Research Park News

March 15, 2018

Purdue graduate students take top honors at WomenIN Tech Pitch Competition, receive $17,500 in cash, entrepreneurial support

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – HaptImage, a Purdue University graduate student startup that develops an assistive educational technology, won first prize at the WomenIN Tech Pitch Competition and received $5,000 in cash and $12,500 in entrepreneurial support.

Purdue Railyard in the Purdue Research Park of West Lafayette hosted the event. The WomenIN Tech Competition began with 17 women-led technology startups from across Indiana, and six teams were invited to the final presentation showcase.

HaptImage assists individuals with visual impairments to process images through instantaneous haptic feedback or tactile responses. This imaging-accessing technology uses a portable controller and supporting software to simulate kinesthetic communication, or touch-based learning.  

Purdue University graduate students Shruthi Suresh from the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and Ting Zhang from the School of Industrial Engineering founded the startup. The pair co-invented HaptImage’s technology with Brad Duerstock, associate professor in Biomedical and Industrial Engineering as well as head of the Duerstock Institute for Accessible Science (IAS) Lab, and with Juan Wachs, associate professor in Industrial Engineering and head of the Intelligent Systems and Assistive Technologies Lab.

“Real-time access to images is crucial to allow social integration and education for individuals who are blind or with limited vision,” Suresh said. “Our technology will help individuals with visual impairments pursue image-dependent careers, such as architecture, and access social media platforms, such as Instagram.”

A video of HaptImage’s winning pitch is available.

“This is WomenIN’s first Tech Pitch Competition, and it has already helped promote entrepreneurial women and their technology startups,” said Brittany Collins, co-director of WomenIN. “The six finalist startups received strong business-pitch advice from the competition’s judges, and HaptImage will greatly benefit from their early-stage funding.”

Suresh and Zhang met Greg Williams, a research assistant who is blind, in the Duerstock (IAS) Lab and heard about his difficulties viewing images related to his chemistry major. His story inspired Zhang and Suresh to develop HaptImage and its image-accessing system.

“Winning the competition came as a huge surprise because so many brilliant ideas and women entrepreneurs participated,” Zhang said. “I think WomenIN gave us more confidence in commercializing HaptImage and in turning research ideas into products that help people.”

With their first-place prizes, Suresh and Zhang plan to incorporate HaptImage and to market their product. Additionally, the startup is building a portable version of their imaging-accessing system and is preparing to test the beta version by year’s end with their partners, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

“We had a very competitive group of applicants, and selecting only six finalists was a long-deliberated decision,” Collins said. “WomenIN’s success as a program is supported by the strong Purdue entrepreneurial ecosystem. We look forward to helping these startups to continue to grow and succeed.”

WomenIN Tech Pitch Competition’s partners include the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, the Jane-Brock Wilson Women in Management Center in the Krannert School of Management, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, When You Leave the Room, Purdue Railyard and Purdue Foundry.

The Purdue Foundry began WomenIN to encourage women in launching their STEM-based startups and to provide entrepreneurial resources in scaling up their businesses.

Entrepreneurial resources include:

• Access to unlicensed Purdue IP with high potential.

• Access to the Foundry’s Ideation workshops, Entrepreneurs-in-Residence and an Elevate Ventures funding liaison.

• Invitation to educational and networking events.

• Guidance on accessing local and partnership resources.

• Marketing exposure from Purdue media.

About WomenIN

WomenIN is a Purdue Foundry initiative that empowers aspiring women entrepreneurs with scalable ideas and ideas in technology or STEM throughout the entire state of Indiana. The program allows Purdue University to support entrepreneurial women based upon their expressed needs to create a supportive ecosystem of women entrepreneurs. WomenIN provides resources via the Purdue Foundry to women entrepreneurs in the technology industry or with a scalable business goal and helps women of any background and education level.

About Purdue Foundry

The Purdue Foundry is an entrepreneurship and commercialization accelerator in Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship whose professionals help Purdue innovators create startups. Managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, the Purdue Foundry was named a top recipient at the 2016 Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Designation and Awards Program by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities for its work in entrepreneurship. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at foundry@prf.org.

Writer: Kelsey Henry, 765-588-3342, kehenry@prf.org

Purdue Research Foundation Contact: Cynthia Sequin, 765-558-3340, casequin@prf.org

Sources: Brittany Collins, blcollins@prf.org

Shruthi Suresh, suresh9@purdue.edu

Ting Zhang, zhan1013@purdue.edu


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