Cortical Concepts 
- Stephanie Huang, M’13 (team leader)
- Jason Hsu (team member)
- Christopher Komanski (team member)
- Evan Luxon (team member)
- Nicolas Martinez (team member)
- Jay Khanna (team advisor, John Hopkins School of Medicine)
Osteoporosis is a common disease in elderly patients, affecting as many as 10 million people in the US. The bone softens in these patients, which reduces strength by up to 70% and causes the screws to pull out.
To stabilize segments of the spine during back surgery, doctors insert rods and screws to hold the spine in place until it heals, which can take six to nine months. However, if the patient suffers from osteoporosis there is a high tendency for those rods and screws to pull out. Cortical Concepts’ Team leader, Stephanie Huang, a first-year student at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, explained that the process in those cases is like trying to hang a picture in drywall.
In a procedure known as spinal fixation, spinal surgeons stabilize segments of the spine by placing screws into the vertebrae and joining the screws with rods. Incidentally, patients with osteoporosis often have the most to benefit from this type of operation, as they are the most susceptible to spinal instability. Screw pullout is considered a catastrophic failure that requires a risky revision surgery.
Because one in four patients undergoing this surgery has poor bone quality — a statistic expected to increase with the aging of the population — this is a significant problem. To solve it, Huang’s team proposes to develop the Cortical Anchor, which applies the dry wall anchor concept used for securing pictures to the spine. The device expands as the screw is inserted into the bone, negating the presence of osteoporosis conditions.
Cortical Concepts has developed a device that acts as an intermediary between the bone-screw interface and provides a strong interference fit for existing screws. Initial tests in cadavers indicate that the Cortical Anchor provides a 100% increase in the fixation strength in osteoporotic vertebrae. The total addressable market for the Cortical Anchor is 720,000 units or $300 million (annual, US). The device is priced significantly lower than the alternatives ($400 per device) to incentivize its adoption by hospitals and physicians. At this price the gross margin is $399. Cortical Concepts is currently seeking $350,000 in initial seed funding to begin commercializing its technology.
They have filed a provisional patent for not only its device but for its method of applying an anchor–similar to drywall anchors used in home building–to bone screws used in spinal surgery. Its advisors include the Co-director of Spine Surgery at Johns Hopkins University.
Cortical Concepts says the market for the device is 720,000 units or $300 million a year. The team, which was named a finalist in the Tulane University Business Plan Competition, proposed aggressive promotional marketing to create customer interest and already has lined up 25 surgeons from Johns Hopkins University who are ready to use the technology. With a provisional patent filed, Cortical Concepts projects an acquisition value in year five of $180 million.
And the Winner Is…
The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania announced that student team, Cortical Concepts, whose “Cortical Anchor” device aims to increase spine stability for osteoporosis surgery patients, won the $20,000 Michelson Grand Prize of the 2010 Wharton Business Plan Competition. The prize was awarded at the Wharton School’s annual Venture Finals, April 28, 2010, where student finalists received more than $75,000 in combined cash prizes and in-kind legal/accounting services.
University of Pennsylvania Medical School student Stephanie Huang, Cortical Concepts’ team leader, stated in her Venture Finals presentation that the company’s device will improve long term health for nearly 10 million osteoporosis patients in the US at risk. The team has completed a small scale pre-clinical trial with human cadaveric spine, performed mechanical bench-top testing and completed four rounds of beta prototyping. With competitors in nearly a dozen nationwide business plan contests, Cortical Concepts has raised over $40,000 in grant funding.
- James Cassano, WG’73; Partner, CoActive Health Solutions,LLC.
- David A. Cohen; President, Karlin Asset Management.
- Maxine Gowen, WG’02; President & CEO, Trevena,Inc.
- Josh Kopelman, W’93; Managing Partner, First Round Capital
- Daniel R. Pascheles; Vice President, Global Competitive Intelligence, Merck & Co.,Inc.
- Cortical Concepts [Linkedin]
- Wharton EMBA Alumna Returns to Campus as Business Plan Competition Judge [Maxine Gowen, MBA For Executives @ Wharton]
- Johns Hopkins Students Win $20,000 Grand Prize in 2010 Wharton Business Plan Competition [2010-05-04; Phil Sneiderman, John Hopkins University]
- Life Sciences Dominate at Wharton Competition [2010-04-30; Lora Kolodny, The New York Times]
- Wharton Business Plan Competition Michelson Grand Prize Winners Announced [2010-04-29; Peter Winicov. Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs] [prweb]
- Wharton Business Plan Competition Michelson Grand Prize Winners Announced [2010-04-29; Peter Winicov. Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs] [Archive.org]
- Winners of Wharton Business Plan Competition Ring NASDAQ Stock Market Closing Bell [2010-08-23; Peter Winicov. PennNews]
- Wharton Business Plan Competition Winners (WBPC) to Ring the NASDAQ Stock Market Closing Bell [2010-08-23; Robert Madden, NASDAQ]
- Wharton’s 2010 Business Plan Competition: Health Care Innovations Dominate the ‘Great Eight’ [2010-05-12; Knowledge@Wharton, Wharton School]
- Semifinal Presentations – Impressive as Usual [2014-04-09. New Venture Championship blog]
- Spirit of Enterprise 2010 – Cortical Concepts [2010-03-04. Cincom Systems. YouTube]
- [Video] Hopkins Ortho Professor & Winners Ring NASDAQ Bell [2010-08-23. Johns Hopkins Ortho. YouTube]
- [Video] Wharton Business Plan Competition 2010 Venture Finals [2010-05-14. Wharton Entrepreneurship Programs Video. YouTube]
- [Video] Cortical Concepts Medical Animation [2011-10-04. Trinsic Animation. YouTube.]
- [Video] Meet some of the 2010 Wharton Business Plan Competition Semi-finalists [2010-03-30. Wharton Entrepreneurship Programs Video. YouTube]