Team led by EE Ph.D. candidate wins 2020 McCloskey New Venture Competition

Roy Stillwell

NearWave, an entrepreneurial team led by Roy Stillwell, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering, took four prizes in the 20th McCloskey New Venture Competition, held online on Friday, April 24. The team won the $50,000 McCloskey grand prize for teams led by Notre Dame students and alumni, the $25,000 Marshall County Prize for Greatest Social Impact, and the IrishAngels Award, and received an invitation to participate in the Plug and Play Tech Center Pitch.

“We’re developing a handheld medical imaging device for deep tissue imaging,” said Stillwell, co-founder of NearWave, “but our focus is using the device for breast cancer therapy monitoring and early breast cancer diagnosis.”

The device uses near infrared laser light to measure blood, lipids, and water (1-3 cm. depth) in tissue. It wirelessly transmits each image it collects to a mobile device or laptop. With NearWave, physicians could determine how a patient was responding to cancer therapy within 10 days of starting a treatment simply by comparing the baseline scan to an early therapy NearWave image.

“… our focus is using the device for breast cancer therapy monitoring and early breast cancer diagnosis.”

— Roy Stillwell, PH.D. candidate in electrical engineering

“NearWave is non-invasive, safe, and easy to use,” said Stillwell. “As important, it can help increase survival because scans can easily be taken in a doctor’s office during the course of treatment and decisions on therapeutic adjustments — fewer treatments or different therapies altogether — could be made more quickly.”

Other NearWave team members include Murtaza Valika and Hua Xue, both MBA candidates in the Mendoza College of Business; Lyla Senn, a Notre Dame undergraduate pursuing a degree in chemical engineering; Alyssa Chong, Saint Mary’s College student pursuing degrees in computer engineering and physics and applied math; and advisers Thomas O’Sullivan, co-founder and assistant professor of electrical engineering, and James Rudolph, assistant professor of industrial design.

Many national pitch competitions were postponed or canceled due to COVID-19. “The McCloskey New Venture Competition begins in the fall. The teams put far too much work into their ventures for us to cancel the competition,” said Patti Reinhardt, director of student engagement at the Notre Dame IDEA Center.

Reinhardt organized a remote strategy for the finalists and judges, most of whom were former McCloskey winners. “We were grateful that all of our teams and the overwhelming majority of our sponsors stuck with us.”

NearWave and the five other finalists made their pitches to competition judges during a live Zoom meeting. Their final presentations were recorded and are available to watch on the IDEA Center’s website.

Nina Welding, College of Engineering