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Big Bang! Competition recognizes medical, plastic and agricultural entrepreneurs

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UC Davis graduate Benjamin Wang, center, receives congratulations from his dad Richard (also a UCD alum), left, and Carl Jensen after winning the Big Bang! Business Competition on Thursday for his company’s medical device. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

By
From page A14 | May 25, 2014 |

After watching a woman die in a hospital in Florida, Benjamin Wang knew there had to be a less risky way of ventilating patients.

“Seeing someone that young, not being able to help them, drove me to the literature,” Wang said.

After he finished medical school in 2011, Wang founded Nevap Inc. to develop better medical devices, starting with new ventilator tubes to prevent the buildup of bacteria. His company took first place at Thursday’s Big Bang! Business Competition at UC Davis, winning prestige and an oversized $10,000 check.

After graduating from UCD in 2005, Wang attended medical school at the University of Miami. There, he was deeply moved by the death of a 19-year-old woman, a new mother, who succumbed to ventilator-associated pneumonia.

“This check is for her,” he said.

People are ventilated when they cannot breathe properly on their own. This kind of pneumonia, thought to be caused by a build-up of bacteria around ventilator tubes, affects up to 28 percent of intubated patients. The CDC estimates about 14 percent — 36,000 people — die of it each year.

Drawing from the weaknesses of other ventilator systems, Nevap Inc. and advising anesthesiologists designed a new tube that should reduce the incidences of ventilator-associated pneumonia, saving both lives and money. Wang hopes it will be in researchers’ hands by the end of the year.

Sixty-six teams registered for the competition, Big Bang!’s biggest ever draw in its first year under UCD’s Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Coming in second, Ambercycle is working on technology to recycle plastic. It is the first team led by undergraduates to be a top-two finisher, and the two UCD juniors who run it aspire to completely change what happens when you throw a water bottle in the trash.

“It reaffirms that we’re not the only people who believe this can be successful,” said Akshay Sethi, a biochemistry student.

Sethi and Victor Awad, a chemical engineering student, met on their dorm floor during freshman year. Under the guidance of Marc Facciotti, they homed in on plastic during a research project after their freshman year.

“Plastics are everywhere, in your clothing, in your carpet,” Sethi said in his presentation Thursday. “$70 billion worth of plastics were produced in 2013.”

Most plastics are sent to the landfill because the high temperature melt used in many recycling processes damages plastic’s polymer bonds. Sethi and Awad developed a way to break down plastics into two ingredients: terephthalic acid, which they plan to sell, and ethylene glycol, raw material to make into new products.

The competition’s two other big winners were Zasaka and AdrastiaBiotech.

Zasaka is an agriculture-focused startup that seeks to train small farmers and reduce the grain market volatility in Zambia and Malawi. Zasaka’s team, led by UCD master’s student Carl Jensen, took home the People’s Choice Award and the agricultural innovation award sponsored by Monsanto.

Jensen, who grew up on a farm in Idaho, will move to Zambia in June to join his co-founder, Sunday Silungwe, just four days after graduating with a degree in international agricultural development.

AdrastiaBiotech, led by comparative pathology doctoral candidate Angela Courtney, took home the Big Ideas Promoting Innovation and Social Change Award for its dedication to developing early breast cancer detection technology.

— Reach Elizabeth Case at ecase@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8052. Follow her on Twitter at @elizabeth_case

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