Startup challenge

Founders of the winning Penn Wharton Startup Challenge team Sanguis (l-r): Daniel Zhang, Divyansh Agarwal, and Prateek Agarwal. Sanguis is billed as “the world’s first hand-held, portable and inexpensive blood cell counting device.” (Penn Wharton photo)

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business May 1 announced that team Sanguis, led by graduate students Divyansh Agarwal, Prateek Agarwal and Daniel Zhang, was named the winner of its annual Startup Challenge.

For winning the competition, formerly known as the Wharton Business Plan Competition, Sanguis won the $30,000 Perlman Grand Prize plus $15,000 in legal, accounting and strategy services, according to a university news release.

“The next step for us is to make this a reality,” said Sanguis’ Indian American CEO Divyansh Agarwal. “We’ve launched ourselves well; this is a very good platform which we are excited to have, but our journey only begins here.”

While undergoing chemotherapy for late-stage lung cancer, Zhang’s grandmother developed severe pneumonia.

“During the long hospitalization, we were afraid that this would be the end,” said Zhang, a Penn medical student, the release said. He noted that if she could have known her immune system was weak — before she developed the infection — then her doctor could have started a treatment plan.

The experience inspired Zhang and fellow medical students Divyansh and Prateek to create Sanguis, billed as “the world’s first hand-held, portable and inexpensive blood cell counting device.”

The team noted that of the 650,000 American cancer patients who receive chemotherapy as outpatients, about 15,000 die from infections and complications that take hold because the body’s defenses are low, the university said.

Sanguis measures levels of neutrophils, the body’s primary infection-fighting cells, which the patient tests at home daily using a few drops of blood on a test strip. If their neutrophil counts are down, it’s time to call the doctor, it said.

There are potential financial savings as well: Emergency admissions due to neutropenia cost the healthcare system over $2 billion annually, it added.

Chemotherapy outpatients do have their blood tested when they see the doctor. But often their doctor visits occur several weeks apart, whereas neutrophil levels can drop within days, the university explained in its profile of Sanguis.

The standard advice to patients is to call the doctor if they develop a fever, but by then, said Divyansh Agarwal, there is already an infection present. “Every patient needs to be monitored, because every single patient is at risk for these complications,” said Agarwal in the release.

Sanguis’ revenue model is prescription-based, and the product costs $600 for use over a 120-day course of chemotherapy. The team expects to achieve a gross margin of 20 percent in year one and 60 percent in years two and three. By the end of year five, they expect to be earning at least $24 million in annual revenue, it said.

Sanguis beat out a total of 30 teams of entrepreneurial hopefuls which were pared down to eight finalists. A group of alumni judges selected the winning team, as well as other winners that doled out $135,000 in cash and business services, following presentations and elevator pitches.

Divyansh Agarwal explained that the team would use the prize money mainly to refine the prototype. Then they will test the prototype on clinical samples to establish and validate the technology.

The second and third prizes also went to teams working on medical solutions. The second prize of $15,000 plus another $15,000 in legal, accounting and strategy services went to MD Ally, which also won the $10,000 Innovation Award.

The third prize ($10,000 plus $15,000 in services) went to undergraduate student Adarsh Battu-led Avisi Technologies, which also won the $10,000 Gloeckner Award, given to the highest ranking undergraduate or mostly undergraduate team.

Aditionally, team Strella Biotechnology walked away with three of the eight prizes: the $10,000 Social Impact Prize, the $3,000 Michelson People’s Choice Award, and the $2,000 Crowd Favorite Award, the release said.

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