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Zhang team wins two student entrepreneur competitions

Photo of Ting Zhang winning 2nd place in competition
Ting Zhang (l), IE PhD student, and research partner Shruthi Suresh (r), BME PhD student, won 2nd place in the recent Burton D. Morgan Business Model Competition for their project, “Haptimage”.
Photo of WomenIN Tech Pitch Competition winners
WomenIN Tech Pitch Competition winners Ting Zhang (4th from l) and Shurthi Suresh (4th from r) (Photo/IAS Lab)
Ting Zhang, a fourth-year PhD student in Industrial Engineering, and her team won two different student entrepreneur competitions.

In February, Zhang and her research partner, Shruthi Suresh, a PhD student in biomedical engineering, won second place in the social track of the Burton D. Morgan Business Model Competition (BMC). Then on March 6, they won first place in the WomenIN Tech Pitch Competition, a Purdue Foundry initiative which showcases and helps fund early-stage, women-led technology startups in Indiana.

Zhang and Suresh's project is called HaptImage. It is a portable hardware and software system that allows the blind and visually-impaired to access images in real-time, and can be carried in a bag and plugged into mobile devices for instant access.

"As we are on our path to commercialize this product, the Burton Morgan BMC was a good start for us to know more about our customer segments and market, and to complete our business thesis," explains Zhang. "It also provided us funding and resources."

She and Suresh talked to over a hundred potential customers during the last six months, then developed a business model for HaptImage. For the preliminary round of the BMC, they gave a presentation talking about their customer discovery process, and were selected as one of the four finalist teams. For the final presentation, finalists emphasized their projects' marketing and financial plans.

Zhang and Suresh plan to use their prize money to develop their minimum viable product (MVP) and do beta testing at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. 

HaptImage research was featured in the February 2017 issue of New Scientist. Also, Zhang and Suresh were selected as part of the Fall 2017 NSF I-Corps cohort, a prestigious program for innovative student researchers. Zhang is co-advised by Professors Brad Duerstock (IAS Lab) and Juan Wachs (ISAT lab), and Suresh by Prof. Duerstock.

Writer: DeEtte Starr, starrd@purdue.edu