NC State alumnus Casey Boutwell and his startup company NIRSleep recently won $25,000 in funding as one of six first-place winners of the 2019 Lulu eGames — NC State’s annual startup competition, made possible by publishing company Lulu.com.
NIRSleep and Boutwell took first place in The Daugherty Endowment Track of the competition, which is specifically for companies who’ve licensed NC State IP.
In addition to the $25,000 Boutwell received in the Daugherty Track, Joshua Pierce, an NC State chemistry professor and founder of Synoxa Sciences Inc., was awarded $15,000 for second place. Murthy Guddati, an NC State civil engineering professor and founder of INDTI, was awarded $10,000 for third place.
Boutwell earned his MBA from NC State in 2016 and worked for the ASSIST Center — one of two NSF Engineering Research Centers on NC State’s campus — from 2016 to 2018. From 2013 to 2016, Boutwell served as a licensing associate for what is now the Office of Research Commercialization.
“I would not be able to successfully commercialize this technology if it weren’t for the skills I acquired at NC State,” says Boutwell, CEO of NIRSleep. “NIRSleep’s success is predicated upon my experiences at NC State.”
NIRSleep is working to create an easy-to-use, wearable sensor that uses infrared light to noninvasively measure the oxygen concentration in a user’s brain. As the startup’s name suggests, the sensor is initially being developed to dramatically improve the ease of sleep monitoring. Current technology is not only cumbersome but often requires that the physician assessments be conducted in a clinic, which results in a much different experience than a person would have during a normal night’s rest.
“With NIRSleep we can monitor patients in a remote setting, such as in the comfort of their home,” Boutwell says. “Extending care beyond the clinic will transform sleep disorder diagnosis, and help millions of Americans recover and perform better.”
The NC State patent NIRSleep licensed focuses on sleep applications and describes a new technique to noninvasively monitor brain activity.
But there are also a number of other potential health applications, including monitoring patients with critical brain injuries for cerebral hypoxia — a lack of oxygen to the brain — while whizzing through the air miles above sea level during aeromedical transport.
The IP behind NIRSleep’s technology was developed through a research project funded by an NIH grant to NC State. NIRSleep exclusively licensed worldwide commercial rights in all fields of use to the associated IP from NC State in 2018 — facilitated by a licensing associate in the Office of Research Commercialization.
Second-place winner Synoxa Sciences Inc. is working to develop small molecule antibiotics that are effective against multidrug-resistant, life-threatening bacterial infections.
Third-place winner INDTI is developing a new technology to help ensure the safety of aging bridge infrastructure.
The Richard L. and Marlene V. Daugherty Centennial Campus Entrepreneurialism Endowment (Daugherty Endowment) was established in 2008 to fund early-stage companies. The Daugherty Endowment has invested over $350,000 in 36 companies — nearly two-thirds of which remain in business today — and two research projects.
The Daugherty Endowment has been a contributing partner of the Lulu eGames since its 2016 launch, with the primary goal being to increase the success of startup companies based on NC State IP. The Daugherty Endowment Track is open to officially registered startup companies who’ve licensed NC State intellectual property in the past three years — meaning their licenses must be currently active. The funds allocated to winning companies can be used for critical early-stage business expenses.
The Daugherty Endowment Track at the Lulu eGames is made possible by a partnership with the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science.
“The Daugherty Endowment is an important element of NC State’s commitment to supporting startup companies,” says Raj Narayan, associate director of the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science.
“The Endowment reflects Dick Daugherty’s long-term vision to enable the acceleration of successful startups based on promising NC State inventions. This is a partnership focused on helping very early stage companies make progress as they implement their business development complementary to their research innovation. These companies are developing products that will have a positive impact and touch the lives of many, well into the future. It is a wonderful example of NC State’s ‘Think and Do’ strategy.”