Notre Dame start-up wins awards at world’s richest student business plan competition

Author: Arnie Phifer

Enlightened Diagnostics, a start-up company run by students from the University of Notre Dame, won three prizes and $19,000 at the 2015 Rice Business Plan Competition, the largest and richest competition of its kind in the world.

From among 42 teams from the U.S., Europe, and Asia invited to Rice University in Houston, Texas, Enlightened Diagnostics received awards for the quality of its presentations and the promise of the company’s novel 3D tumor imaging platform to radically improve cancer diagnostics in the future.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our team members, who have worked incredibly hard since last August on launching this company,” said Megan Usovsky, a master’s degree student in Notre Dame’s Patent Law program.

“It’s especially exciting to win the Women’s Health and Wellness Innovation Prize and meet its sponsors, Sandi Heysinger and Dick Williams, with whom we share a strong commitment to fighting breast cancer.”

The company’s technology allows doctors a first-ever look in three dimensions at the molecular structure of tumors and surrounding tissues. In contrast to the current approach to analyzing biopsy samples, which is to slice them into extremely thin sections, the platform keeps the samples whole and intact.

“In terms of the amount of information this provides clinicians, it’s similar to the leap from two-dimensional X-rays to CT scans,” added Christopher Cali, a student in Notre Dame’s ESTEEM program.

“The 3D and spatial data we give doctors reduces misdiagnoses and helps them design more precise, personalized treatment plans for patients.”

The technology was developed and continues to be refined by the company’s three founders, all of whom are Notre Dame faculty members: David Hoelzle, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering; Jeremiah Zartman, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and Siyuan Zhang, Department of Biological Sciences and the Harper Cancer Research Institute. To-date, their research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, Notre Dame’s Advanced Diagnostics & Therapeutics initiative, and others.

In February, the leadership of Enlightened Diagnostics, which also includes Victoria Zellmer (a Ph.D. student in the Zhang lab), Scott Manwaring (an MBA student at the Mendoza College of Business), and Colin O’Toole (who is completing an MS in Accountancy degree, also at Mendoza), won second place at the University of Louisville’s Cardinal Challenge. On April 16, they pulled off the feat of presenting in the morning at Notre Dame’s own McCloskey Business Plan Competition in South Bend, Indiana, then rushing to catch flights to Houston to join the Rice event that afternoon.

“I’ve seen few teams with this kind of spirit, cohesion, and drive,” remarked the group’s lead advisor Gaylene Anderson, Cleveland Clinic Innovations manager at Notre Dame, who herself was recently recognized as Notre Dame’s “Mentor of the Year” for guiding faculty and students through the commercialization process.

“They’ve learned from each experience and are constantly improving. It bodes well for the future of the company.”

Enlightened Diagnostics is talking now to investors about funding to support final device optimization, clinical testing that is needed to achieve CLIA certification and FDA approval, and establishment of its Phase 1 sales force.

Contact: Gaylene Anderson, Senior Innovations Officer, Cleveland Clinic Innovations,, 216-956-9005

Photo credits: (1) Enlightened Diagnostics and (2) ShauLin Hon

Originally published by Arnie Phifer at on April 23, 2015.