Lilypad places first in InVenture Prize Competition

Lilypad, founded by Rhea Prem (center), Ethan Damiani (left), Netra Gandhi (right) and Girish Hari (not pictured), won the InVenture prize competition for their innovations in women’s health. // Photo by Tyler Parker Student Publications

What began as an inspiration from a cancer biology and biotechnology class lecture was soon transformed by Tech students into an award-winning diagnostic tool. Lilypad Health has garnered national attention for its “simple, non-invasive screening tool to identify gynecological diseases” and is now the winner of the 2024 InVenture Prize Competition. 

The InVenture Prize is a yearly competition hosted by Tech faculty for undergraduate students and recent B.S. graduates of the Institute. Students are given funding to create a prototype and the opportunity to present their innovations to a panel of judges. After a preliminary round and quick-pitch semifinal round, six finalists are invited to the final round produced live by Georgia Public Broadcasting, where the final winners are announced. 

During the final round of the 2024 InVenture Prize Competition on March 13, 2024, the winners were announced in a packed Ferst Theater. When Lilypad Health was announced as first place, their fan section rose to their feet, holding up “We <3 Lilypad” signs, cheering loudly for the win.

As the first place prize winners, Lilypad Health took home $20,000, up to an additional $20,000 to support one U.S. patent filing and automatic acceptance into the next cohort of CREATE-X’s Startup Launch program, which includes an additional $4,000 in seed funding, as well as legal assistance, access to the CREATE-X collaborative workspace, 1:1 faculty-led coaching and access to a network of field-specific mentors and experts. 

The second-place winner, Makr Papr, constructed an “innovative paper that capitalizes on the money that millions have spent on name tags”. The team consisted of Andrew Grant, second-year ME, Lauren Henry, second-year CS, Ikenna Okoro, second-year CS, Arrington Goss, second-year CS, Chelsea Manning, second-year CS and Milca Takou, third-year CMPE. The group took home $10,000, up to an additional $20,000 to support one US patent filing and an automatic interview for the next cohort of CREATE-X’s Startup Launch program.

Lastly, team Candor, composed of Atishay Jain, third-year CS, Srikar Parsi, third-year CS, Rishi Bengani, third-year CS and Tanuj Dunthuluri, third-year CS, took home the people’s choice award. The student team built a “Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) platform built for local governments; streamlining constituent complaint reporting, management, and resolution to enhance efficiency, communication, and trust.” Candor was awarded $5,000 and an automatic interview for the next cohort of CREATE-X’s Startup Launch program.

The funding and resources provided for the winners allows them to transform their ideas into real-world solutions, whether that be through a start-up, further testing, product manufacturing or taking their idea straight to the market. 

When asked what team Lilypad would do with the prize, Rhea Prem, CMPE ‘23 and the president and co-founder of Lilypad, responded they were “getting LilyPad to market as fast as possible.” 

She was joined onstage by co-founders Netra Gandhi, BMED ‘23, and Ethan Damiani, BCHM ‘23. Gandhi serves as the product manager and Damiani serves as the research and development manager for Lilypad. Girish Hari, CS ‘22, MS CS ‘23, was unable to participate in the competition but is a fellow co-founder and the operations manager of Lilypad. 

Lilypad is a menstrual pad add-on that collects blood until adequately saturated. A removable strip is then used as a test sample to be sent off to labs to be screened for diseases and cancer. The Lilypad serves as an alternative to the Papanicolaou test, or Pap smear, which is often regarded as invasive, uncomfortable and is stigmatized in some cultures. 

“We really want to not only help fight the stigma against menstrual blood, because it is at the end of the day, just blood. We want to be able to also kind of give that accessibility to people that don’t have access to gynecologists, approximately 10 million women in the United States don’t have access to a gynecologist, and that’s either due to living in rural remote areas or not having someone nearby,” Gandhi said. “We wanted to have essentially this kit so that we can get these people access to some prescreening basically from the comfort of their own home so that they can still be able to take control of their own health and test for really important biomarkers that could be very life changing.”  

Experimentation using menstrual blood is fairly new to the medical community due to its stigmatization and a disparity in women’s health studies. 

“We were able to show that it [menstrual blood] has a similar detection rate as a normal blood test, which is exciting because it proves that menstrual blood isn’t a novel source, but you can maintain accuracy with the device and be able to have this early detection to prevent cancer or its development,” Damiani said. 

The Lilypad kit consists of the Lilypad itself, gloves, an alcohol wipe and a biohazard container. The benefit of the at-home kit allows users to comfortably test for cervical cancer, STDs, fertility and much more in a comfortable and familiar environment. 

“We’re looking into using the money that we’ve gotten from InVenture to finish our patent and through work with Emory, we’re working on starting clinical trials and doing more testing to make sure we have the optimal design to collect the samples. The working on manufacturing, getting a small batch of Lilypads made and then hopefully getting real users to test it so we can get good feedback,” Prem said.

Fresh off a win from the InVenture Prize, and using funding they received from winning the Collegiate Inventors Competition in Fall 2023, Lilypad is gearing up to take their product to market, potentially making significant innovations in the women’s healthcare sphere.