Stroke treatment device wins $25,000 top prize at Michigan Business Challenge

A student business plan for a medical device that safely and quickly removes blood clots during treatment for strokes has won the $25,000 top prize in the University of Michigan's (U-M) 2018 Michigan Business Challenge.


The campus-wide, multi-round business plan competition hosted by the Zell Lurie Institute gives student teams an opportunity to win cash prizes, network with others, and get mentoring and advice from local business leaders. The final round took place Feb. 16.


The idea behind the winning plan, which is called Clot Buster, stemmed from an earlier collaboration between U-M students and faculty, including founder Yang Liu, Dr. Luis Savastano, professor Aditya Pandey, and several other students.


Liu was working on a device to remove plaque, and while talking with Savastano and his team, he wondered if a similar mechanism could be used to remove clots.


"Savastano is a neurosurgeon and does a lot of stroke treatments at the University of Michigan, and we thought this might have good potential," Liu says. "Within one month, we built a prototype that proved the idea, and we believe it's really going to work."


Devices already exist to suck out clots, but the catheter used for the procedure quickly gets jammed, Liu says.


"How Clot Buster works is that there is a rotating wire in the shaft that breaks the clot into pieces as it's being sucked into the catheter, so the catheter never gets clogged," Liu says. "This enables uninterrupted, nonstop clot removal."


Liu says he knew Clot Buster had a great product and a great team but it was still a "pleasant surprise" to take the top honors during the competition.


The prize money will go toward development of the device, taking it from the research and development phase to a marketable product.

"We're currently just in the R&D phase, but within this year, we'll use the money to improve and optimize the device so it can be tested in animals," Liu says.


Two other finalists won $2,500: Advanced LIDAR Semantics, which creates devices with enhanced object recognition for use in autonomous vehicles, and Sonodontics, creator of technology that uses ultrasound to scan for gum disease.


Teams with a business idea that includes a social mission were eligible to participate in the Seigle Impact Track. PedalCell, which creates bicycle-powered phone chargers for the bike share industry, took home the $15,000 top prize in the Impact Track.


A full list of prize winners is available at the Zell Lurie website.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at


Photo courtesy of Emily Brourman.