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Galvanizing Brains to Launch Neuroscience Startups

November 26, 2014
We are looking for a few great brains to participate in the Neuro Startup Challenge, and we want you! If you are a Ph.D. student or a postdoctoral fellow interested making an impact on brain health and learning the business of science, consider teaming with a seasoned entrepreneur, MBA students, law school students, and business experts from all around the world to enter the Neuro Startup Challenge.  You will create a business plan, perform a “live pitch” to our esteemed panel of judges and have the chance to launch a startup around a promising National Institutes of Health (NIH) conceived and developed invention.

The Neuro Startup Challenge is centered on 16 neurological-related inventions from the following NIH Institutes: the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD); National Institute on Aging (NIA); the National Cancer Institute (NCI); the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA); and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which have commercial viability and are important to public health.  The primary goal of the challenge is to stimulate the creation of start-up businesses based upon these inventions. 

The second challenge of its kind involving NIH, the Neuro Startup Challenge was established by a collaboration formed by the NIH, The Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI) and Heritage Provider Network. We first created this type of challenge platform to advance federal licensable technologies in 2013 with the Breast Cancer Startup Challenge (BCSC), which was conceived through a partnership between CAI, the NIH’s National Cancer Institute, and the Avon Foundation for Women.  The primary goals of the BCSC were to accelerate the process of bringing emerging technologies for treating breast cancer to market and to stimulate the creation of start-up businesses around the inventions.

“We all have the common goal of ensuring that discoveries made at NIH are ‘translated’ when the scientific advances have the potential to benefit the public and have been well vetted,” said Walter J. Koroshetz, MD, Acting Director of the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

In July 2014, Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS), Sylvia Burwell, recognized the BCSC with a “Secretary’s Pick” award in the HHS Innovates competition, which celebrates inventive new ideas in support of the HHS mission. As a result of the BCSC, more than 270 challenge competitors received training, 10-breast cancer-related inventions are being advanced, and 11 startups were launched.

Given the promising results of the BCSC, we’re leveraging this model as a framework for future challenges, including the Neuro Startup Challenge.

“We are excited to harness the power of NIH’s innovations and assemble the best minds in the world in an effort to improve the standard of care for brain related injuries and disorders,” said Dr. Richard Merkin, Founder and CEO of Heritage Provider Network.

The business plans generated by the teams of Neuro Startup Challenge will be evaluated by a panel of judges that include world-renowned experts in brain research, venture capitalists, philanthropic leaders, large pharmaceutical company executives, seasoned entrepreneurs, the core challenge planning team and more.

A partial list of the judges and advisors includes:

  • Elaine V. Jones, Ph.D. , Executive Director of Pfizer

  • Jay Kranzler, MD, Ph.D. , Global Head of External R&D Innovation at Pfizer

  • Jason Kralic, Ph.D. , Head of Business Development for the Neurosciences Therapy Area Unit at GlaxoSmithKline

  • Henry Markram, Ph.D. , the director of Blue Brain Project and Human Brain Project

  • Michele Rhee, MBA, Director of Strategic Initiatives, National Brain Tumor Society

  • Henry Skinner, Ph.D. , managing director of Novartis Venture Funds, Reinhard Ambros, Ph.D. , head of  Novartis Venture Funds

  • Dave Ward, Mental Health and Family Services Executive, and Vice President of Wounded Warrior Project

  • David Hagedorn, Ph.D. , CEO and Founder of Evoke Neuroscience

  • Douglas Kerr, Senior Medical Director of Neurology Clinical Development, Biogen Idec

A complete list of our judges/advisors panel can be found here:

To date, 22 teams have been formally accepted into the challenge, and another 40 teams are working on their Letter of Intent. We’ve reached out potential participants from more than 400 universities, 25 countries, and 32 states, and hope to see all of them represented in the challenge. This is a fantastic opportunity to become an entrepreneur making an impact on advancing brain health, to learn the business of science, to become an entrepreneur, to have the opportunity to raise seed funding and win prize money. Entries are being accepted until December 12, 2014.

Please share your enthusiasm for this Challenge on our social media sites: Facebook  - "Neuro Start-up Challenge" and Twitter @NeuroStartups. Contact Rosemarie Truman for more information at or 202 438 2208.


Joseph M. Conrad III, Ph.D., J.D. Technology Transfer Specialist, Technology Transfer Center, National Cancer Institute 

Rosemarie Truman, Founder and CEO, The Center for Advancing Innovation, INC.