InVenture Prize

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Written by Laura DiamondPublished in Research Horizons Summer 2014After Partha Unnava broke his ankle playing pickup basketball, he spent a summer walking with uncomfortable crutches that left him with pain and fatigue. Unnava, a student in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, knew he could invent something better.So along came The Better Walk Crutch, a device he created with the help of two other students. The team has already raised $160,000 for the invention and attracted attention from orthopedic surgeons.Team Better Walk was among the finalists for the 2014 InVenture Prize, Georgia Tech’s annual contest that rewards students with cash prizes and free patents for big innovations that aim to solve the world’s problems. The competition exposes students to multiple aspects of entrepreneurship.“InVenture is part of the changing culture at Georgia Tech where we are getting students to think more like entrepreneurs,” said Chris Reaves, director of undergraduate research and student innovation, and one of InVenture’s organizers.The InVenture first-place prize is $20,000 plus a spot in Flashpoint, Georgia Tech’s startup accelerator program. Second-place finishers go home with $10,000. The winners receive free U.S. patent filings by Georgia Tech’s Office of Technology Licensing.“Students want to build their own business and have a positive impact on society,” Reaves said.

Student Interest Grows

InVenture started in 2009 and is expanding beyond Georgia Tech. The University of Florida held its own version earlier this year, and other colleges have requested more information.Nearly 560 Georgia Tech students signed up for this year’s contest – the largest number ever. Over the course of several months, the group was narrowed to six teams that competed in the finale on March 26, 2014.Judges considered a variety of factors such as innovation, marketability, and probability of success.Team Sanivation won with their invention of an inexpensive mobile solution to help the nearly 2.6 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to hygienic bathrooms.Their Safi Choo (Swahili for “clean toilet”) is meant to replace the pit latrines often found in the developing world and in refugee camps. The device has received preliminary support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).The all-female team left for Kenya soon after the end of the spring semester to test the toilet, which allows users to sit or squat while a filtration system reduces the spread of sanitation diseases. The device includes several large drawers that separate liquid and solid waste for removal and disposal.“We want to have a positive impact on humanity,” said Team Sanivation member Erin Cobb, a student in the School of Industrial Design. “We’re happy we’ve been able to get some people to talk about a taboo topic.”InVenture’s second-place team invented the Sucette Smart Soother, a modernized pacifier that fits more naturally with a baby’s mouth and growing dental structure. It even changes color when the baby has a fever.The three-member Sucette Smart Soother team, made up of biomedical engineering majors, read studies showing how today’s pacifiers are associated with some dental, skeletal, and speech deformities.“We realized there are so many problems with existing pacifiers and parents have no clue,” said team member Rachel Ford.The team went through multiple rounds of prototyping before settling on the final prototype, which features a concave inner portion so the tongue is positioned to allow for proper development of the bones surrounding the mouth. 

The Process

Competitors spent months – if not years – designing prototypes, reading research and medical journals, and interviewing experts, patients, and others who could benefit from the inventions.Members of team Better Walk, for instance, talked with more than 50 physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons, and other experts about their redesigned crutch.As a result, their product offers forearm support to reduce fatigue, and the design removes direct stress from the wrist. There is also a side-piece that provides additional stability.They’ve already raised $160,000 for their invention, and about two dozen physicians asked to buy the device when a version was shown at a conference of orthopedic surgeons.“We’ve spent so much time in our engineering classes that it’s exciting to apply what we’ve learned to the real world,” Unnava said.“To have people willing to write a check to support something you invented is an amazing feeling.”

After Graduation

Students continue working on their innovations after they graduate.Patrick Whaley won InVenture in 2010 for weighted exercise clothing that can be worn without joint damage or any limitations on movement. He turned his invention into Titin Tech, a Georgia-based company operating out of Alpharetta, an Atlanta suburb. Players in the NFL and NBA, and clients around the world wear his weighted compression gear.Erika Tyburski won second place in 2013 for AnemoCheck, an inexpensive and disposable test that would allow self-testing for anemia. Since then, she has worked with the Atlanta-based Global Center for Medical Innovation and has finished clinical testing and prototyping the device. She hopes to form a company later this year. 

InVenture Finalists

Nearly 560 students signed up for this year’s contest – the largest number ever. Over the course of several months the group was narrowed to six teams. Their designs were:
  • The Better Walk Crutch. Modernized crutches to help people get around more confidently and comfortably while going through rehabilitation for lower leg injury.
  • The Enlighten Music Trainer. A tool to eliminate the frustration some people feel when learning to play the guitar. Songs are placed in an SD card slot and the trainer programs notes to show on LED lights on a removable sleeve.
  • Sleepwell Sleepwear. A nightshirt that reduces snoring and symptoms of sleep apnea. The garment senses when people are sleeping on their backs and uses automated positional therapy to move them to a healthier position.
  • The Safi Choo Toilet. An inexpensive, mobile toilet to replace the pit latrines often used in the developing world and in refugee camps.
  • The Sucette Smart Soother. A modernized pacifier designed to fit more naturally with a baby’s mouth and growing dental structure.
  • Upsadazy. A baby stroller that safely and quickly climbs stairs without the risk of tipping over and harming the child. 
The next InVenture Prize finale is scheduled for April 1, 2015. Learn more about the competition here: ( 


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Claire Labanz
  • Created: 11/12/2014
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016


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