By Bill Bruton
Published May 10, 2023
Entrepreneurship is alive and well among medical students at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Medical students in the Class of 2023 were founders or co-founders of three of the six finalists in the 23rd Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition that took place April 25 at UB’s Center for the Arts.
Kristen Kelly’s company, Totelly Lined, was voted the People’s Choice award, which earned the company $1,000. Others in the company are her sister-in-law, Sara DiBernardo; her brother, Patrick Kelly; and Natalia Verde.
The company produces adhesive, thermoplastic polyurethane liners to protect the interior of luxury handbags.
“I buy and resell handbags as a hobby. Earlier this year I had resold one, but because of damage to the interior, it lost a lot of the resale value,” Kelly said. “I was frustrated. I started thinking of ways to protect them in the future. In looking for liners — and after a lot of research — I found out that one didn’t exist. So, I just started drawing out sketches.”
Blackstone LaunchPad, an experiential UB program designed to introduce entrepreneurship as a viable career path, helped her get Totelly Lined off the ground.
“They were super supportive. They connected me with the laser-cutting lab and a venture coach, and they got me to apply to the Panasci Competition. It all took off from there,” said Kelly, who started her venture in November 2022. “Then I recruited my family and friends to help me.”
Kelly took her last medical school exam an hour before the competition, in preparation for graduation three days later.
“It’s surreal. It happened so fast. I’m trying to take it all in,” said Kelly, who starts her residency in adult neurology at UB this summer.
Grant Parrelli founded Professionally Proud, a clothing line geared toward LGBTQ+ medical professionals and their allies, in July 2022.
“This competition has pushed my business knowledge and skills to its limits and beyond. It requires a lot of detail and thought to get to this stage,” Parrelli said. “I’ve learned a lot about executive summaries, financial projections and other things I’ve never really thought about. I’ve learned amazing things to take away from this.”
The Panasci event emphasizes the technological aspects of business.
“I wanted to create an online directory of individuals or providers that identify or are allies along with a certification program that would educate them on specific LGBTQ+ issues. In that way, when they interact with patients, they’re far more comfortable and knowledgeable about how to approach them,” Parrelli said. “It just creates a better environment for everybody. In turn, more LGBTQ individuals will access health care.”
Like the other Jacobs School students in the competition, it was a whirlwind week for Parrelli.
“It was funny, when I found out this was happening the same week as graduation — in the same place where we’re graduating. This would be the most time I’ve spent at the CFA throughout my entire UB career, and all in one week,” said Parrelli, who starts his residency in emergency medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis this summer. “It’s been super exciting. It’s obviously been a bit of a time crunch to get it all figured out, but it makes for a very exciting week, no question about it.”
Nina Valenzuela is one of the co-founders of Liminal, a device that provides users with an easy, effective way to quit vaping using cognitive behavioral therapy, gamification and other proven addiction cessation methods.
“We’re trying to help end the vaping epidemic. There are currently more than 11 million adults and kids who are addicted to vaping, and we are trying to solve that problem,” Valenzuela said.
Her company has partnered with an engineer who has already developed a prototype for a vaporizer attachment to quantify people’s vaping habits.
“There is a sensor that can tell whether or not a vape is being used, and any time somebody takes a puff, it can track it,” Valenzuela said.
“For people who really want to quit, we have developed this device that pairs with their phone. The application will capture all of the data that the device is importing, and they’re actually able to see how much they’ve been vaping, where they’ve been vaping, and essentially understand what their behaviors are,” she said. “It will be paired with AI software that can tell you the next steps in quitting your vaping habits. There will also be opportunities to connect to other users who are trying to quit, compete with them, and create a community. We wanted to include plenty of motivators to keep people on track, because quitting nicotine is difficult.”
In addition to earning her medical degree, Valenzuela is finishing up work on her MBA. After that, she starts her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, New Jersey, in July.
“This is not something I pictured myself doing at all. When I first entered the MD/MBA program, I just wanted to learn more about how the health care system works,” she said.
“When it came to entrepreneurship, it was this pleasant surprise. Liminal was an idea I thought of during a health care innovations course, and we’ve continued to develop it beyond the classroom,” Valenzuela said. “At the core of this course was to look at your surroundings for problems, and then use both creativity and research to find solutions.”
It was the company’s second time in the competition but first time in the finals.
“We made great connections, met other entrepreneurs with wonderful ideas, and received plenty of support from people who believed in our work,” Valenzuela said.
RHM Innovations Inc., a durable medical equipment manufacturer that develops assistive bathing technologies to reduce strain on caregivers and improve shower quality for recipients, finished first in the competition. It was the third time in the finals for RHM; the company finished second a year ago.
The company founders will receive $25,000 in startup capital and in-kind services valued at $40,000. The company is led by Courtney (CJ) Burris, a UB doctoral student in industrial systems and engineering, and Brandon Davis Burris, a University of Rochester doctoral student in biochemistry and molecular biology.
In second place were Dominic LaVigne, a mechanical engineering student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Daniel Chan, a business student in the School of Management. The team will collect $10,000 for Exergi, a company dedicated to the innovation and production of affordable clean energy products.