UNL trio creates startup to eliminate medical error in cancer treatment

Most college students dedicate all of their time to classwork and their social lives, but Joseph Lydiatt, a sophomore business and management major with a focus on entrepreneurship at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, dedicated this year to bringing his startup company to life. Lydiatt was part of a trio that was a finalist in the Center for Entrepreneurship New Venture Competition.

The startup, NovocAI, focuses on the potential for artificial intelligence to analyze cancer patients and determine which treatments would work best to eliminate the possibility for medical error in the treatment process.

“Medical error is the third leading cause of death in a 2016 Johns Hopkins study, with it only behind heart disease and cancer, and a significant percent of those errors were misdiagnoses. So honestly, [if] we could eliminate one, then we made an impact,” Lydiatt said.   

Joshua Jones, a junior economics and computer science major and member of the NovocAI team, came up with the original idea for the 3-2-1 Quick Pitch Competition in Nov. 2018.           

“I study computer science at UNL, and I was trying to find a way to apply what I was learning while also making an impact on people's lives. After doing some research, I came to the conclusion that artificial intelligence could greatly improve the medical field,” Joshua Jones said.

In the Quick Pitch competition, each student gets three minutes to present their idea to a panel of judges and at the end, they give a prize to the most innovative ideas. Jones was one of the winners of that competition, and when he decided to continue building on the idea, he realized he’d need help from other students.

“[The competition] was helpful because it helped us identify the problem that [we] needed to solve and we received feedback from local entrepreneurs,” Jones said.

After some more research and development, Jones decided to take his idea to another campus competition, The 48-Hour Challenge, which Lydiatt said was very similar in concept to the previous one. This time, Jones recruited the help of Trevor Fellbaum, a junior computer science major. With their solid presentation and idea, they won this competition as well, and knew they needed to take it further.

When they heard of the New Venture Competition, with the possibility of winning up to $50,000, the duo needed someone who was much more business savvy than the two computer science majors. That’s when Lydiatt came into the picture. The three students understood this would be their hardest competition yet, so they didn’t rely on their previous pitches to get them by. When April finally arrived, the group ended up as one of the finalists, beating out dozens of other ideas.

“It was a great opportunity to make a lot of connections in the business world,” Lydiatt said.

Though they do not have an actual product built, the company has started working with prototypes, like the Minimally Viable Product (MVP). They taught the program what cancer is, so when they give the program pictures of patients, it gives a confidence score to determine how sure or unsure it is that the patient has cancer.

“We still have a lot to go before we bring it to market and everything, but right now we just have to continually train the algorithm, or the neural network, to increase its accuracy,” Lydiatt said.




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