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January 17, 2023

‘Walleye Tank’ competition reels in entrepreneurs and innovators

By Caitlin Doran
Five judges converse while sitting at a round table.
Walleye Tank judges pick the winning teams. From left, Kat Zamarripa; Helena Soares, Ph.D.; Rena Hale, Ph.D.; Jim Willenbring; and Perry Hackett, Ph.D.

The recent "Walleye Tank: Ice Fishing Edition" brought together innovators and entrepreneurs from across Minnesota to pitch their ideas to win prizes to fund the continuing development of their projects.


Innovators from Mayo Clinic and across Minnesota gathered on Dec. 2 to compete in "Walleye Tank: Ice Fishing Edition," pitching their ideas to a panel of expert judges to see if they could get a bite.  

At this "Shark Tank"-inspired event, teams had just two minutes each to present their ideas to judges. Winners in each category received whimsical walleye-shaped trophies and cash prizes to fund the future development of their projects.

"The teams did excellent jobs showcasing the complexity of their work and business plans," says Rena Hale, Ph.D., entrepreneurial education program coordinator in the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship

Ice fishing champions

Here are the competition's prize winners, by category:

Winning Junior Angler teams pose on stage with their trophies and checks.
Junior Angler winners, left to right, Home Dialysis Squad — Ronsha Carridine, Beverley Waller, Brandi Pittman, Stephanie Williams and Tamara Lemons; Laxo Device — Rob Hill and Michael Thorn. Also pictured: Jamie Sundsbak and Stephen Ekker, Ph.D.

Junior Angler: The judges declared a tie between two teams, both from Mayo Clinic. These teams split a $4,000 prize:

  • The Home Dialysis Squad — The team pitched a preventive wellness treatment designed to decrease infection in dialysis patients treated with central catheters. Presented by Stephanie Williams, an inpatient and outpatient dialysis nursing manager at Mayo Clinic.
  • Laxo Device — The team pitched a tool designed to prevent drain blockages and related complications in patients after surgery. Presented by Michael Thorn, a trauma, critical care and general surgery nurse at Mayo Clinic.

Mid-Level Reeler: Dan Que Pham, co-founder and CEO of Oncodea, presented an artificial intelligence-enabled model for early cancer detection. The team took home a $6,000 prize.

The runner-up in this category was Brainpacer, a neuromodulation and recording device for the treatment of epilepsy, stroke, tumors and trauma. This Mayo Clinic team was led by Diogo Moniz Garcia, M.D., a neurosurgery research fellow.

Other teams included EZ Clinic, presented by James Martin, CEO, and ImpactPharm, presented by Phuong Sophie Le, CEO and co-founder.

Winning Mid-level Reeler and Professional teams post on stage with their trophies and checks.
Mid-Level Reeler and Professional winners and recognized teams, left to right: Brainpacer — Diogo Moniz Garcia, M.D.; Oncodea — Dan Que Pham; Evia Bio — Kevin Bassett and Christiaan Engstrom.

Professional: Christiaan Engstrom, CEO of Evia Bio, presented his company's innovation designed to improve the cryopreservation of cells for use in therapeutics. This team took home a $10,000 prize.

Other teams included: SonnyLife, presented by Dayna Taylor; InSitu Biologics, presented by Kevin Bassett, president and CEO; Alelo Medical, presented by Troy Ziegler; and Gentueri, presented by Randy Nagy, president and CEO.

Health FWD: Medical and Life Science Innovation and Entrepreneurship Conference

The Walleye Tank competition was part of the Health FWD: Medical and Life Science Innovation and Entrepreneurship Conference, a community showcase that brought together Mayo Clinic leaders, life science startups and entrepreneurs, investors, community organizations and others who aim to transform health care.

The conference included a Mayo Clinic Platform Accelerate Showcase featuring seven startup companies working with Mayo Clinic to turn their ideas into innovative products.

The competition was hosted by the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship. It was sponsored by University of Minnesota Technology Commercialization, University of Minnesota Medical School, Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota Carlson School, Launch Minnesota, Medical Alley Association, and Collider Foundation.

Learn more

Visit the Walleye Tank website to learn more about this event and past competitions. The next Walleye Tank competition will take place in May 2023. 


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Tags: artificial intelligence, cancer, Center for Clinical and Translational Science, Diogo Moniz Garcia, Education, entrepreneurship, Events, Innovations, Mayo Clinic Platform, Office of Entrepreneurship, People, Rena Hale

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