New Crowdfunding Site Allows Public to Advance U.Va. Research Projects Through Targeted Donations

By Morgan Estabrook

“Clean Water by PureMadi” is raising $35,000 to make life-saving water purification tools more widely available in rural areas of South Africa, where access to clean water is limited. Photo courtesy of PureMadi.

U.Va. Innovationlaunched the University of Virginia’s first crowdfunding website this week, enabling alumni and others to make targeted, tax-deductible donations in support of specific research and development projects under way at the University.

“The University of Virginia is among the very first institutions of higher education to use philanthropic crowdfunding to advance university research,” said Thomas C. Skalak, vice president for research at U.Va. “It’s our hope that this innovative initiative will build on the success of the University’s proof-of-concept research programs and establish a new model for funding promising, early-stage research.”

The site, accessible at, features videos and information about select translational research projects seeking funding to achieve specified milestones, such as the development of a prototype.

Featured projects are currently seeking between $19,000 and $35,000 to advance clean-water technology and improve visualization of injuries following sexual assault.

The site will feature up to 10 translational research projects over the course of a six-month pilot initiative. The pilot is being administered by U.Va. Innovation in collaboration with University Development and several schools and programs across Grounds.

“U.Va. researchers are constantly problem-solving through innovation,” said W. Mark Crowell, executive director of U.Va. Innovation and associate vice president for research at U.Va. “Through this crowdfunding initiative, we’re creating opportunities for members of the community to be a part of advancing these exciting discoveries.”

U.Va. Innovation has partnered with USEED Inc., a crowdfunding start-up focused on philanthropic fundraising for higher education, to conduct the pilot initiative, in which researchers reaching their fundraising goals will receive 100 percent of funds raised. For projects falling short of their funding goals, U.Va. Innovation team members will work with project leaders to adjust project milestones so that available funding can advance the respective project.

The site launched with two projects, which have until June 27 to meet their funding goals.

Clean Water by PureMadi,” led by Jim Smith, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, in collaboration with faculty and student researchers in the College of Arts & Sciences, McIntire School of Commerce, School of Architecture, School of Medicine and School of Nursing, is raising $35,000 to make life-saving water purification tools more widely available in rural areas of South Africa, where access to clean water is limited.

Reducing Inequity in Forensic Exams Following Sexual Assault,” led by Kathryn Laughon, associate professor in the School of Nursing, in collaboration with Shayn Peirce-Cottler in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Cassandra Fraser in the Department of Chemistry, is raising $19,000 to identify a new forensic dye that will help medical professionals visualize sexual assault injuries more effectively on women of all skin tones.

“We know through a number of research studies that nurses and physicians conducting forensic exams following a sexual assault are finding fewer injuries in women with darker skin, and we have good reason to think that that’s simply a matter of the technology we’re using to visualize these injuries,” said Laughon, who is also a forensic nurse examiner.

“Raising a relatively small amount of research funding through crowdfunding would help us go a long way toward identifying a solution to this important problem.”

For information about the platform or projects, or to make a donation, visit

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U.Va. Innovation Announces 2013 Innovator of the Year, Marking First for Curry School

By Morgan Estabrook

Marcia Invernizzi Photo by Dan Addison

For the first time, a representative from the Curry School of Education has taken the University of Virginia’s top innovation honor.

U.Va. Innovation named Marcia A. Invernizzi the 2013 Edlich-Henderson Innovator of the Year in recognition of her work to improve children’s literacy. Invernizzi’s innovative Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening, or PALS, assessments and teaching tools are used in six countries and all 50 states to identify and provide customized learning experiences for young children at risk of becoming poor readers.

Invernizzi accepted the award Wednesday evening at a ceremony held at Charlottesville’s Jefferson Theater. Referring to the honor as “much-deserved,” University President Teresa A. Sullivan congratulated Invernizzi in a letter read aloud at the ceremony.

“Your PALS materials have set the standard for literacy assessment [… and] given teachers the tools to effectively teach reading, even where budgets are limited,” Sullivan wrote. “As you receive this award, the members of the University community and I are exceptionally proud of you.”

The honor recognizes an individual or team at U.Va. each year who is making a “major impact” through innovation.

Developed in 1997 with funding from the Virginia Department of Education, PALS “provides a comprehensive assessment of young children’s knowledge of the important literacy fundamentals that are predictive of future reading success,” according to the PALS website.

“Through her work with PALS, Marcia is actually changing the world,” said W. Mark Crowell, executive director of U.Va. Innovation, associate vice president for research at U.Va. and a member of the selection committee.

Today, nearly 270,000 kindergarten through third-grade students each year are screened using PALS assessments through Virginia’s voluntary Early Intervention Reading Initiative, with additional pre-kindergarten students served through the Virginia Preschool Initiative.

“There’s a window of opportunity to get kids reading,” said Invernizzi, the Edmund H. Henderson Professor of Education. “I really felt passionate about trying to do something in my own community.”

Together with Allison Drake and Jay Ferguson, Invernizzi founded a Charlottesville-based company, PALS Marketplace, in 2010 to distribute PALS assessments and tools beyond the commonwealth. Fellow U.Va. spinoff company CaseNEX LLC acquired PALS Marketplace in April 2012 and continues to make the screening tools available to more than 100,000 students in other states and internationally.

Invernizzi noted she followed a long line of past honorees who dedicated their research to public health.

“Literacy is also a public health issue,” she said, “and like other public health issues, early intervention is key.

“Only seven out of 10 ninth-graders today are going to graduate from high school. We know that we can actually change the trajectory for our most at-risk children through early intervention, and that’s where PALS comes in.”

Invernizzi hopes to expand the PALS family of assessments and teaching tools – which currently include PALS-PreK, PALS-K and PALS 1-3 – to provide for seamless literacy screening through eighth grade. Through a grant from the Institute of Educational Sciences, she is also working to develop PALS-español for Spanish-speaking students.

“The work Marcia has done in regard to early literacy assessments and interventions has paved the way for schools to spawn deeper conversations about children’s growth and development in reading,” said Darnella S. Cunningham, principal of Spotsylvania County’s Lee Hill Elementary School and a member of the board of directors of the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals.

“As we analyze PALS data, we’re better able to pinpoint students’ strengths and determine needs to improve specific literacy skills. In this age of accountability, we’re all looking for reasonable and manageable ways to consistently monitor student progress. PALS provides us with tools to do so.”

In addition to her work with PALS, Invernizzi is the executive director of U.Va.’s McGuffey Reading Center, the oldest operating University reading center in the country, and is a founder of Book Buddies, a nationally recognized one-on-one reading intervention.

About the Edlich-Henderson Innovator of the Year Award

Named for U.Va. Professor Emeritus Dr. Richard F. Edlich and Christopher J. (“Goose”) Henderson, a 25-year veteran of privately owned financial services businesses, the award recognizes an individual or team each year whose research discovery is making a major impact. Previously the Edlich-Henderson Inventor of the Year award, the award title and criteria were modified in 2012 to be more inclusive of University innovators pursuing a variety of different paths to achieve impact for their discoveries.

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Students’ Award-Winning WalkBack App Now Available

Have you ever promised to let a friend know when you arrive home and forgotten to do it? There’s an app for that, and it was developed by U.Va. engineering students!

Students Duylam Nguyen Ngo (’13) and Ashutosh Priyadarshy (’12) developed WalkBack to increase safety on college campuses, especially for students walking home alone at night. WalkBack is a free mobile app that creates an instant mobile connection between friends by simply touching their phones together, after which each person is automatically notified when everyone arrives home. Colleges can also anonymously use the data collected from WalkBack to make informed decisions on student safety.

This award-winning app won the Student Startup Madness competition at the 2012 SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, and the 2012 U.Va.-Darden Business Plan competition.

iPhone, iPad and iPod users, download WalkBack from the App Store here.

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OpenGrounds and Vonage Sponsor ‘Virality’ Research

U.Va.’s OpenGrounds and Vonage are at it again — this time partnering to sponsor research on the viral spread of information as a characteristic of instantaneous global communication.

Faculty and graduate students are invited to apply by April 20 to be a part of a multi-disciplinary group, made up of two to three research teams. Each of the teams will be awarded $15,000-$25,000 to conduct their research and collaborate with the other teams over an eight-month period (May-December 2013).

OpenGrounds and Vonage previously partnered to sponsor a competition for students to “invent the future of social messaging.” First-year engineering student Brent Baumgartner took home the top prize and $15,000 for his location-based “Attendr” concept.

For more information or to see the call for proposals, click here.

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National Disabilities Innovation Contest offers $25K Prize

Contests for innovators are popping up all over the place these days. One current national contest seeks to directly improve the lives of people living with disabilities by inventing new technologies they believe would be most helpful.

As part of World Cerebral Palsy Day 2012, more than 500 people with disabilities submitted their ideas for the “Change my World in One Minute” contest. A panel chose several finalists, and United Cerebral Palsy is offering a $25,000 prize to anyone who can bring one of their ideas to life:

  • A solar-powered motorized wheelchair
  • A fold-up motorized wheelchair
  • A documentary about people living with cerebral palsy

The deadline for submissions is March 31, 2013. For more info about the contest, see the World Cerebral Palsy Day website:

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U.Va. Innovation Team to Lead Several Sessions at AUTM 2013

Several U.Va. Innovation and Licensing & Ventures Group team members will be attending the Association of University Technology Managers 2013 Annual Meeting this week in San Antonio, Texas. Per AUTM:

This event is a networking and professional development conference drawing from the global community of technology transfer professionals from academia and industry, venture investors and other intellectual property experts.

ImageIf you’re attending #AUTM2013, connect with Mark Crowell, Michael Straightiff, Morgan Estabrook, Stephanie Miller and Chris Paschall using the AUTM Connect partnering system. We also encourage you to join in on these sessions led by U.Va. Innovation team members:

For more information, see See you in San Antonio!

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U.Va. Engineering Alum’s Lifesaving Innovation Now Available to the Public


An epinephrine auto-injector developed by an innovative U.Va. alumnus is now available in U.S. pharmacies.

Evan Edwards (Mechanical Engineering ’02, Systems Engineering ’04) and twin brother Eric are the founders of Richmond-based Intelliject Inc. Both sufferers of severe allergies, they combined their respective engineering and medical educations to develop an improved epinephrine self-injector for the treatment of severe allergic reactions, such as those affecting more than 6 million people at risk for anaphylaxis in the U.S.

Their product, Auvi-Q™, is about the size of a credit card, has a self-retractable needle, and provides audible instructions and visual cues for self-administration. Intelliject licensed Auvi-Q™ to Sanofi North America pharmaceuticals for commercialization in the U.S. It is now available at thousands of U.S. pharmacies with a doctor’s prescription.

Related links:


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Darden Incubator Project “Coverplay” Seeking $30K on Kickstarter

A team out of the Darden School of Business incubator is looking to bring the world’s thinnest premium Bluetooth speakers to your living room, and they’re using Kickstarter to get there.

CoverPlay,” the Darden Business Incubator project developed by first-year Darden student David Marriott and his brothers Adam, Will, Wesley and Sean, is currently featured on the venture-funding website Kickstarter. CoverPlay’s product is the Mojo speaker: a high quality, “uber-portable” Bluetooth speaker that is only seven millimeters thick.

Kickstarter provides an online platform for entrepreneurs and others to solicit funding for their ideas. Its all-or-nothing model creates a lower-risk, highly motivating environment for both the project creators and the people supporting their ideas.

The Marriott brothers set their Kickstarter deadline for Jan. 3. Until then, anyone can contribute to their $30,000 funding goal. On their page, Marriott and his brothers provide incentives for contributing to their start-up: donors can vote on future speaker colors, buy a CoverPlay t-shirt or hat, or even pre-order the Mojo speaker.

Check out the video above that David and his brothers created to promote their project. Click here to go to their Kickstarter page.

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16 Charlottesville Entrepreneurs Among CIT’s “GAP 50″

Breaking news: We’ve just received word from the Center for Innovative Technology‘s GAP 50 awards luncheon that 16 Charlottesville entrepreneurs made the list! These Charlottesville-based innovators and business leaders were selected by their peers as being among the top 50 “most likely to build Virginia’s next generation life science, technology, and energy companies”:

Congratulations to all the winners and finalists throughout Charlottesville and the commonwealth!

For more about CIT’s GAP 50 awards, visit For a list of all Charlottesville-area nominees, visit

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Announcing U.Va.’s Research Reagent Directory

A new U.Va. resource is connecting academic, industry and clinical investigators with important tools to further their research. U.Va. Innovation’s new research reagent directory features more than 100 available antibodies, mouse strains and other tools developed by U.Va. researchers.

Reagents are used in all phases of life-science research, from basic science to translational research and human health products. These ubiquitous little guys can be used in a variety of ways — such as identifying the presence or location of a protein or other indicator in a sample — making them useful tools in studying cell behavior, diagnostics and many other areas.

We could go on and on about research reagents, but maybe you should just see for yourself.

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