Logo: University of Southern California

USC Viterbi startup awarded silver medal in Beijing

Stasis Labs among 15 startups in first-ever global student business competition for “grand challenges of engineering”
By: Sam Corey
September 17, 2015 —
Stasis Labs pitch their medical technology startup at Global Grand Challenges Summit in Beijing

USC Viterbi’s Stasis Labs made headlines earlier in the year when Inc. Magazine named it one of 16 “Coolest College Startups of 2015,” but the young company is now earning international recognition after winning the silver medal in the student business plan competition at the Global Grand Challenges Summit (GGCS) in Beijing on September 14, 2015.

Jointly organized by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), this summit — “a Davos of engineering” in the words of Dean Yannis C. Yortsos — is the second in a series inspired by the NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering, a worldwide call for action to harness the power of engineering to solve some of the greatest challenges of the 21st Century.

Teams selected to participate in the GGCS are ones with potential to sufficiently address the NAE’s selected challenges: sustainability, infrastructure, energy, health and joy of living – along with education and security.

The student competition, conceived and organized by Yortsos, marked the first-ever global business plan competition on the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges.

Fifteen teams from the U.S., U.K. and China competed in the student day competition, itself inspired by USC Viterbi’s own Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition (MEPC). Stasis Labs was one of five teams from the U.S. selected to present their business plan in Beijing.

Dinesh Seemakurty and Michael Maylahn, USC Viterbi biomedical engineering alums head the fledgling startup.

Stasis Labs aims to change medical technologies by providing health-monitoring solutions to patients and doctors traditionally barred by high-cost medical infrastructure or poverty in the developing world. With Stasis Labs’ fast and compact vitals monitor, a doctor can literally track a patient’s vitals from thousands of miles away in real time.

Its product consists of low-cost vital monitoring hardware that pairs with smartphones and tablet software. It has the potential to revolutionize the monitoring of patients while not in the ICU, particularly for countries such as India.

Experts widely agree that early detection can lead to shorter hospital stays, decreased admittance to the ICU and lower mortality rates. But Stasis Labs wants to take the technology even further.

“We want to revitalize how medical devices are brought into hospitals that can’t afford it,” Seemakurty said. “Our technology will increase access to quality health care.”

This tablet-based patient chart will help bridge the gap between the developed and developing world by making the amount of patient information available to doctors more accessible and affordable.

Stasis Labs was selected to represent the U.S. at the GGCS after it won the USC Grand Challenges business plan competition.

“It’s incredible to represent USC and the U.S. as we help solve worldwide health care issues,” Maylahn, Stasis Labs’ chief operating officer, said. “America is a multicultural country and bringing technology around the world is a way to represent global change. We’re not just targeting a specific area, we want to be a global company.”

Stasis Labs is one of over 30 startups to emerge out of USC Viterbi in the last two years. Ashish Soni, founding director of of the Viterbi Student Institute for Innovation (VSi2), who has mentored hundreds of these student startups over the years, sees the success in Beijing as a great motivator for other student startups to take their ideas globally. "I've been mentoring Dinesh at Stasis Labs since he was a sophomore and it’s personally gratifying to see him and others like him grow and cultivate their personal and professional skills as engineering entrepreneurs. Young engineering minds disrupting the world!"  

Dean Yortsos, who has worked extensively with the NAE to stimulate a culture of innovation and global entrepreneurship, echoed a similar sentiment.

“The main goal of this program is to train students with both a strong entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for engineering to come up with a business plan for a company that solves one of these particular challenges,” Yortsos said. “These challenges are global and will have far reaching implications. They need innovative global solutions.”

Yortsos coined the term Engineering+, a concept that highlight’s engineering’s enabling role in disciplines ranging from health care, natural sciences, social sciences and the arts.

Dean Yannis Yortsos and professor Andrea Armani with Statis Labs

In 2008, the NAE organized a group of international experts that included Google co-founder Larry Page and Segway inventor Dean Kamen, to determine the engineering breakthroughs most necessary to improve life on earth.

The academy then announced its “14 Grand Challenges in the 21st Century." In response, Yortsos and his colleagues Tom Katsouleas, dean of Duke's Pratt School of Engineering along with Rick Miller, president of The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, launched the Grand Challenge Scholars Program to “prepare engineers to be world changers.” It encourages students to add five components to their traditional engineering education. These include a Grand Challenge-related research project, an interdisciplinary curriculum, entrepreneurship experience, a global dimension, and service learning. Upon completion, the NAE adds a special designation on their transcript, graduating them as Grand Challenge Scholars.

“Training our students in these five areas shows them that engineering isn’t just confined to labs. It is an engine that drives our economy and society forward while addressing the most pressing global issues,” Yortsos said.

Dean Yannis Yortsos with singer-songwriter Will.i.Am who attended the event on behalf of his i.am.angel foundation

Along with his counterparts at Duke and Olin, Yortsos co-hosted the first NAE Grand Challenges Summit at Duke University in Spring 2009, and the second annual summit at USC in Fall 2010, later serving on the steering committee of the first global summit in March 2013. The first meeting produced the Grand Challenges Scholars Program for undergraduate engineering schools across the nation.

Today, more than 120 U.S. engineering schools have announced plans to embrace the Grand Challenges Scholars Program.

In looking back at the journey to Beijing, standing together with one of USC’s most promising startups, Yortsos reflected: “This is the first ever competition of this type and it’s exciting to see what started as an idea reach significant international status after only two years. Ideas are global in nature."