Aadeel Akhtar wants to do more than offer a static prosthetic limb to amputees. He wants to restore feeling in lost limbs.

His startup Psyonic, is working on creating low-cost prosthetic hands that offer sensory feedback, allowing users to not only utilize a prosthetic, but restore feeling and control in the limb they lost. Last year the MD/PhD student’s startup won the Cozad New Venture Competition, and this year Akhtar (pictured above, holding check) was given the Illinois Innovation Award for his work, an $18,000 prize he will use to get the prototype to market.

“The amount of progress we have made with these prosthetic devices just within two years is insane,” he said after receiving the award. “And here’s the thing: this is just the beginning, right? This is just the beginning of innovation, we’re going to make these prostheses even better and deploy them all over the world.”

Akhtar, who is wrapping up his PhD in neuroscience in addition to obtaining a medical degree (he previously studied biology and computer science at Loyola University Chicago), cofounded Psyonic along with mechanical engineering student Patrick Slade with the aim of creating a high-tech, low-cost prosthetic. The Psyonic prosthetic, which is currently just a hand prototype, allows users to control the hand through muscle movements and receive sensory feedback from the prosthetic. Akhtar told the News-Gazette it currently costs $270 to produce, but they working on more robust models that can improve function.

He told Chicago Inno he will shift to working on Psyonic full time, and the prize money will go toward this transition and developing the prototype. Their goal is to send a prototype to Ecuador this summer, where a patient can test the product without intervention from the startup. His goal is to get it to mass market by next spring.

Akhtar added that the resources and entrepreneurship support at UIUC helped pave the path to Psyonic’s success.

“I’m just grateful that we have the opportunity to build a startup, so I can realize this dream of getting these hands out to people,” he said.

Two other students were each given $1,000 runner-up awards for their work:

  • Mayank Kale, a junior computer science student and founder of Invoq, a startup that provides a healthcare information management platform for community health NGOs in India and Africa.
  • Matthew Alonso: an agricultural engineering PhD student developing a portable solar thermal energy storage system without fuel, fire or emissions.

The Illinois Innovation Award is given to the most innovative student on campus. The Technology Entrepreneur Center, which offers the award, says the candidates demonstrate they are: “a creative and passionate innovator, working with world changing technology, entrepreneurially minded, and a role model for others.”