Startup that uses saliva tests to diagnose oral cancers wins New Venture Challenge

OrisDX earns top prize; record $1.76 million in investment awarded

A startup developing saliva-based diagnostics to screen for oral cancers and pre-cancers has won first place in the 26th annual Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, the signature venture competition for MBA students at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

More than $1.76 million in investment was awarded to the 11 finalist teams competing in NVC finals on June 2, the largest amount ever awarded in the history of the pioneering startup accelerator. The event was held in person at Chicago Booth’s Harper Center for the first time since 2019.

“Our finalist teams were spectacular and spectacularly diverse—from a test to detect cancer, to tiles for spacecraft, to a market for hydrogen, to wine and healthy food,” said Steven Kaplan, the Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance at Chicago Booth and the Kessenich E.P. Faculty Director of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, where he cofounded the NVC. “The strength of our teams was such that they generated a record amount of investment, surpassing last year’s $1.73 million.”

The Rattan L. Khosa First-Place Prize, totaling $665,000 in investment, was awarded to OrisDX, a venture that seeks to help alleviate the burden of cancer morbidity globally through greater access to non-invasive diagnostics and screening resulting in early detection of head and neck cancers. OrisDX, which is also a participant in the Compass deep tech accelerator, a finalist in the George Shultz Innovation Fund and was a participant in the Polsky Center’s I-Corps program, is poised to launch a novel saliva-based molecular diagnostics test to detect pre-cancers and cancers of the oral cavity, based on science developed through a decade of foundational research by top physicians and scientists at the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins University, including UChicago’s Medicine’s Nishant Agrawal.

Our winning team exemplifies the growing collaborative powers of combining our Booth students with UChicago’s world-class researchers,” said Mark Tebbe, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Booth and an instructor of the NVC. “The innovativeness of this solution combined with its ability to potentially change medical procedures made it a clear winner in our very competitive NVC.”

“We are so excited about today’s result, but even more excited about what this means to our future patients,” said Jake Stangl, chief business officer at OrisDX and a current MBA student at Booth. “Our non-invasive diagnostic will make sure patients get the care they need early enough to ensure they live long and healthy lives. It’s been an honor competing against the other extremely talented teams, and being coached by some of the world’s greatest business leaders at the Polsky Center.”

The finalist teams represented a diverse set of startups, ranging from a company improving radiology diagnostics in India to a body scanning platform that makes 3D avatars for fashion designers to a maker of dog food and treats made from sustainable crickets. They presented their business plans to a judging panel made up of 22 investors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders, many of them Booth alumni, who deliberated behind closed doors before announcing the winners.

The $25,000 Moonshot Prize, awarded to a team whose unique technologies are catalyzing innovative solutions to global challenges, was split between the second- and third-place winners. Taking second place, with a total of $352,500 in investment, was BlackCurrant, a hydrogen trading marketplace helping transportation companies access sustainable fuels. Third place, and $172,500, went to Canopy Aerospace, which is developing manufacturing processes for commercial thermal protection systems for the emerging space and hypersonic industries.

The $5,000 People’s Choice award, a cash prize voted on by the audience, went to Earthi, a grab-and-go fast-casual concept focused making healthy and delicious plant-based meals for flexitarians trying to reduce their meat consumption.

The NVC was a pioneer of business school venture competitions when it held its first finals in 1997 with a $20,000 investment pool. It has since graduated more than 370 startup companies still in operation today, including nationally known brands such as Grubhub, Braintree/Venmo, Simple Mills, Tovala and Foxtrot, that have gone on to raise more than $1 billion in funding and achieve more than $8.5 billion in exits.

The competitive program spans the academic year, starting in the fall when students form teams and then apply to be in the program. Of 62 applications received this year, 30 teams were selected to participate in the credit-bearing spring quarter course, where they took classes in entrepreneurship and received coaching to refine their pitches before finalists were selected to advance to the investment competition.

Winners of other Polsky Center competitions

The Polsky Center also runs four additional tracks of the NVC serving distinct University of Chicago audiences, including alumni, undergraduates, executive MBA students, and social impact entrepreneurs. Learn about those competitions at the links below:

Adapted from a story first published on the Polsky Center website.