Article courtesy of News Dispatches | February 13, 2014 | | Shared as educational material
Nisarg Patel, a senior at Arizona State University in Tempe, recently met a friend who had been on a research trip to Guatemala and expressed concern about children drinking contaminated water, putting them at risk for diarrhea and other waterborne illnesses.
It made the Indian American student brainstorm about the problem and the Chandler, Ariz. native, and some friends at ASU, came up with a solution — soluble protein biosensors that would signal the presence of bacteria in drinking water.
“Most of the bacterial biosensors that are currently available are large, require electronics or are too complicated to operate in Third-World countries,” said Patel, who majors in molecular biosciences and biotechnology at ASU.
“Our concept of using protein biosensors that emit color when dropped in contaminated water provides a quick and inexpensive way to test for waterborne contamination in developing countries.”
The venture he co-founded, HydroGene Biotechnologies, developed a prototype in six months and then applied to the 2013 Innovation Challenge — ASU’s Changemaker Central’s social entrepreneurship competition — for the opportunity to get funds to scale up their concept.
“Changemaker Central also encouraged all Innovation Challenge winners to apply to Clinton Global Initiative University’s 2013 meeting in St. Louis (Mo.), and offered to pay for travel expenses for selected teams,” Patel said in an ASU press release.
“We applied to CGI U, were selected and (were) flown to St. Louis to participate in the 2013 CGI U conference.”
The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 1.5 million children under the age of five in developing countries die each year due to diarrhea, according to the press release.
Patel said attending the Clinton Golden Initiative was inspiring.
“Imagine being in the same room as some of the world’s smartest and influential people,” the Indian American student said.
“It is a great place to generate and refine ideas, and get inspired. Many college students aren’t sure of their path in life, so CGI U is a great way to engage with others as a volunteer or participant, find out what you are passionate about and answer your calling.”
The HydroGene team has raised $20,000 in seed funding through ASU entrepreneurship programs. In addition to developing a biosensor to detect water contamination, the startup is working on a rapid screening process to prevent distribution of contaminated food in the developed world.
Patel said that anyone who wishes to start a venture should have confidence and run with the idea. “Even if you fail the first, second or even the third time, your experiences alone are valuable.”
He also suggests seeking out a mentor and making sure a product exists for the idea. Patel will be the ASU campus representative at the 2014 CGI U meeting March 21-23 on the ASU campus in Tempe.