Meet the Winner of the TechOhio Startup Creativity Challenge

creativity challenge winner

This Cleveland startup’s creative pivot could lead to a world-changing device

Ohio startups gave our judges a difficult job in TechOhio’s first ever Startup Creativity Challenge. Dozens of companies submitted their incredibly creative solutions in nearly every possible industry, showcasing the wide range of innovation happening here in Ohio.

But while the judges loved many of the great ideas on display, one stood out above the rest. We’re thrilled to announce that Cleveland startup IdentifySensors is the very first winner of the TechOhio Startup Creativity Challenge!

All you have to do is take a look at IdentifySensors’ product to understand why our judges were so excited about their creativity. The company has developed an in-home device that can test for COVID-19, but they’re also working to expand that tech to allow testing for many other diseases with results sent directly to your phone. The device is close to completion, and the company hopes to have FDA approval and an emergency use authorization in the next few months for the test centered around COVID-19. After that, they plan to expand its capabilities to other diseases.

“We’re going to introduce the electronic age in laboratory medicine for pathogen detection, which is a $50 billion market every year in the United States,” said Dr. Gregory Hummer, founder and CEO. “And when you add in COVID-19, the United States has spent well over $80 billion on detecting just this one pathogen. Our test takes a signal from the cartridge to the cloud where we determine if it’s positive or negative. It’s radically different from current tests, which have no digital output. And we can create new algorithms for influenza A, influenza B, hepatitis A, B, and C, HIV, hep-C, you name it. That’s the excitement — there’s no end in sight.”

They might be based in science, but the minds behind IdentifySensors are quick to credit their creativity for the exciting trajectory of the company.

“I can’t draw worth a darn and I can’t paint very well either, but I sure can think of things in the future,” Hummer said. “I think there are certain individuals in the world that can visualize things. When I think about creativity in the United States, this country has been a leader in all sorts of technology since World War II and we’ve spread this technology all over the world. We have people across the globe leveraging technology that they learned from our universities, and it’s for the good of mankind.”

Even the application of IdentifySensors’ groundbreaking tech needed some creativity to reach new heights. Their technology was originally designed for sensors that detect the presence of explosives, and were eventually altered to detect spoilage in the world’s supply chain. But while they were perfecting how to keep fish and produce fresh, Purdue University asked them to develop a COVID-19 test, and they realized they had an even more revolutionary device on their hands. Without their creativity, the company may never have had the ability to make that pivot and see it through.

“A fundamental piece of scientific progress is having an imagination,” said Dr. Tommy Sors, COO. “I can show you a little bit of transparent liquid and say, ‘This is DNA,’ but unless you can visualize and imagine what I’m talking about, you’re not really going to understand it. Albert Einstein, for instance, used to have these mental experiments. He would picture himself traveling on a photon of light and what that perspective would look like. That takes a lot of creativity, deep thinking and a concerted effort to take your mind somewhere not too many people have gone before and dig deeper and deeper with creativity. It takes a creative mind to push boundaries and solve problems.”

Our judges unanimously admired IdentifySensors’ creativity and breakthrough technology, as each ranked the company in their top five of the many challenge submissions. “With a more connected world, we see scale and amplification of infection at greater rates than ever,” one judge said. “Having a system that can rapidly scale to meet demand for RNA testing could be a game changer.”

Another judge noted that “COVID-19 amplified the need for fast, reliable and accurate testing,” and said they looked forward to the game-changing tech becoming widely available. For Sors, that recognition from other players in the Ohio startup scene are what makes the award special.

“Probably the biggest honor is who judged these awards and our technology,” he said. “I see this award as our peers giving us kudos and saying, ‘Good job. This is the right direction. We support this.’ We’re really taking this as a level of community support for what we’re trying to do with a small team. We all have our hearts in this, and to know that we have other people from industries seeing us and our progress and giving us a thumbs up is a big energy boost for us to continue moving forward.”

But the IdentifySensors team knows that they’re not the only ones pushing creative innovation in Ohio. From software companies to. And for our winner, their breakthrough piece of tech may never have been possible without Ohio fostering the perfect environment for progress on the cutting edge.

“I think TechOhio has done a fantastic job of bringing awareness to the Ohio startup scene. Ohio is right there with the likes of Silicon Valley or Boston or other hotspots in the country,” Chief Information Officer Joe Mosbrook said. “This technology started at Case Western Reserve University, and a lot of scientists right here in Ohio brought it to fruition. We couldn’t have done that without a lot of the resources provided by the state and the environment Ohio has created.”

Lydia Mihalik is director of the Ohio Development Services Agency, an Ohio agency committed to creating jobs and building strong communities. She was as impressed with the contest’s submissions as our judges, but wasn’t surprised to see the wealth of talent and creativity among Ohio entrepreneurs.

“Ohio has always been a hotbed for creativity and is home to some of the most innovative startups in the country,” she said. “The first TechOhio Startup Creativity Challenge really highlights the overwhelming amount of talent that our state has to offer. Across the state, talented individuals are using their creativity to innovate and develop technological breakthroughs that shape the way we think about entire industries.”

Thanks to all the companies who participated in our very first TechOhio Startup Creativity Challenge! We’ll be back next year with a new set of judges, more amazingly creative solutions and more Ohio innovators changing the world. In the meantime, be sure to keep up with TechOhio’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram for exciting tech news, feature stories and our Startup Culture Awards competition this fall.

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