Ann Arbor startup aims to improve cancer diagnostics with top prize from SPARK boot camp

HeloGenika, an Ann Arbor-based precision genomics startup focused on cancer diagnostics, has won the $25,000 Best of Boot Camp prize at Ann Arbor SPARK's biannual Entrepreneur Boot Camp.
 
Culturewell won $10,000 as the runner-up and Imagine Chat was awarded $1,000, thanks to a sponsorship from UHY. Culturewell helps health care companies identify what germs are growing in their environments and assists in reducing infection through a subscription-based tech and laboratory service. Imagine Chat is an app designed to help children ages 3-7 develop emotional and social intelligence by engaging users in a long-term relationship with characters who grow alongside them. 
 
"We were so honored to be chosen from among some other really outstanding companies," says Snehal Patel, founder of HeloGenika. "It was a very surprising win."
 
Patel signed up for the boot camp purely to take advantage of the intense multi-week program's mission — to guide entrepreneurs in assessing the feasibility of their business concept, building a successful business model, and discovering their customer base. 
 
"At the beginning of the boot camp someone said something about a $25,000 prize, but that was so incredible to me that I thought that I must have misheard, or perhaps they meant to say $2,500," he says. "By the end, I had completely forgotten about the money because I was so focused on learning everything I could." 
 
Patel's team of three is planning to use the money to offset the costs for patent filing and to form two strategic partnerships. The funds will also help to develop HeloGenika's technology, which is designed to assist pathologists working in the area of cancer diagnostics.
 
One of the technologies will interpret genetic data received from analyzing a patient's cancer samples, which can then be used to inform the patient's treatment. Another of the company's technologies is a robotics-based invention that isolates the portion of tumor that is collected in a larger sample.
 
"When an organ is taken out, the tumor is only a part of that organ," Patel says. "That's the part that needs to be analyzed, and HeloGenika's technology that can help do that."
 
He explains that both technologies will help pathologists and doctors do their jobs more efficiently. They'll also shorten the turnaround time of patient reports, which can take up to three weeks on average to complete. 
 
"We estimate that our company could help get the information to doctors one week faster, which means that doctors can start helping their patients get appropriate treatment more quickly," Patel says. "That's a huge impact for a million-plus cancer patients each year across the United States." 
 
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Ann Arbor SPARK.