Daniel mendez feature

A casual conversation with a neonatal intensive care nurse inspired Daniel Mendez to start thinking about how he could play a role in developing medical technology.

The nurse told the UTSA alumnus that part of her routine included rotating the heads of premature babies every hour to prevent deformation.

In the age of booming medical technology, Mendez was astounded that a better solution did not exist. So with the help of fellow UTSA mechanical engineering majors Israel Cruz and Nicholas Flores, Mendez set out to create one: GELShield™.

GELShield™, a headband-like protection device containing an aqueous gel distributes the weight of newborn babies’ heads and reduces pressure points in their skulls.

Five years later, GELShield™ has received FDA approval, and the student-led team has evolved into a full-fledged San Antonio company: Invictus Medical.

The three teammates, whose project received an A, addressed the need to prevent head molding

“It wasn’t until we had a nurse ask us when she could purchase the device that we realized we had stumbled upon something that could really change the medical landscape for preemies,” Mendez says.

After that, the team — under the company name Invictus — decided to enter its prototype of GELShield ™ into the Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship’s (CITE) $100,000 competition. “The rest is history,” says Mendez.

Many winners of the CITE competition execute MicroExits, a website that connects entrepreneurs looking to fund their startup companies with relevant investors based on social connections and matching algorithms. The winners sell their technologies and companies after the competition.

CITE is an interdisciplinary center in UTSA’s colleges of Business and Engineering. The center hosts a biennial Student Technology Venture Competition in which senior business and engineering students collaborate to develop an innovative technology along with a business plan to successfully develop a new company. The top three teams compete for the $100,000 prize pool in funding and services to launch their company.

Not one of the three original members of Invictus was able to remain with Invictus Medical too long after the company formed. “Over time the company demanded more and more expertise and experience in different facets of the commercialization of medical devices,” says Mendez. “Eventually we had all ended up replacing ourselves with individuals who had spent their entire careers doing what we were having to learn on the fly.”

“We were solving a problem that had no current solution. We really took the time to understand both the consumer and the marketplace, and our solution seemed so obvious, it was easy to get people on board,” explains Mendez who attributes his team’s success at the CITE competition to the team’s ability to address an unmet need.

Establishing cognitive development as its top priority, Invictus Medical has been approved for $1 million in grants through the National Science Foundation to bring other forms of innovation to the forefront of medicine.

Mendez characterizes this decision as risk management, because as a startup with investors depending on them, “you quite literally cannot afford to make learning mistakes.” He believes that the ability to communicate with potential investors so that they have the utmost confidence in the team’s plan is integral to winning the Student Technology Venture Competition.

“Coming up with a great solution to a real problem is a feat in itself,” explains Mendez. “Being able to convince people to give you millions of dollars is another.”

Mendez offers advice for future competitor hopefuls: “communicate the problem, your solution and properly incentivize people to invest.”

CITE’s next Student Technology Venture Competition will take place in December 2015.

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