Cancer detection test takes grand prize in Notre Dame business plan competition

Author: Carol Elliott

McCloskey Competition 2013-2014

NanDio team for McCloskey Business Competition
NanDio team

A team with a business plan for a simple test that detects oral cancer took the grand prize of $25,000 Friday (April 11) in the Mendoza College of Business’ 15th McCloskey Business Plan Competition at the University of Notre Dame. NanDio competed against five other teams in the final round of the competition, which was sponsored by the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship at Mendoza. The competition awarded $300,000 in cash and prizes.

“NanDio’s excellent business plan certainly reflects the prestige of our competition and the outstanding work of our students. But, more important, this technology promises to save lives,” said Karen Slaggert, associate director of the Gigot Center. “While NanDio’s business plan stood out, it was very difficult to choose a winner this year as it is each year. There were a variety of presentations and all were outstanding.”

Slaggert noted the competition drew 450 participants this year, the largest number of entrants in the competition’s history. Judges and organizers were also impressed by the number of teams that featured combinations of current students and alumni. All teams in the competition must include at least one Notre Dame full-time student, alumnus/alumna or faculty member. Plans must be for ventures that have not launched or are in the early stages of operations.

NanDio seeks to commercialize technology that allows dentists to test for early detection of HPV oral cancer during a patient’s visit. The lab-on-a-chip device detects RNA changes in saliva that indicate cancer before symptoms appear. The technology promises to improve odds of survival by up to 90 percent.

NanDio is composed of Benjamin Miller, Class of 2014; Ryan Huhn ’15; Patrick Riley ’14; Marcy Kreimier ’14; Patrick Rice ’14; and Sharon Stack, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and the Ann F. Dunne and Elizabeth Riley director of the Mike and Josie Harper Cancer Research Institute at Notre Dame.

Along with adviser Gaylene Anderson, senior commercialization officer at the Cleveland Clinic, the NanDio team focused its efforts on biomarkers and a novel membrane sensor technology. The biomarkers were developed at the Harper Institute by Stack and graduate student Ben Miller. The membrane sensor was developed by Zdenek Slouka, a postdoctoral associate in Notre Dame’s Center for Microfluidics and Medical Diagnostics (CMMD); Satyajyoti Senapati, a research professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and Hsueh-Chia Chang, the Bayer Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and director of the CMMD. Chang and Senapati are members of the Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics Initiative at Notre Dame. The research was supported by a Walther Cancer Foundation grant to professors Chang and Stack.

The McCloskey victory is the second competition win for NanDio, which took top honors at the Brown-Fourman Cardinal Challenge sponsored by and held at the University of Louisville’s College of Business in February. The team also was selected to participate in the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition in Houston on April 11. The team’s presentation at Mendoza’s Jordan Auditorium was shown through video.

The runner-up of the McCloskey competition and winner of $5,000 was Preferral, a digital patient referral and pre-screening service for health care organizations.

The Klau Family Prize for Greatest Social Impact ($15,000) was awarded to Reading for Life, which reduces juvenile recidivism and illiteracy through great stories and classic virtues. The venture also won $1,000 for the Vogel Family Prize for Best Venture Fair Pitch.

The Sutherland Family Award for Best Presentation ($5,000) went to SPOUTS of Water, a nonprofit venture aimed at providing an ongoing source of clean water in Uganda.

Other finalists were Cocoon Biotech, which seeks to advance the treatment of osteoarthritis through silk technology, and Global Green Logistics, a recycling operation in Panama City.

The McCloskey competition consists of four rounds over nine months. A total of 149 teams entered the competition in the fall. In December, 111 teams were invited to continue and write their business plans. Twelve semifinalists were invited to present to a panel of judges on Thursday (April 10). The judges narrowed the field to the six teams for the final round of live presentations.

Slaggert said 234 judges and mentors participated in this year’s contest. During the process, the Gigot Center provided significant resources, including an entrepreneurial toolkit of software, mentoring, networking and feedback.

The Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship was founded in 1998 for the purpose of fostering innovation and infusing aspiring entrepreneurs with a sense of the possible. Through rigorous coursework, business plan competitions, extensive networking and mentorship and hands-on learning experiences, the center provides students with the knowledge and skills vital to entrepreneurship.

For more information about the Gigot Center, visit

Contact: Christine Cox, Mendoza College of Business, 574-631-5277,

Originally published by Carol Elliott at on April 14, 2014.