Refresh Innovations takes top prize in Duke start-up challenge

Apr. 12, 2013 @ 08:55 AM

Twenty-eight year old Lucinda Camras said she and her father worked together on the design for a device that would treat glaucoma, a group of diseases that can cause vision loss and blindness.

Her father, Dr. Carl Camras, an ophthalmologist and researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, died in 2009. She said she first started researching glaucoma at age 16, and continued as an undergraduate. She’s still working to develop the technology behind his vision.

The device, designed to drain fluid that can cause pressure to rise in the eye, damaging the optic nerve, is in early testing.

“It’s been a long process, a lot of it is my dad’s (vision), but I also believe in this technology,” said Lucinda, a biomedical engineering doctoral student at Duke University.

On Thursday, she pitched the concept behind the start-up Camras Vision in front of an audience at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Her team was one of three competing for a $50,000 prize through the 14th annual Duke Start-up Challenge.

The winner of the grand prize was another start-up called Refresh Innovations.

Another 10 teams competed for a $1,000 prize in the competition. There were start-ups ranging from a fruity organic caffeinated soda business to a college e-waste recycling venture. There were other prize categories, such as one for a women-led start-up track, which went to Camras Vision.

Howie Rhee, managing director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, said that the Duke Start-up Challenge was launched to grow the university’s entrepreneurial culture.

“I think each year, we’re seeing the quality get better, and I think this year is probably the best pool of competitors that we’ve seen so far,” Rhee said. “I think that kind of changing the culture of the university has taken time.”

During her pitch, Lucinda said her device aims to cut down on the rate of complications associated with surgery by draining fluid to a different part of the eye. Her team hopes to have the device approved by 2018, she said, and they plan to use contract manufacturer and partnership with a distributor to sell it.

Another start-up in the running was the business Refrackt. A team of students behind the start-up is working on a distillation technology to clean water after it’s used in a natural gas extraction technique, known as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing.

Fracking involves injecting fluids into the ground to release natural gas. The start-up is working to deploy a portable system that drillers can use to clean the water on-site. They’re working on setting up a laboratory-scale prototype of the technology.

The start-up that took top prize, Refresh Innovations, worked on a credit card-sized, combination contact lens case and solution package. It was co-founded by Matt Pleatman, a Duke senior who’s studying electrical and computer engineering as well as economics.

His business partner, a master’s of business administration student at Stanford University, came up with the idea, according to information from the university.

Also at the competition, David Cummings, a Duke alumnus and founder of the technology company Pardot, announced a $500,000 donation to endow an undergraduate prize fund that would grant $20,000 per year to undergraduate entrepreneurs at the university. Pardot sold to ExactTarget last year.