Seniors Snag $25K Peltier Prize

Three Harvard seniors won the $25,000 grand prize in a national business plan competition for a project that introduces a new ultrasound innovation.

David J. Jakus ’06, Nicholas P. Orenstein ’06, and Ezra J. Rapoport ’06 submitted a project that markets a wireless fetal heart monitor to the Peltier Business Plan Competition at the University of Texas at Tyler this week. The trio, along with James D. Moran ’05, established LONO Medical Systems and has designed the prototype for a small wireless device that can attach to an expectant mother’s abdomen during pregnancy.

Current fetal heart monitors send an ultrasound signal into a woman’s body and measure bounceback from the umbilical cord, a procedure that is cumbersome as well as “invasive and indirect,” Orenstein said. LONO’s technology tracks the fetal heart rate itself using acoustics to create a passive, safer, and much more mobile device than traditional Doppler ultrasound.

The win comes after the group took first place in the 2005 Harvard Entrepreneurial Contest, sponsored by Harvard Student Agencies. To earn the Peltier prize, LONO beat out other projects that made it to the final round including a touch-screen for placing restaurant orders, a personal safety alarm in the form of a wireless key-chain, and a device that allows electronic textbook downloading.

“This is something which we invented and feel very connected to,” Orenstein said. “I never expected to be making something that could actually help save people’s lives.”

Orenstein said that the technology will be useful in high-risk pregnancies, although LONO also hopes to establish a home market for fetal heart monitors.

“I think every pregnant woman in America can use this,” Moran said.

After commencement this June, all three seniors will move to Dallas, Texas to set up LONO’s headquarters. The location will allow them to work at the Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, Orenstein said, adding that the company’s North Texas locale will be in a region that is “becoming a hotbed of medical invention.”

Texas businessman Robert Peltier, who sponsors the national business plan contest, hopes to stimulate economic growth in the Tyler area through the Peltier Competition. Next year’s prize will offer $100,000 to the first-place winner and $100,000 more if the winning team locates their emerging business in Tyler.

All of the prize money will be used to purchase equipment to begin making their prototype into a marketable reality, the winners say. The group coalesced around the heart monitor project through a combination of Orenstein’s connections with doctors in the Dallas area and an established partnership between high-school friends Jakus and Rapoport, according to Rapoport. But beyond this project, he added, “the thing about us that gives me real confidence in this company is that we’re just incredibly fertile and full of ideas, and we really have a line-up of projects that we’re going to be doing.”

LONO is named after a Hawaiian god associated with both fertility and sound.