High-precision analysis of hazardous waste, scientific forecast of wine grape crops, battery recycling, and an interactive street art map — these are only some of the business ideas the participants in the annual ‘SPbU Start-up-2021’ contest are developing. In a few months, after the final selection has been made, the two winning teams will receive grants from the St Petersburg University Endowment Fund to establish a small innovative enterprise with the participation of St Petersburg University: 1,000,000 and 700,000 roubles.
The ‘SPbU Start-up’ contest is held with the support of the Endowment Fund of St Petersburg University for the sixth time. The winners of the competition in previous years included: the Speechkah Russian language course without an intermediary language; the developers of α-Tear-Test for Parkinson’s disease; the authors of the sugar control patch project Displast; and many other talented start-ups.
In the semi-final stage, out of 12 participants, the Board of Experts selected the eight most commercially promising projects. In the final contest on 27 May 2021, the teams will compete for the monetary prizes and two targeted grants for the project development — 700,000 and 1,000,000 roubles. In addition, the winners of ‘SPbU Start-up 2021’ will receive cash prizes: 300,000 roubles for the first place, 200,000 roubles for second, and 100,000 roubles for third. The research supervisors of the winning teams will receive awards of 100,000 roubles.
Mathematics for vintners
The Russian wine industry is actively developing. The number of wineries and the area under vine are growing. The industry is attracting greater financial resources and investment. Success in the wine business is significantly influenced by the choice of areas for cultivation and harvesting of wine grapes, as well as grape varieties suitable for the area’s soil and climatic conditions. These determine the quality and quantity of the grapes produced.
To help grape growers and vintners select the best vineyard sites, which can produce rich harvests, the Terroir concept team proposes to develop a special geographical information system (GIS). It will facilitate vineyard site assessment and selection of grape varieties most suited to a particular site. It will also allow tracking of changes in the vineyards conditions and growing environment, as well as adapting farming methods to the new conditions. For the basis of the proposed system, the Terroir concept team will create a mathematical model, using the results of their own research and long-term observations from the leading wineries in Russia and France.
Pill against cellular stress
Alcohol consumption may cause cell damage, as a result of which special molecules — alarmins — are released. Elevated levels of these proteins have been associated with immune system activation and induction of chronic and autoimmune inflammation. Alarmins can be still detectable in the human body six months after the initial event. Their release is especially dangerous during pregnancy. Alarmins are able to cross the placental barrier and adversely affect foetal development. As a consequence, babies exposed to alcohol in the womb can develop various disorders.
The PreLife team suggests creating a combination product that will help to reduce the concentration of damaging molecules in tissues — not only for pregnant women but for anyone who needs it. The authors of the project have already conducted research, selected the necessary compounds, and tested their effectiveness in vivo.
High-precision analysis of complex mixtures
Currently, laboratory studies of chemical impurities, process emissions and industrial waste are carried out using classical methods — chromatographic, spectral and electrochemical analysis. However, despite their widespread use, these methods have a number of disadvantages. For example, they are not sufficiently accurate and universal, and they require expensive specialist equipment and highly-qualified technical personnel.
The ecoETS team proposes to create a more accurate and efficient method for studying the composition of complex multicomponent mixtures. The authors of the project want to design an electrochemical sensor array system, in which each sensor will have selectivity to a particular group of target chemical substances (organic amines and sulphides, metal ions, etc.). For data analysis and interpretation, the team members are planning to use artificial intelligence. This approach will allow to get more accurate data and will enable analysis of various types of multicomponent mixtures. Besides, the innovation system will simplify the work of analysts and it is projected to be cost effective even for small laboratories.
New ‘old’ power storage technology
Currently, most smart devices are powered by lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. This energy storage technology dominates the smart devices market. However, these batteries have some serious issues. They often overheat, which can result in battery failure, fires or explosion.
Moreover, the performance of today’s Li-ion batteries cannot be improved much further. All of this has prompted researchers to look for alternative energy storage options.
Vadim Kozlov — battery assembly and technology analysis
Artur Taishev — synthesis of materials
Nikita Kuznetsov — battery assembly and testing
Iana Buchkovski — financial modelling, marketing
Alina Seitova — application of batteries in IT systems
The Smart energy team proposes to focus on the option with the highest potential for further development — a magnesium-sulphur (Mg—S) battery. It is inexpensive and less hazardous. Its capacity is 600 mAh, which is 2.5 times the capacity of the Li-ion battery — 250 mAh. The team plans to eliminate the main limiting problems of Mg—S batteries — gradual washing out of sulphur from the cathode and rapid capacity degradation after the first charge-discharge cycles. They are confident that after the improvement, the Mg—S battery will attract great interest from smart device companies and individuals who want to install a residential integrated energy storage system for rational use of electricity.
Benefits of recycling
Another finalist, the ReLith team, is developing a solution for the disposal and recycling of various battery types, including lithium-ion, lithium-manganese and others. The metals contained in these electrochemical energy storage devices, such as lithium and manganese, and their compounds, are widely used in various industries. Recovery of metals from spent batteries will not only reduce the amount of toxic waste, but also offer a notable saving on the purchase of metals for production.
The team members are working to improve the Li-ion battery recycling. They focus on the most promising recycling method — metal-organic frameworks. This technology enables recovery of absolutely all metals from the spent battery. Nonetheless, despite its effectiveness, the method has not yet been utilised in the industry. The authors of the project want to adapt it for use in recyclable waste processing facilities.
At present, 3D bioprinters are generally used by production units and research laboratories. The latter face a number of challenges that prevent them from effectively developing 3D bioprinting technologies. In particular, scientists cannot always afford expensive bioprinters with a number of high-performance extruders that meet required specifications. Also, researchers have difficulties in adapting the devices for a specific experiment. For example, it can be difficult to run additional equipment in parallel when needed. Moreover, the range of bioprinters available in Russia is still limited; therefore, researchers order them from overseas. In the case of device failure, it must be sent to the manufacturer for repair or replacement, which takes a lot of time.
Timur Aminev — engineering, design, team coordination
Vasilii Kutuzov — firmware update, electronics, assistance in coordination
Aleksandr Kovalchukov — electronics, microcontrollers, software
Polina Zhukunova — business analytics, marketing strategies
Petr Turchenko — testing, acquisition of necessary components, assembly
Mikhail G. Khotin — The Institute of Cytology (RAS)
Mikhail S. Bozhokhin — The Institute of Cytology (RAS)
The Bioprinter project team focuses on finding solutions to these challenges. The team members plan to create a functional, high-quality and yet affordable 3D bioprinter containing multiple extruders able to design various cellular structures. The new device should significantly expand the capabilities of 3D bioprinting laboratories.
The finalist team Buskervilie is developing a project that aims to improve communication between street performers and the city’s residents. The team members want to create an Internet service called Buskervilie, which will present information about the street performers and artists of all genres: music, dance, circus and art.
The team plans to design an interactive map application to locate performers, artists and crafters wishing to showcase their talent on the public. Only those locations that have been agreed upon by authorities will be on the map. The information on the map will allow you to pick and choose a performance or event that interests you, attend it and leave a comment. The Buskervilie application will also map walking routes, where you could find street art by graffiti artists. Besides, their painted works will be recreated through augmented reality.
Laboratory in your pocket
Another finalist team, ProteoSensity, proposes to use nanopores in air pollution monitoring systems. Nanopores are unique tools that have been shown to be extremely sensitive and versatile. Nanopore technology is rapidly developing at the moment. In particular, it can be used to detect interaction of short DNA chains called aptamers with target molecules. This enables obtaining specific sensors for the analysis of various chemical substances.
The team members are going to create a compact nanopore-based device. In conjunction with software, it will enable detection of volatile and soluble molecules, toxins, heavy metals and other compounds. One of the main advantages of the new device is its small size, which will facilitate field monitoring, where bulky and heavy lab equipment is very inconvenient.