In order to win Duke’s 16th annual Start-Up Challenge, Afreen Allam only had to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Amongst a pool of entrepreneurs selling raw desserts, footwear, and online education programs, her patented neurological treatment impressed the judges enough to earn her the Wickett Family Grand Prize.
The Start-Up Challenge is a year-long entrepreneurship competition with an entry pool of over 100 student teams. Throughout the year, participants get weeded out, down to the final nine teams. The Grand Finale was held in the Fuqua School of Business on Sept. 30.
Finalists were given four minutes to pitch their idea in the hopes of winning $50,000. And for Ms. Allam, that dream came true.
Her company, SiNON, will use the prize money to continue developing her product, a patented nanoparticle that encapsulates drugs to be delivered to the brain. Her research began in her third year as an undergraduate student at one of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) that was affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She delved into chemistry research, developing technologies with carbon nanotubes with the intention of creating an alternative to chemotherapy to battle cancer. She was encouraged to create a patent for her work, a process she initially didn’t know anything about but underwent anyway, receiving it about a year and a half ago.
Now a student at Fuqua, the direction of her research changed last summer, when Ms. Allam began focusing more on neurological diseases after discovering that her nanoparticle was able to cross the blood-brain barrier, something only 2 percent of drugs can do. Her current product, SiNON, works to increase the effectiveness of neurological treatments, as well as reducing associated side effects.
She said the funding from the Start-Up Challenge will help her company conduct feasibility studies to allow her to approach biotech and pharmaceutical companies.