Catching Up with Carbon Thumbprint, Winner at the 2017 USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase

Carbon Thumbprint, a startup that is developing a better carbon dioxide monitor for premature newborn babies, won the $10,000 USC Stevens Breakthrough Innovation Award. (Photo/Nikolaus Traitler, USC Stevens Center for Innovation)

Catching Up with Carbon Thumbprint, Winner at the 2017 USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase

By Peijean Tsai, USC Stevens Center for Innovation

Applications are currently being accepted online until September 2, 2018 for the next USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase.

Last year, a team of USC medical and engineering students won the $10,000 USC Stevens Breakthrough Innovation award at the USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase for their technology concept: a carbon dioxide monitor that could improve the way hospitals care for premature and critically ill infants.

The award was not only the first for Carbon Thumbprint — a startup led by students from the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering — but also a first for the students to apply to a business competition.

“It was a homework assignment at first in our HTE class (Health Technology and Engineering – HTE@USC),” said Carbon Thumbprint co-founder Mehmet Sencan, now a doctoral candidate at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. “Then we realized this is something we can do.”

The team also includes medical student Saif Ali Azam, chemical engineering doctoral candidate Zumra Peksaglam, and now-graduated biomedical engineering master’s student Antara Dandekar.

According to Carbon Thumbprint, nurses in neonatal intensive care units are responsible for up to twelve babies at a time: feeding, changing, monitoring vitals, and comforting them around the clock. The babies are monitored with electrodes that nurses must frequently reposition. This standard of care is over a half century old and faces inefficiencies such as dangerous skin burns on the babies and worker fatigue.

The Carbon Thumbprint invention features multiple sensors printed onto a flexible sheet, allowing for several data points to the body and eliminating the need to constantly adjust equipment. The device is smaller, less expensive, and requires less power to run.

“I think our invention will save lives, and help those who are saving lives,” said Sencan.

The team is using the $10,000 prize to build a prototype and conduct market research with hospitals and doctors. They also have plans to form a corporation.

Despite their success, the students almost did not apply to be in the Showcase.

“We were thinking about not applying at all because we didn’t have a prototype. We learned, ‘don’t be shy,’” he said, adding that they decided to just try filling out the online application.

Their application earned them a spot to compete at the USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase, where they spent the day pitching to judges and focusing on how their technology would serve caretakers, hospital administrators, and the patients themselves.

In addition to the award, the Showcase provided feedback that their invention was a sound business idea. They entered subsequent competitions as a result, like the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition, where they were one of the finalists. This summer, they earned a spot in the LA BioSpace Incubator at California State University, Los Angeles.

“The Showcase helped us have validation that we were not crazy, that other people thought it was a decent idea as well, and that we should keep pursuing it,” Sencan said. “It helped motivate us to compete in other competitions and get more input.”

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The USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase is an annual University of Southern California student business competition hosted by the USC Stevens Center for Innovation. Applications are currently being accepted online until September 2, 2018 for the 12th Annual USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase. 

The annual competition has distributed nearly $150,000 in USC-sponsored awards to USC students from 2007 to 2017.

-Published August 20, 2018