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Jennifer Schiller, Chuyin Fan, Lindsay Fernandez-Rhodes, Jim Kelly, Steven Doerstling: and Ahmad Hamad are the winners of the second E(I) Lab Program competition at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.
Jennifer Schiller, Chuyin Fan, Lindsay Fernandez-Rhodes, Jim Kelly, Steven Doerstling: and Ahmad Hamad are the winners of the second E(I) Lab Program competition at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

The E(I) Lab Program, a competition launched by the UNC Eshelman Institute for Innovation that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation among multidisciplinary teams of UNC graduate and professional student, wrapped up its second cohort on April 29.

The winning team received a prize of $3,000 for developing a device for generating reproducible skin pricks for allergy testing. The current method of generating skin pricks suffers from too much variation, leading to incorrect diagnosis and the need for further testing. The team included

  • Steven Doerstling, a recent graduate of the nutrition program in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health;
  • Lindsay Fernandez-Rhodes, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar at the Carolina Population Center;
  • Chuyin Fan, Pharm. D. candidate;
  • Ahmad Hamad, M.D., allergy and immunology fellow at the UNC School of Medicine; and
  • Jennifer Schiller, a Ph.D. student in the Division of Pharmacoengineering and Molecular Pharmaceutics. The winning prize was.

The E(I) Lab is an experiential program where students from different disciplines team up to tackle unmet medical needs, gain first-hand training in prototype development and product design, learn about the latest methods in entrepreneurship and receive coaching and mentorship.

Each of the four teams was given six months to develop a marketable innovation that would serve an unmet need for health-care providers and patients. The E(I) Lab Program provides the financial support and access to various experts with the goal of removing barriers to entrepreneurship and innovation the participants. The program is supported by the VentureWell Foundation, the North Carolina Research Opportunities Initiative and the Eshelman Institute of Innovation.

Second place went to a team developing a better solution for complying with United States Pharmacopeia sterile formulation requirements made up of Amy Guisinger, Sarah Griffin, Shawn Streeter, Jon Cheek, Robert Lena and Adam Gilbertson.

Guisinger, a Pharm.D. candidate, said the E(I) Lab Program allowed her to use what she has learned as a student to work toward solutions to pharmaceutical compounding problems.

“I have learned the value of the customer-discovery process and understanding how what you think might be the obvious solution to a problem may not be the true customer need or correct solution,” Guisinger said. “The E(I) Lab Program is one of the most impactful programs I have participated in throughout my pharmacy school curriculum.”

The third place team, composed of Rachel Black, Giridhar Subramanian, Emily Boesch, Darryl Lewis, Ryan Kingsbury and Carolyne Ma, pursued a technology for generating sterile water for injection on the battlefield and other settings where resources are limited.

Subramanian, an M.B.A student at the UNC Kenan-Flagler School of Business, said the E(I) Lab experience helped him understand how to apply lean startup techniques and practice product development.

“I’ve often heard about these concepts in lectures, but until now, I never had the opportunity to go through the entire process,” Subramanian said.

Fourth place went to Ray Jang, Diego Garza Rodriguez and Brainard Burris, who were developing tools for pulmonary diagnostics.

“The E(I) Lab Program allowed me to better understand the innovation process and steps one must follow to test an idea or product,” Garza said. “The program gave me an entirely new set of skills that I am confident that they will be very useful in the near future.”

The teams were composed of graduate and professional students from the UNC Eshelman School Pharmacy, the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, the UNC School of Medicine and the College of Arts and Sciences. They were evaluated six criteria: innovation, impact, feasibility, customer discovery and research, entrepreneurial mindset and maturity and enthusiasm. The panel of judges include:

  • Michael Jay, Ph.D., Fred Eshelman Distinguished Professor and chair of the Division of Pharmacoengineering and Molecular Pharmaceutics at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy
  • Richard Superfine, Ph.D., Taylor-Williams Distinguished Professor in the Department of Physics
  • Michelle Johnson, assistant director of research and innovation solutions at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
  • Jason Doherty, Ph.D., director of the Startup Consulting Program at the UNC-Chapel Hill Office of Commercialization and Economic Development

“Some of the brightest minds on campus are among the graduate and professional students in the University, and it is imperative that we have an entrepreneurship and innovation program targeted at this group to help train the next generation of leaders at the interface of entrepreneurship and technology” said Sam Lai, Ph.D., an associate professor in the School’s Division of Pharmacoengineering and Molecular Pharmaceutics, director of Pharmacoengineering and founder and director of the E(I) Lab Program.

“There are important advances in the best practices emerging from evidence-based entrepreneurship that are critical for both graduate and professional students to learn and gain experience applying them to real-world challenges. The E(I) Lab is designed to do precisely that.”

The program specifically recruits from all schools across the UNC campus as the task encompasses all aspects of customer discovery, product development and marketing. Prior health science experience is an advantage but not a requirement to succeed in the E(I) Lab Program, said Jimmy Xu, Pharm.D. candidate, program coordinator and institute intern at the Eshelman Institute.

“By recruiting from multiple programs at Carolina, we’re able to promote interdisciplinary collaboration and teamwork, allowing teams to draw from diverse experiences, enhancing creativity and problem-solving ability,” Xu said.

Students of all backgrounds may apply for the E(I) Lab Program. The application will be available in early fall on the E(I) website,

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