Scientific and technological research combined with a creative idea and entrepreneurship leads to projects that improve the living conditions of the world population. This statement was made by experts at Singularity University, located in Silicon Valley, at the technological innovation centre of California, USA. That statement was the result of what experts at that University noticed when they learnt about the project conducted by Nadim Morhell, Darío Antonio and Hernán Pastoriza; three Argentine scientists who developed a micro device to measure blood viscosity with only one drop.
Blood viscosity in newborn babies is a syndrome present in some at-risk populations that hinders blood circulation in the first months of life. An early diagnosis can avoid several complications such as death of bowel tissue, kidney failures, convulsions, and strokes. Due to its potential capacity to prevent a world health problem and its innovative character, the start-up project conducted by the above mentioned researchers was selected among other 400 initiatives from the entire world to be part of the acceleration programme of emergent companies of Singularity University.
The Blood Microviscometer project has been technically developed and gained recognition. In 2014, it was awarded the EMPRETECNO prize given by the National Agency for Scientific and Technological Promotion through the Fondo Argentino Sectorial (FONARSEC). With these funds the researchers created the MZP technology based company that provides innovative solutions based on micro and nanotechnology for biomedical applications.
Hernán Pastoriza, who recently arrived from Silicon Valley, is a CONICET principal researcher at the National Commission for Atomic Energy and at the Balseiro Institute (Bariloche, Río Negro). He shared the most significant aspects of his experience at Singularity University, a non-conventional university globally recognized for its innovation and creativity that emerge from its programmes.
How were you received at the University?
We had a great assessment, better than expected. The experts that trained us affirmed that our technology can have global impact.
In which sense can your start-up have global impact?
The project was conceived after the concrete need to diagnose and monitor the blood hyperviscosity syndrome in premature babies but the device can be used for other applications. The most important one is that it can be used as a cardiovascular risk indicator for the population and that is why it can have global impact.
How was your stay at Silicon Valley?
The programme included a series of talks and workshops about the impact of new technologies in global problems, business organization, ways of developing a business plan for investors, among other topics related to the business world. Great emphasis was placed on the workshops about the communication of projects, that is to say how to transmit an idea to different audiences. We met mentors, entrepreneurs and investors; and there was a space for each of the participants where we could work with our project to improve it and practise what we had learnt. It was a really formative experience.
Which was the most relevant aspect of the training at Singularity University?
I think it was the global learning. Apart from the links and the contacts we obtained, which were really valuable, we learnt that the development of a company has to be comprehensive and should include three aspects to succeed: the technical-technological and the communicational aspect and the marketing, that is to say the analysis of the market. These three variables should coordinate because the possibility of failure increases. The idea can be brilliant but if we cannot communicate it effectively, the project can fail. The same happens with the other two variables.
Is this technology used in hospitals in Bariloche?
Despite having performed the pre-clinical trials, the device is not yet used. In fact, we are conducting these studies to begin with the clinical phase.
Are you expecting to make a leap forward with a more generalized use of the device?
Yes we are, totally. That was our objective since the creation of the MZP, which will be able to provide biomedical microtechnological solutions for prevention, monitoring and clinical diagnosis. We had some technical problems with the production of microfluidic chip – part of the device – which we designed in our laboratory and sent to Europe to be produced. This delayed the manufacturing process on a larger scale. We aim to be able to produce them ourselves with our own equipment so as not to depend on foreign suppliers.
Have you ever imagined being in this phase?
No, I have never imagined being able to participate in an experience of this type in Silicon Valley. I have always been interested in knowledge transfer from the laboratory to the society and how that can contribute to build a better society. One of the transfer mechanisms, not the only one certainly, is the creation of technology based companies. Those scientists and technologists who choose this path need to know that it entails being involved in several aspects different from those that we are used to deal with and trained for, so for this reason our startup accelerator at Singularity University has been enriching for the whole team.
About Singularity University
The structure, dynamic and philosophy of Singularity University (SU) are totally different from a traditional university. Created in 2008, in the NASA campus in Silicon Valley, this institution offers short term educational programmes, innovative partnerships, and initiatives accelerators to help individuals, people, companies, institutions, NGOs and governments to understand avant-garde technologies and how to use them to impact positively on millions of people.
At SU there are not courses of studies, people are provided with tools based on innovative technologies such as biotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence and neuroscience so as to face the great challenges of humanity, which are education, energy, the environment, food, health, poverty, security, the space and water.
It is considered as one of the most prestigious academic institution in the world in terms of innovation and creativity due to its more than 100 new companies, patents and ideas that emerged from it.
By Ingrid Lucero Parada