“Projects must serve real world”: this year’s InnoFest innovation gala kicks off in Nizhny

Lobachevsky UNN, the largest university in Nizhny Novgorod, in the mid-Volga area, last week launched a big youth innovation festival called InnoFest-2015.

UNN is keeping up its new good tradition, as last year the inaugural InnoFest fiesta already offered young tech developers from all over the region a venue to showcase their project ideas and compete for the attention of an expert jury. This time, the event is taking on an even more important national dimension, as InnoFest is hosting a large federal competition for innovators.

Striving for competitiveness in the global market

As in 2014, Russian Venture Company (RVC), one of this country’s key development drivers and the national fund of funds for innovation, is once again providing support as General Partner, the UNN websiteannounced.

At an opening ceremony on November 18, Sergey Mardanov, who’s responsible for tech transfer development at RVC and last year watched Nizhny’s first InnoFest take shape from idea to success, said he believed local projects “would deserve to be among the best nationwide” and effectively support the development of Russia’s National Technology Initiative, an ambitious federal government program aimed at fostering a number of advanced sectors which are believed to form the cornerstone of the global economy 20 years from now.

“It is critical that InnoFest projects be innovative in the global market,” emphasized Alexander Tsapin from the regional Chamber of Commerce, one of the festival’s official Partners. Alexander Grudzinsky, who runs UNN’s Institute of Economics and Entrepreneurship that hosted the opening day, underscored the importance of turning ideas into marketable products, hoping that InnoFest would help the innovators learn the ropes of how this works, while UNN Vice Rector Andrei Kuznetsov said plainly that “unless projects come to serve the real world, we don’t see them.”

“We’re working for the world to hear us”

There’s much to look forward to for both InnoFest participants and guests alike. Before the festival is closed on December 11, there will be lots of shows and competitions, including, of course, the semifinal of a sizable federal competition called “The Young Innovator of the Year.”

As last year, the best part of InnoFest’s kickoff day was the Territory of Youth Innovation, presenting to the audiences 65 innovation projects developed by young regional scientists. A whole array of universities and research institutes took part in the show.

A broad range of research areas was highlighted, including Medicine of the Future, New Devices and Hardware Systems, Modern Materials and Related Technologies, IT, and Biotech. Take a closer look at a select few of the developers we talked to as they busied themselves by their exhibition stands:

Irina Chernigina, Nizhny Novgorod State Medical Academy. She presented her project aimed at creating a personalized diagnostics lab to select therapy based on the monitoring of a patient’s genetic status. At the core of the effort is what appears to be a dramatic improvement on the well-known DNA comet assay (single cell gel electrophoresis). Drawing upon a 1984 discovery which has always been used exclusively for fundamental research, Irina has come up with what seems to be a revolutionary procedure that is said to be able to identify damages in one’s DNA within three-to-four hours, a far cry from several weeks required today in the standard approach.

It’s the key element of the assay that has been changed. Where it’s still gamma radiation in most labs across the world, in the Nizhny project it’s ozonation. The price of gamma ray emitters—prohibitive for many countries, like an estimated $70,000+ apiece for today’s Russia—has been the key barrier hampering the introduction of the comet assay to medical practice. The gamma ray based approach cannot possibly be mobile, which has sparked a whole range of attempts across the globe to bring it up to date.

Irina watched the comet assay method take root in Russia in the early 1990’s when she was a student, and then resolved to tailor it to personalized medicine for DNA assessment in cancer patients. That has resulted in the development of a portable and lightweight device, in which ozone concentration and timing for exposure have been computed to match those in the conventional radiation method. Health risks for medical staff and patients have been dramatically reduced, and the gamma ray based method is six times the cost of the new version of the comet assay, developed in Nizhny Novgorod.

A lab has been set up at the Medical Academy, and Irina’s team has been training youth talent, both in class and during webinars; and the developers say they are prepared to start offering their methodology as a service to customers, using their proprietary equipment. They’ve been in talks over the project with medical institutions in oncology, gynecology and neurology, Irina said. In addition to government-run hospitals and private clinics, their potential markets include beauty parlors that offer customers ozone therapy services. The new methodology is expected to help customize ozone concentrations for each specific client.

The developers are getting the word out about their innovation, using publications in international journals among other things. “We’re working for the world to hear us and give thought to this simple idea that gamma ray emitters are too complex a solution for one to use in a typical lab, and a departure from the traditional is required here,” Ms. Chernigina said.

Seeking the needs of an individual is the right approach, she believes. “To treat each and every one using a single pattern is one thing; to try and improve the efficacy of therapy by testing and seeing if a treatment works and whether a dose should be increased or reduced is quite another matter,” Irina said. Her team is shooting for serial production and the commercialization of their solution, and hoping for decent revenues.

Inna Ushakova, Lobachevsky UNN. She’s come up with a project called “Zen smart ring.” This appears to be yet another in a wide variety of options for wearable electronics across the world; however, the project leader is positive her solution has a competitive edge over many others. “The gadgets that exist don’t offer the function of predicting the development of cardiovascular conditions. We have an algorithm that enables our product, as it processes data, to assess the probability of such a development in a user,” she said. The conditions the device will cover include myocardial ischemia, hypertension, stroke, cardiac arrhythmia, and some others.

A project bringing together some advanced discoveries in medicine, IT and psychology, the Zen is said to be able to generate one’s pulsogram (and send it to the user’s smartphone), and also identify stress peaks, one’s susceptibility to stress, and even a degree of the user’s psychological fatigue—and all of these on a real time basis. There’s also a component that may be in demand across markets, as the new thing is thought to help its wearer make a decision when choosing between this or that item in a store, or this or that option for a meal, or in other situations like these. “When you look at two objects and can’t make up your mind as to which one you like best, the ring will “feel” which one you are psychologically inclined to have,”Inna explained.

With all that, the developers hope the Nizhny wearable device might expect to get traction on crowdfunding platforms, including Kickstarter the project team is looking at now, and just among a growing army of the aficionados of electronic wearables.

Alexandra Karusevich, Alexeyev State Technical University of Nizhny Novgorod (Polytech). The project she presented is focused on what, on the face of it, takes us back in time but, in fact, could become a window for us to peep at the future. Her team has developed a dispersion system to reduce helium leaks through the skin of an aerostat. One may say the very focus is archaic; but lighter-than-air aircraft like balloons are increasingly becoming welcome visitors to a range of applications, including efforts to prevent or deal with the aftermath of emergencies, forecast weather conditions, launch airborne advertising projects, survey the Earth for minerals, make high-rise installations, etc.

Gas leaks through the micropores of the skin pose a serious problem, given the cost of helium. The Nizhny team is offering a special substance that penetrates all the pores and forms some sort of film there, a solution that is expected to help increase flight time by a factor of ten, while cutting the cost of balloon operation considerably.

According to Alexandra, her team is in talks with a number of advertising agencies and a weather forecast service. The partners are interested, she said, and may soon receive a small batch of the product for testing. Her colleagues are also making a special sprayer to make sure the dispersion system is spread evenly over the skin of an aerostat.

The project leader said that “there are no comparable technologies in the market” for similar solutions for mid-sized balloons she’s focused on. Her team estimates that their new product could get an overwhelming 98% market share within the next five years. The developers also hope that if successful, their effort would emerge as yet another inventive for governments and businesses to use lighter-than-air aircraft to a greater extent than they do today, thus reducing the overall emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Tatiana Larina, Research Institute of Chemistry, Institute of Biology and Biomedicine, Lobachevsky UNN. Her business idea calls for the commercialization of a new multipurpose bacteria-microelement based fertilizer. At the heart of the idea is nanotechnology for a microelement-containing polymer matrix developed at UNN.

The new solution is both a chemical herbicide and a microelement agent, all in one. “There’s no direct analog in the global market at the moment,” Tatiana claimed, referring to this interesting combination of properties. Typically, bacteria and microelement based solutions exist separately. The Nizhny-originating fertilizer is said to be able to adsorb on the surface of seeds, thus not only helping plants better consume nitrogen but also keeping pathogenic microorganisms at bay.

The new solution is expected to provide ample vegetal nutrition, and a user would save substantially on nitrogen fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, a way of keeping agricultural soil safer and making crops more wholesome for people.

According to Tatiana, her team has managed to lower the cost of the fertilizer by 20-to-30% compared to the existing competition, because waste from galvanic sites is used as raw material.

The project developer believes markets for this new product could include large agribusinesses, farmers, and factories that cultivate seeds. Using the fertilizer could also support Russia’s import substitution program, she thinks.

Vladislav Vinogradov, Lobachevsky UNN. And one more noteworthy project—this time to hopefully win the hearts of millions of drivers across this country and beyond. The innovators are developing the FlatRoad, a system to assess the quality of roads.

The device which looks like a small box is placed inside a vehicle. Its IC receives data from the on-board accelerometer, a GPS module, and a GSM module. Machine learning algorithms are said to help determine the intensity of a shock as a car tire hits a hole.

“Our system enables us to detect holes right on the gadget placed in a car. Data collected is then sent out to a cloud for us to be able to have thorough analysis and describe virtually every single hole on a road,”Vladislav said. When the cloud completes the processing of the data, results are sent to other cars equipped with similar devices in the form of what may be referred to as “hole maps.” So, drivers get warning way in advance.

The team is shooting for a share in both the B2B and B2C market segments. To come up with detailed “hole maps,” the developers want to let taxi and courier service drivers test the system free of charge. When a sufficient amount of data is collected and the efficiency of the system hopefully proven, the FlatRoad team has plans to shift to a licensing model of doing business. By the time testing is over, the guys hope transportation companies will have acknowledged the advantages of using the solution, such as shorter idle time for cars, a considerable reduction of repair costs, and, of course, an increase in revenue, and may decide to start paying.

With the full results of B2B focused testing in hand the team may choose to look at the B2C segment. In addition, government-owned road maintenance services may also benefit, as the FlatRoad developers won’t charge them for their “hole maps,” Vladislav said.