected to make it to the end. We were hoping to make our advisors proud. There really wasn’t time to be nervous,” said Modak.

The final round took place in a Tesla car with a celebrity judge. Modak had one minute to pitch TAP. A Tesla representative and the celebrity judge ranked the pitches and TAP won 2nd place.

Check out the team’s SLU entry video here.

The Idea

TAP started as a design project for the junior-year students back during spring semester in 2014. The assignment was to research unmet clinical needs where flaws were obstructing efficiency for physicians. The team soon learned about the fatal consequences of IV misconnections.

“In the ICU a patient’s average is 5-7 IV’S at once. And that’s not including heart wires or anything else that is electric. So you look at the patient and they are just covered,” said Slania.Therefore tangling of the IV lines restricts mobility and traceability, which can lead to errors in IV connections.

“Our device focuses on centralizing. The organization is near the patient instead of up at the bag,” Slania added.

The team developed the prototype in class. Their advisor, Dr.  Jennifer Amos, encouraged them to enter the Coulter College Competition in Florida in the summer of 2014, an event focused on biomedical innovation. Of all the teams that applied, 19 were selected to compete. It was a learning experience as well. The students talked to physicians and nurses at various hospitals and found that a standard solution was needed for IV tangling.

“When we were preparing for the Coulter Competition we were in an operating room setting and we saw a baby transported from the operating table back to the incubator. It took about 5-10 minutes because it was tangled and one of the tubes was wrapped around. It was just a mess. It was time consuming and we were like ‘is this really an issue? That’s why we decided to tackle it,” said Slania.

The prototype the team presented at the Coulter competition was in its very early stages, made from coffee can lids. They delivered an eight-minute pitch to all the venture capitalists and TAP finished first in the competition.

“There was a particular IV tangling news story that we included in our pitch. A pregnant mother’s feeding tube was incorrectly connected to her arm. That led to excruciating pain and her death and the death of her baby as well.  It led to a million dollar lawsuit. That is what we’re hoping to prevent, just anything like that,” said Yada.

3D Printing for the Win

The team came back to school and got to work on developing the device for improvements while also analyzing their design constraints.

“We thought our primary device would be used in an ICU. That varies drastically from what anyone in a regular hospital setting would encounter,” said Yada.

The team was able to create many iterations of their device because of low-cost 3D printing. It cost less that $5 per prototype at the IL Maker Lab.

“Our design creates a mechanical disjunct,” said Slania. “So if someone is tugging at a tube, it’s not going to be tugging at the IV. We hope that by having that hub closer to the patient we will prevent misconnections by making it visible where each line is going and what it’s providing, “ said Slania.

After a successful year, the team is gearing up to start trial testing at Jump Simulation for any flaws in the design. They are also applying for a patent and FDA testing. It’s a long process but they are in it for the long haul.

“We’ve had the talk,” said Slania. “We’re seniors, and we’re all passionate about this and want to continue working on it.”