Tulane PhD students win International Business Model Competition


Courtesy of Brigham Young University

Mei Wang (woman in the center) holding the trophy with her winning teammates David Tulman (center left) and Peter Lawson (center right).

A team of Tulane graduate students from the School of Science and Engineering won the International Business Model Competition along with a $30,000 prize. 

David Tulman, Peter Lawson and Mei Wang, representing Instapath Bioptics, are doctoral students in the bioinnovation program, which combines biomedical engineering and entrepreneurship. 

“The idea is that not only do we do research in the lab, but we also focus on then commercializing that research and translating it in the market,” Tulman said.

The team’s model triumphed over the plans of 40 other teams, including teams from Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University.

The team created an imaging product that diagnoses patients more efficiently through biopsy. The technology outlined in the plan evaluates potentially cancerous tissue cells in a quicker and more accurate way, improving upon the current technology while also providing a starting point for replacing it.

“Ultimately, our technology could be a replacement for the way that biopsies are evaluated,” Tulman said. “But it is going to take a lot more scientific and technical work to get there. … We’re not replacing the way pathologists make the final diagnosis, but we’re providing them a way to ensure that they’re going to have the quality biopsy tissue or the quality surgical tissue needed to make that final diagnosis.”

The team began by implementing the lean startup business model, which involves structuring the business and the product around the target market while keeping costs low. To create a business model canvas, the students traveled the country interviewing potential customers. The team used this model for the Business Model Competition at the A.B. Freeman School of Business. The plan placed second, so they were automatically entered into the International Business Model Competition and competed against teams from all over the world.

Working in a team allowed the contestants to combine their areas of expertise to reach their goal.

“Pete is very strong in computer science and biology,” Tulman said. “Mai, who’s another cofounder, … has a very strong background in biomedical engineering, hardware and device development, and I come in with a strong biology background and a clinical applications background.”

Tulman and Lawson credit their success in part to Tulane. The university’s bioinnovation program gives students time to go out of the lab to compete and network.

“We get a lot of support from our program and within our program, so not only do they promote this kind of entrepreneurship path, but they fund us going to the competition,” Lawson said. “So they’re actually incentivizing us to do the footwork.”

According to Tulman, interdisciplinary research opportunities are available for all students at Tulane who are willing to work hard and start looking for opportunities early.

“Tulane students that are interested in research should get involved early because it takes a lot of time to become independent in research,” Tulman said.

Tulman also recommends that students interested in research have a strong team, find a good advisor and maintain a great interest in the project.

Lawson said he believes students need to be assertive to make the most out of the research opportunities on campus.

“If you don’t stick your head out and make people aware that you’re there and you’re interested and you want to get involved, it’s not going to happen,” Lawson said.

Nicholas J. Altiero, former dean of the School of Science and Engineering, cited teamwork as a key to success for research students. 

“They should seek to create teams of students who can contribute their respective skills, such as new technologies, design, marketing, management and so on,” Altiero said.

The team hopes to use the prize money to raise funds to put their winning plan into action.

“The next steps at Instapath are to raise money, to finalize the development of our technology and ensure that it is clinically ready,” Tulman said.

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