• YEAR: Doctoral student
  • MAJOR: Biomedical Engineering
  • HOMETOWN: Houston, Texas

Sean Connell

"A couple of science nerds meet in a laboratory at Purdue University's Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. They start a friendly conversation next to the lab's cotton candy machine about healing wounds."

Thus begins the story of Sean Connell and Medtric Biotech, which Connell and fellow doctoral student Jianming Li founded six months later in June 2010 to advance their now collaborative research. By the end of that year, Sean and Jianming had filed a patent for a breakthrough method for killing germs and promoting wound healing. And in early 2011 they took their new product on the business plan competition circuit, where only the most marketable ideas survive.

Inventive inspiration

Sean began studying biology at Texas Tech before transferring to Georgia Tech, where he earned his undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering in 2007. "My dad and older brother are both engineers," he says. "Biomedical engineering fills my passion for the life sciences while also giving me the opportunity to apply it to real-world situations."

Returning home to Houston to take a semester off, he spent several months teaching high school chemistry before starting the graduate school selection process. "I applied to about a half dozen schools, but Purdue had the most prominent entrepreneurial ecosystem," he says. "It is very conducive to student inventors and offers a lot of resources. For me, that was the selling point."

Overcoming resistance

Sean and Jianming's technology addresses the growing number of deadly "superbugs" resulting from antibiotic-resistant fungi, viruses and bacteria strains.

"We developed an antimicrobial nanobubble that fuses with the microbe and destroys its cellular membrane, instantly killing the pathogen," Sean says. "Our technique is unique because it doesn't rely on antibiotics, which have resistance issues, or biocides, which are potentially toxic and present numerous health hazards."

According to plan

Medtric Biotech's planned product line, dubbed GoPlay, includes disinfectant and antiseptic sprays for both over-the-counter and clinical applications. And it's already sold well in numerous business plan competitions, including top finishes in Purdue's Life Sciences and Burton D. Morgan business plan competitions and Wake Forest University's "elevator pitch" competition.

Sean also is a fierce competitor outside the classroom and laboratory. "I'm seriously addicted to table tennis and spend an embarrassing amount of time playing it," he says. And he's quick to distinguish it from its more leisurely counterpart: "Pingpong is a game. Table tennis is a sport."

To the market

When he receives his degree in May, Sean will join Jianming in the Purdue Research Park full time as their company's president and chief operating officer. "It's only the two of us, and no one gets paid until we bring the technology to market," he says.

But that's precisely the next step. "We've found a company in Indiana to help us manufacture our first line of products," he says. "It's nice to be able to draw on the resources of the state, because we started at Purdue, got funding from Purdue, and worked with a lot of researchers in the area. We're keeping it local."