WSU student startup with global health impact wins again

By Alyssa Patrick, Economic Development

Engage-teamSEATTLE – The Washington State University student startup company Engage earned $10,000 and a top prize at the University of Washington Business Plan Competition last week.

“The women behind the company have put a ton of work into a product that could have a strong global impact,” said Marie Mayes, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at WSU. She is a co-professor of the interdisciplinary capstone class where undergraduate bioengineers Emily Willard and Katherine Brandenstein launched the company.

Simple needle sterilization solution

They are developing a simple needle decontamination solution that could save millions of lives in developing countries.

According to the World Health Organization, almost 7 billion of the 16 billion injections administered in developing countries are contaminated. A scarcity of proper medical supplies leads to needle reuse, and those contaminated needles spread disease from patient to patient.

To combat this problem in a cost-effective way, Willard and Brandenstein developed SafeShot, a non-removable cap that attaches to multi-dose medicine vials and sterilizes needles as they enter. SafeShot’s liquid stops the spread of common contaminates such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.

Award-winning health innovation

Brandenstein, left, and Willard at last week’s competition. (Photo by Matt Hagen, UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship)

In the past three months, Engage also earned first place in the inaugural UW Health Innovation Challenge and first place in the WSU Business Plan Competition, giving them a total of $35,000 to continue development of their innovation.

The UW Business Plan Competition involved the most rigorous process, starting in March with 96 teams that were refined to a Sweet 16 in early May and wrapping up with the Final Four last week. Engage received $5,000 for a fourth place win and another $5,000 for the WinWin prize for a company whose product creates a win-win-win in the private, public and social sectors.

Expanding funding, sharing success

Through these competitions, Willard and Brandenstein have made connections with Life Science Washington, the UW Incubator Space and PATH global health nonprofit that will help them move into the next stages of development.

In the fall, a portion of the award money will go to acquiring the lab space and equipment they need to continue developing and testing SafeShot. Willard and Brandenstein will also apply for federal Small Business Innovation Research funding and UW’s Accelerator program over the summer.

In addition, they have already designated a portion of their winnings to go toward nonprofits, incorporating social responsibility from day one.

“We want to encourage more young girls to be involved in STEM programs,” Willard said.

Their first donation went to Girl Scouts of Western Washington, and they will continue seeking out nonprofits with similar missions.

Read more about the UW Business Plan Competition winners at