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Students, faculty awarded entrepreneurship grants

As part of a mini grant program administered by the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, two students, four faculty members and one staff member were awarded funds for their individual projects this past spring semester.

Dr. Timothy M. Stearns, executive director and Coleman Foundation chair in entrepreneurial studies, said the grants provide an auxiliary that gives “opportunities for people to make a business out of their product or idea.”

“The impact has been tremendous,” Stearns said. “It allows [applicants] to take a big step forward with a product that’s all about making progress and compelling enough that people will provide resources.”

The funding for these grants was provided by New California Ventures, a for-profit business owned as a subsidiary of the Fresno State Foundation. The grants look to support the development of student- or faculty-made products and ideas with as much as $5,000 per project.

Stearns said the selection process leans on “clear understanding and demonstration to the bigger market.”

“Is the funding going to actually move forward?” Stearns said. “They also need dedication, in that if you get this grant, I expect to be moved by it in a way.”

One of the applicants, Dr. Qiao-Hong Chen, an assistant professor for the College of Science and Mathematics, received her entrepreneurial grant through her work in cancer research.

Through her research, she and a group of chemists examined the use of an ingredient found in curry to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells in the prostate.

“Around 30,000 people die from prostate cancer each year; that’s why we really need to develop new drugs, preferably natural products to provide more solutions,” Chen said.

Based on the experiment, Chen used curcumin (the ingredient in curry) as a compound for improved bioavailability, or the degree and rate in which a substance is absorbed into the system. Through bioavailability, the substance can be used to cheat prostate cancer cells and lessen cell growth, she said.

“We hope to continue in our research; it’s really just a matter of budget and doing what we can with what we have,” Chen said.

Other grant winners include students Ivy Rivera and Nico De Young, both business majors who developed Web-based initiatives called Check2Rent and Tripsidize, respectively.

Engineering faculty Dr. The Nguyen was awarded for creating an upper limb tremor suppression device that uses electroactive polymers to aid people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Meanwhile, Dr. Ram Nunna and professor Walter Mizuno were selected for their product Dec-A-Cap, a photo design for mortarboards for graduation ceremonies.

Staff member Donna DeRoo, assistant director of Central California for Health and Human Services, was also chosen for her work with San Joaquin Valley Performance Management Dashboard, a product that would provide public health dashboard metrics for agencies.

With hopes for more entrepreneurial projects in the future, Stearns said he expects more applicants for the next round of grants, which will be available October through March.

“It’s important to provide resources to people who offer great products or ideas,” Stearns said.  “The goal is to get good ideas moving forward.”