EL PASO, Texas -- A team of medical students at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) is one of 11 winners of the international Space Race competition. More than 300 individuals from across the globe entered the entrepreneurial challenge. The Space Race is a multi-phase business plan competition that helps launch innovative start-up companies, while encouraging the adoption of NASA technologies.
"I thought the TTUHSC El Paso team proposed the most innovative use of any of the technologies in the entire challenge, and their development efforts went well beyond what is typically seen in a business plan competition," says Jeff Fuchsberg, director of innovation projects at the Medical Center of the Americas, who was one of the judges in the competition.
As winners of the Space Race, the students will now license a promising NASA technology -- bypassing up-front licensing fees -- to create their own spin-off company. They'll also receive $2,500 to back their start-up venture.
For the competition, the TTUHSC El Paso team created a business plan for its company Minus Tau. The company is based on smart helmet technology that can help diagnose concussions in football players.
"Concussions that go undiagnosed are a huge health problem, especially for football players," says Derrick Oaxaca, second-year med student and team captain. "It is very common for athletes to remain in the game after experiencing concussion-like symptoms, receiving more impacts to the head -- and that is when the brain becomes significantly damaged."
The medical students -- who have backgrounds in physics, psychology and even engineering -- selected NASA's "self-aware," or intelligent wiring system to address the problem. The wires instantly detect damage or defects and pinpoint the location of the problem.
"In space, the technology can tell astronauts exactly where a rock or meteor impact occurred on a spacecraft so that they can address the problem right away," Oaxaca explains. Those capabilities were translated to helmet impact sensors for the Space Race, but the group also patented its own unique technology for the challenge.
In October, the team pitched its business and prototype to a panel of Space Race judges, which included officials from NASA and successful entrepreneurs and business leaders from throughout the world.
With seed funding from their Space Race winnings, the students will now incorporate Minus Tau, seek additional funding from investors to raise venture capital, and move forward with the licensing and development process.
"We are extremely excited and eager to get this helmet technology out into the market so that we can begin having an impact on the treatment of concussions," says Oaxaca. "I have been fortunate to be a leader of an outstanding team; this accomplishment could not have been done without them."
Additional winners of the Space Race included teams from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Rochester.
The Minus Tau smart helmet team is made up of Oaxaca and second-year TTUHSC El Paso medical students Tyler Trevino, Justin Thomas and Sovanarak Lek, as well as Toriell Simon, an undergraduate business student at The University of Texas at El Paso. In the future, the students anticipate that the technology will also be applicable to military and motorcycle helmets.
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