14:27 PM

Two Bioengineering Faculty Named Inaugural EI³ Fellows

Transforming research into a successful commercial product is no easy task, especially for those who haven’t had the same access to resources and funding as their peers— but one office at the University of Pittsburgh is looking to change that. 

To ensure that Pitt’s culture of innovation includes historically underrepresented individuals, the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship recently founded the PittEI³ (Equitable, Inclusive, Innovation, and Incubation) Fellowship Program to create sustainable and equitable institutional culture change around innovation at the University of Pittsburgh. 

This initiative centers around a one-year fellowship program for faculty interested in pursuing innovation commercialization. The PittEI³ program is designed to address inequality in academic innovation and entrepreneurship, increase the engagement of women and historically excluded people in innovation who become entrepreneurs, and develop an ecosystem supportive of historically excluded individuals throughout their careers at the University. 

Assistant Professor of Bioengineering Katrina Knight and Research Assistant Professor of Bioengineering Mangesh Kulkarni are both members of the 2024 inaugural cohort. Kulkarni typically studies chronic inflammation in conditions like  inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but he plans to use this fellowship to work on commercially developing CyteSolutions Lens, a product that would provide long-term relief of dry eye symptoms. 

Kulkarni hopes that this fellowship will help researchers like himself take the products developed from their research a step closer to clinical translation in a commercial setting. 

“It's not something that is directly targeted to help you do the research, but it’s going to help us understand the difficulties of making commercially viable projects and how to take them to the next level,” Kulkarni said. “I think this project is something the Innovation Institute saw potential in and one they could help me with in having some dedicated time for personal development, team buildup, and looking at commercial avenues.”

As for Knight, her research focuses on finding better treatment methods for pelvic organ prolapse (POP), a condition where one or more organs drop from their position in the body when tissues of the pelvic floor weaken. Currently, she’s researching how to understand and prevent the complications linked with POP’s surgical mesh procedures, and she’s developing an alternative membrane device that will hopefully prevent some existing issues. 

“I really need help with finding additional funding sources to help with the design of my device,” Knight said. “We use the NIH a lot, but some questions I have from a design perspective just aren't scientific enough for the NIH to care about, so hopefully the fellowship can team me up with the right people to find more funding.” 

The Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship is also partnering with the Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI), the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences, and the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research. To cultivate commercialization, EI³ fellows will:

  • Receive up to 25 percent full-time professional effort to devote directly to innovation development activities.
  • Receive academic innovation and entrepreneurial skills training.
  • Develop an individual academic innovation plan and mapping.
  • Receive one-on-one innovation mentoring and coaching and sponsorship along with networking opportunities.
  • Potentially qualify for prototype funding.

Kulkarni is thankful for the protected time offered by this fellowship, and he’s optimistic that its opportunities will benefit him both personally and professionally.  

“They've made this program very practical so that's why it is going to be feasible, and I feel very lucky to be a part of this.” Kulkarni said.