CIE Fund Names Five Startups as Finalists for Spring Competition

The $20 million fund awarded a total of $550,000 to three teams in the last round.

By Ben Andrew

On March 28, a $20 million investment fund managed by the Chicago Innovation Exchange (CIE) announced that it has selected five projects affiliated with the University to advance to the final round of its spring competition.

The Chicago Innovation Fund invests in startup ventures affiliated with the University twice per year, but it does not have a set number of projects it must select or a set amount of money that it must reward. During the previous round, the fund awarded a total of $550,000 to three different teams.

Current faculty, staff, and students at the University of Chicago and its affiliates, which include the Argonne National Laboratory, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and the Marine Biological Laboratory, are all eligible to apply for funding.

During the final round of the competition, which will take place on June 1, each team will pitch its project to a panel of angel investors, venture capitalists, scientists, and entrepreneurs. The panel considers applications from emerging companies working to commercialize their research, and it places emphasis on funding projects that could have high social impact.

The finalists are BallotReady, Beige Therapeutics, Minimally Invasive Electron Radiation Therapy (MIERT), Rhetzsky Language Science, and Nucleic Acid Detection.

BallotReady is an online voter guide experimenting with using automated data collection to help people research local, state, and national elections. It is run by CEO Alex Niemczewski (A.B. ’09) and COO Aviva Rosman, a graduate student at the Harris School of Public Policy.

Beige Therapeutics’ project is a technology for treating obesity by altering cellular functioning to increase energy use and metabolic activity. Beige Therapeutics is run by Ronald Cohen, associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, Eric Brey, professor of biomedical engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), and Marcella Vaicik, a graduate student at IIT.

MIERT is a technique for treating cancers that are difficult to treat with X-rays by transmitting a high-energy beam of electrons into a tumor. The project is run by John Noonan, Terry Smith, and Dean Walters, all of Argonne National Laboratory.

Rzhetsky Language Science is developing “text filters,” mathematical representations of large bodies of text that capture the natural relationships between words. The founders believe that this technology could be especially helpful for non-native English speakers. The project is run by Andrey Rzhetsky, professor of medicine and human genetics at the University of Chicago, Nancy Harvey, executive-in-residence at UChicagoTech, and Schoeller Porter, project lead.

Nucleic Acid Detection has developed a mobile, high-efficiency device to quickly generate heat using nanotechnology, which could have applications in fields from DNA sequencing to food production. Nucleic Acid Detection is led by Yossi Weizmann, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago, and postdoctoral students Dr. Zoya Cheglakov and Dr. Jung-Hoon Lee.

To get to this stage of the competition, all the projects had to submit a short written application. The applications were judged by fund associates, including University of Chicago undergraduate and graduate students. All the applicants also received feedback from business development experts associated with the fund.

The fund will announce its decisions after the final round of the competition on June 1.