The University of Connecticut, in partnership with Connecticut Innovations (CI), and Webster Bank, today announced that two more early-stage companies have been awarded early-stage funding from the $2.25 million UConn Innovation Fund. Both companies are also part of UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) in Farmington. The state-of-the-art facility on the UConn Health campus provides lab and office space, in addition to business mentoring and connections to investors.
“We are excited to support these two promising UConn startups and provide them with critical early funding through the UConn Innovation Fund portfolio,” says Radenka Maric, vice president for research, innovation and entrepreneurship at UConn and UConn Health. “These startups are providing solutions to problems faced by our community, and UConn is committed to helping them advance their technologies and support economic development in the state.”
QRfertile LLC, a company borne from UConn’s School of Engineering, has developed a kit that allows customers to perform a male fertility test in the comfort of their own home. The company promises comprehensive results within 15 minutes of taking the test. The results are posted in the accompanying app and there is no need for lengthy lab testing. QRfertile’s test measures every important parameter, according to leading physicians. They also offer telemedicine so users can virtually connect with physicians. Users also get personalized lifestyle suggestions to improve their reproductive health.
UConn alum Reza Amin began working on this project in 2015 while a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering. Amin wanted to tackle real-world problems with his research, and male fertility fit the bill. One in six couples of reproductive age worldwide are affected at least once by some form of infertility, and male infertility contributes to about half of those cases, according to the WHO.
QRfertile has also received previous support from Bio Pipeline CT, Innovation Quest at UConn, the Third Bridge Grant Program, the Wolff New Venture Program, and CTNext EIA award. Having recently graduated from Digital Health CT’s accelerator, QRfertile believes they are on the fast track to disrupt the rigid field of men’s healthcare.
Savkar Inc., another promising UConn company, was launched by Amit Savkar, associate professor in residence in UConn’s Department of Mathematics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Much like Amin, Savkar developed his technology, Stemify, to address a problem he saw often as an instructor. His students, many of whom were pursuing degrees in STEM fields, were struggling with math.
“The challenges these students face aren’t minor. They are significant enough to cause students to withdraw from courses and potentially abandon STEM majors all together,” says Savkar. “With support from UConn and an experienced business partner, we’ve created an enterprise software platform to give students personalized, interactive online instruction-as-a-service; and predictive performance analytics to help students succeed and better inform instructors.”
Stemify software identifies gaps in student knowledge that can be traced as far back as 9th grade algebra in real-time. Based on students’ responses—whether correct or incorrect—Stemify’s algorithm generates personalized study plans that address specific areas of difficulty to keep students from falling behind, withdrawing, or failing out of math courses that are foundational for all STEM disciplines. UConn replaced traditional remediation software with the beta version of Stemify in 2016 and has seen double digit drops in failure rates. Switching to the homegrown Stemify platform has also saved the university thousands of dollars a year. Savkar Inc. currently has several universities and community colleges in the final stages of their sales pipeline and hopes to expand the technology for use with younger students in the future.
Established to provide financial support to advance the commercialization of UConn research and startups affiliated with UConn, the UConn Innovation Fund generally provides investments of up to $100,000 to companies founded by students, faculty members, alumni of the university, and companies in UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) with an in-state business startup tied to research advanced technologies or innovations developed at UConn. Including QRfertile and Savkar, 14 companies have now received funding commitments totaling $1.4 million since the fund’s inception in 2016.
“Early-stage companies face a number of obstacles and can benefit greatly from the type of funding provided through the UConn Innovation Fund,” says Matt McCooe, CEO of Connecticut Innovations. “QRfertile and Savkar are well deserving of this award, and we look forward to continuing to support their growth and commercialization efforts.”
The UConn Innovation Fund serves as a critical early-stage investment for in-state business startups that will allow them to stay in Connecticut and grow. The fund’s investors review a company’s strength and existing resources, innovative technology, potential for commercialization and likelihood of obtaining additional external funding, among other factors. The 14 companies within the portfolio represent technologies and platforms across a multitude of industry sectors, including medical diagnostic testing, clean energy, education technology, cyber security, medical devices, cancer immunotherapy and consumer pain relief products.
“We are pleased to continue our support for Connecticut-based entrepreneurs through the UConn Innovation Fund and are excited to follow the progress of these companies as they work to develop and bring to market their exciting ideas and innovations,” says Peter Hicks, senior vice president of the emerging growth banking group at Webster Bank.