Desiree Plata and Anjelica Gonzalez Take Top Prizes in Pitch Contest

SEAS professors Desiree Plata and Anjelica Gonzalez took the top two prizes of the Tech Pitch contest at the Yale Innovation Summit this week.

The summit, hosted by the Office of Cooperative Research, gave researchers and entrepreneurs a chance to show off their work and featured keynote speakers from industry and investment communities. There were also presentations by Yale innovators, which were judged by dozens of preeminent venture capital investors.

Plata, the John J. Lee Assistant Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, took first prize in the Tech Pitch category for her pitch for Nth Cycle, a company she founded with Megan O’Connor and Riley Coulthard. The company is based on technology to separate different elements found in e-waste and electronics manufacturing streams. Recycling these metals has proved a challenge to the industry and environmental groups.

The Nth Cycle device contains a filter of meshed Carbon nanotubes - each with a width of 1,000th of a human hair. With electrical charges of varying strength, the filter separates and extracts different rare earth elements used in such advanced electronics as smartphones and plasma screen TVs.

The properties of the carbon nanotubes - high electrical conductivity and large surface area - can shrink the recycling shrink the process from a cubic football field to something size of a coffee cup. To get to that point, though, Plata’s company needs funding to further hone the technology.

“If this device looks like it was built in a basement, that’s because it was,” Plata said, pointing to the company’s prototype. “So we need to take this more to something that looks like a coffee cup that you could plug in into that manufacturing stream.”

Gonzalez, the Donna L. Dubinsky Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, won second prize in the same category for her pitch for PremieBreathe, a low-cost breathing aid for premature infants.

Babies born prematurely often having breathing difficulties, and in low- to middle-income countries, they rarely have the technology to help.

“The problem is access to an affordable technology,” Gonzalez said. For many babies in these countries, the first line of care is a soda bottle, which is filled with water that can contain bacteria and often fungus. Air is passed through the water, which the babies breathe.

“We can do better - that’s why we invented PremieBreathe,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a sustainable, rugged, and affordable respiratory device that is meant to allow babies to breathe fresh oxygen - humidified air - in order to sustain their lives.”

She noted that PremieBReathe is the first company to market to low- and middle-income countries. The technology is designed to use local resources so that parts of the devices can be easily replaced.

Six years in the making, the company has gained support from numerous entities, including USAID and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Early tests are being conducted in Ethiopia, Gonzalez said, and the company is looking to expand those tests globally.