CSUF business plan winners joining more competitions

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Luis Herrera (left) and Andre Conde accept their first-place award in the Cal State Fullerton Business Plan Competition on April 11. (Courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)
Luis Herrera (left) and Andre Conde accept their first-place award in the Cal State Fullerton Business Plan Competition on April 11. (Courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)

The students behind White Light Medical, the winner of the Cal State Fullerton Business Plan Competition, are not resting on their laurels. They are focused on joining as many competitions as possible to refine their concept and attract attention from potential investors.

The team developed AccuSpine, an improvement on the medical probe used by spinal surgeons. The device uses an algorithm to help surgeons insert screws more accurately, which could reduce time in surgery, recovery time and risks related to radiation exposure. 

Cal State Fullerton student Andre Conde partnered with two Johns Hopkins University biomedical engineering students to form White Light Medical, and they have been working on their pitch to investors. 

Conde, a business administration major with a joint emphasis in accounting and finance, represented the team at the California Dreamin’ Entrepreneurship Conference and Competition at Chapman University in April. He did not make it past the semifinal round, but he said he did gain some valuable lessons. 

“The competition was obviously tough, but we did get a lot of positive feedback,” said Conde, who is the chief financial officer of White Light Medical. “There are a lot of people that did like our device. We also took a lot from it, there’s some things we can change, some things we can adjust (for our business).”

Conde’s partners focus more on medical technology, while he handles the business end. Luis Herrera serves as the chief executive officer, and Anvesh Annadanam is the chief technical officer.

They devised a plan in 2012 when Herrera, Conde’s childhood friend, came back to Southern California during Thanksgiving break. Herrera told Conde about the problems he had with the business side of his other projects and Conde put himself out there. “If you ever do anything else and you need help, you can reach out to me and I’ll help you,” he told Herrera.

By improving precision, AccuSpine helps prevent doctors from accidentally breaching the pedicles, part of the vertebral arch, when conducting spinal surgery.

“(Herrera) was actually sitting in on some spinal surgeries,” Conde said. “He was with the surgeons, and he was seeing how tedious the process is and how long it takes.”

While Conde was at Chapman, his partners were competing in the Johns Hopkins University Business Plan Competition. The team finished in first place in the undergraduate division of the medical technology and life sciences category, earning a $10,000 prize.

Working separately has its benefits, because team members are able to attend prestigious competitions on the west and east coasts, but the lack of physical interaction has its drawbacks.

“The time difference is three hours, so sometimes they get home and I get home a little bit later, whatever it may be,” Conde said. “We’re a team, so we need to make executive decisions and sometimes being able to get back to people, having to communicate back and forth … (it’s) kind of a barrier for us.”

Although the team wants to get as much exposure as possible, they are not yet accepting money from investors, Conde said.

“We want to see what our options are,” he said. “When you accept money, you’re basically giving part of your company in return. And so sometimes, these investors want a big part, and I guess as an entrepreneur, that’s one of the hardest parts, to give up part of your company.”

Herrera represented his group at the International Business Model Competition, which took place this weekend at Brigham Young University, but did not qualify for the finals. 

Conde and his partners hope to attend several more competitions, including the Innovation Quest iQ Competition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo later this month. 

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