Vaxess Technologies’ goal is simple: To increase global vaccine access, all while supporting rural, low-income farmers. Yet, what that “simple” goal is now, is a $70,000 idea.
Harvard President Drew Faust announced the launch of the “President’s Challenge” in February, tasking the Harvard community with submitting entrepreneurial responses to five complex global issues: Clean water, personal health, empowering education, global health and clean air. After picking 10 semi-finalists, the University’s just named Vaxess Technologies the first place winner.
While Livio Valenti was working for the United Nations in Cambodia, Tufts University professor Fiorenzo Omenetto was developing technology that stabilizes vaccines using silk protein. What Omenetto discovered was the silk matrix provides greater stability, eliminating the need for cold-chain transport.
Upon entering Harvard, Valenti took a Commercializing Science course. It was there he shared Omenetto’s story, along with his experience in Cambodia to the rest of the class. It didn’t take long for his peers to rally around the idea and, four months later, the core group of team members — Valenti, Michael Schrader, Kathryn Kosuda and Patrick Ho — were seeking to commercialize the technology, which would both lower the cost of distribution and storage for all vaccines.
“Vaxess Technologies is an inspiring example of the type of interdisciplinary collaboration that thrives at the Harvard Innovation Lab,” said President Faust in a press release. “By bringing together individuals with skills in business, government, law, science and technology, the team has developed a promising approach to increase access to lifesaving vaccines in developing countries.”
Vaxess was recently a semi-finalist for the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, won Harvard’s Business Plan Contest and was just named one of the 2012 MassChallenge finalists. “We have amazing momentum right now,” Kosuda admitted in a recent interview.
Three other teams were also announced runner-ups and will each receive $10,000. They include: SPOUTS of Water, who’s looking to create a self-sustaining ceramic water filter factory in Uganda; Revolving Fund Pharmacy, a team tackling issues involving delivery of life-saving medications by creating a supply chain model for government health facilities in Kenya; and School Yourself, a company who proposes bringing books alive for a new generation of students accustomed to interactive games by creating immersive and interactive electronic textbooks in math and science for high school and college students.
Hosted through the Harvard Innovation Lab, the President’s Challenge was designed to highlight Harvard’s commitment to social entrepreneurship and cross-school initiatives. Along with $70,000, Vaxess will also be awarded with work space in the i-lab, as well as mentoring and other resources, through August 2012. Congratulations to Vaxess, and the rest of the semi-finalist teams!