Pharm.D. candidates Cole Barnhardt, Karthik Chandrasekar, Ember Lu and Cody Close are members of the team won the 2018 E(i) Lab innovation competition.
Pharm.D. candidates Cole Barnhardt, Karthik Chandrasekar, Ember Lu and Cody Close are members of the team won the 2018 E(i) Lab innovation competition.

The winning project was led by a group of five UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy students and one MBA student from Kenan-Flagler Business School. Their project aimed to reduce the cost of wasted inhalers by sterilizing them with UV-C light, allowing a single inhaler to be used safely by multiple patients. The E(I) Lab is an entrepreneurship project launched by the UNC Eshelman Institute of Innovation.

Over $200 million is spent annually on wasted inhalers in U.S. hospitals, said Cody Close, a Class of 2021 Pharm.D. candidate and member of the winning team.

“The E(I) Lab provided an incredible opportunity to work through the cycle of innovation and entrepreneurship in order to tackle unmet needs in health care working in an environment that supports and accelerates bold and new ideas,” Close said.

The winning team included:

  • Cole Barnhardt, Pharm.D. candidate, Class of 2021
  • Karthik Chandrasekar, Pharm.D. candidate, Class of 2019
  • Cody Close, Pharm.D. candidate, Class of 2021
  • Ember Lu, Pharm.D. candidate, Class of 2020
  • Nash Prince, Kenan-Flagler Business School MBA candidate, Class of 2018

The E(I) Lab is an experiential program which teams up graduate students from different disciplines 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 team 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.

Barnhardt said he recommended the program to pharmacy students looking to explore innovative ways to make a difference in health care.

The winners of the E(I) Lab's 2018 innovation competition aimed to reduce the cost of wasted inhalers by sterilizing them with UV-C light.
The winners of the E(I) Lab’s 2018 innovation competition aimed to reduce the cost of wasted inhalers by sterilizing them with UV-C light.

“E(I) lab was an incredibly unique learning experience that pushed me outside of my comfort zone and allowed me to cultivate a skill set that is not easily taught within the classroom,” Barnhardt said. “By allowing us to navigate the entrepreneurial and innovative space in a safe environment with invaluable resources and support from faculty, our team was able to explore a range of opportunities with full creative freedom for our project’s direction.”

Participants come from diverse fields of study, bringing together students who wouldn’t otherwise interact, said Kristen Khoury, a first-year MBA student at Kenan-Flagler who participated in the program.

Khoury said participating in the program helped her become a better problem solver.

“Being a part of the E(I) Lab helped me put into perspective what it takes to bring an idea from paper to reality,” she said. “It challenged me to think deeply about what people really need and how to test hypotheses to confirm these needs.”

Ana Puhl Rubio, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the School who participated in the program, said she enjoyed the opportunity to learn from faculty mentors and lead a project. Her project focused on finding a way to make dialysis available in places with limited resources — and although it didn’t win the competition, Puhl Rubio called working on the project “a transforming experience.”

“I had the chance to learn and develop new skills and discover capabilities about myself that I was not aware of,” she said. “It was amazing to see the project evolving to a simple solution that we believe could save millions of lives.”

The E(I) Lab Program is open to students of all academic backgrounds. Applications are open for 2018–2019.

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