Professors Beckman and Marra among those honored at Celebration of Innovation

The University of Pittsburgh Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship presented its 2022 Celebration of Innovation on April 21. The event recognizes the achievements of Pitt faculty and student innovators who are seeking to improve people’s lives through the commercialization of their ideas and discoveries.

In addition to recognizing all faculty and students who submitted an invention disclosure, were issued a U.S. patent or had their innovation licensed, there were seven special awards presented:

Marlin Mickle Outstanding Innovator: Eric Beckman, professor, Swanson School of Engineering. This award is given to a Pitt faculty member who has made an impact on the world through an extraordinary commitment to innovation commercialization. Beckman has a three-decade track record as an academic entrepreneur that includes the receipt of 39 U.S. patents, with many more pending, and having several startup companies launched based on his research.

Emerging Innovator: Kacey Marra, professor of plastic surgery and bioengineering. This award is presented to an early-to-mid career Pitt faculty member who has working toward achieving impact for their research through commercial translation, and a dedication to mentoring the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. Marra is a pioneering innovator around the problem of repairing large gap nerve injuries. During her time at the University, she has submitted 23 invention disclosures to the Innovation Institute, has been issued six patents on her discoveries and has had her innovations licensed six times, including the formation of three startup companies.

Student Innovators of the Year: Utkars Jain, Adam Butchy and Michael Leasure, founders of HEARTio. These Ph.D. students are building a digital diagnostics company that brings the power of AI to help emergency providers detect heart abnormalities more quickly, more accurately, and for a fraction of the cost.

James “Chip” Hanlon Volunteer Mentor of the Year: John Inserra. This award recognizes those who freely share their time and expertise working one-on-one with Pitt innovation teams to explore the commercial potential of their ideas or research. Inserra — who has a background in sales, business development, consulting and teaching — mentored three teams through the First Gear program with innovations ranging from a first-of-its-kind probiotic bacteria that can be trained to consume dietary fats for a novel approach to weight control; a program for helping children in the autism spectrum develop reasoning skills; and developing a 3-D printing system for enhancing dentistry education.

Startup of the Year: LyGenesis. For over a decade, Eric Lagasse, a faculty member in the Department of Pathology, has been researching the regeneration of organ tissue as part of the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine. Lagasse discovered that hepatocyte cells of the liver, when introduced into the lymph nodes, will grow functional liver tissue. Lagasse engaged with Michael Hufford, an entrepreneur in residence at the Pitt Innovation Institute, to begin exploring the commercial potential of his discovery. Lagasse and co-founder Paulo Fontes, a transplant surgeon, started LyGenesis, which has raised millions of dollars as it works on studies surrounding the safety, tolerability and efficacy of its first-in-class novel cell therapy for patients with end-stage liver disease.

Small Business of the Year, revenue $1 million-plus: Eat’n Park Hospitality Group

Small Business of the Year, revenue below $1 million: Ashlé Taylor’s Collection of natural hair products

Read more about the awards and see videos about their developments on the Innovation Institute website.