Medical startup hatched at Washington University continues strong performance

WUSTL entrepreneurial community helped Sparo Labs get off the ground

School of Engineering & Applied Science alumni Andrew Brimer and Abigail Cohen discuss their project, Sparo Labs, which recently won the $150,000 CIMIT Student Technology Prize for Primary Care.

Andrew Brimer and Abigail Cohen, May graduates of the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis and co-founders of the med-tech startup Sparo Labs, have won the $150,000 CIMIT Student Technology Prize for Primary Care, bringing their total competition winnings to more than $275,000.

The first undergraduate team to win the prize in the contest’s five-year history, the pair defeated graduate and post-doctoral teams from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California-Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University.

“We are very proud to represent both Washington University and St. Louis in this national competition,” Brimer said. “Abby and I are excited to have our business located in downtown St. Louis at T-REx and be part of the city’s thriving startup community. We still have close ties with the university and are very thankful for the support and encouragement we received and continue to receive there as we move forward.”

In addition to the seven other competitions that Sparo Labs has won, including an Arch Grant, the Olin Cup and the School of Engineering’s Discovery Competition, the CIMIT funds will enable Sparo Labs to continue building a solution that empowers patients to more effectively manage their asthma.

“It is an amazing accomplishment that Abby and Andrew have managed to fund their seed round entirely through competition winnings,” said Clifford Holekamp, senior lecturer in entrepreneurship at Olin Business School, director of the school’s entrepreneurship platform and co-teacher of the university’s Hatchery business incubator course, which helped the pair hone their idea.

“Abby and Andrew represent the very best of our student entrepreneurs,” he said. “Working as a team, they have combined creativity with discipline and determination. The results are showing us all what is possible.”

Sparo Labs is developing an award-winning, patent-pending spirometer system that can be produced for a fraction of the cost of current spirometers today, while seamlessly connecting with smartphones via mobile and web apps.

Cohen and Brimer hope that putting this powerful device in the hands of patients will revolutionize how respiratory diseases are managed — empowering patients to quantitatively track and proactively control their asthma and equipping doctors with the power of objective and real-time data to better and more efficiently manage their patients.

“Abby and Andrew are truly exceptional people who developed a remarkable initial idea into full-fledged products, careers and a company,” said Kurt Thoroughman, PhD, associate professor of engineering and director of undergraduate studies at the School of Engineering & Applied Science.

“One very unique feature of Washington University is accessibility: we have world-class schools, centers, departments and faculty, all of which are committed to working across our academic community,” Thoroughman said. “Abby and Andrew were able to pioneer, nurture and develop their ideas independently, seeking just the proper help at the proper time from resources in School of Engineering and across the university. Abby and Andrew complemented their independence and insight with willingness, openness and trust to seek and get what they needed to flourish, and we are thrilled that Washington University could provide the broad and deep environment for them to launch Sparo Labs.”

Brimer and Cohen said they owe much of their success to the nurturing entrepreneurial spirit of the university.

“The university is doing a great job promoting and encouraging entrepreneurship on all levels, from the ‘back of a napkin ideas’ that can be pitched at an IdeaBounce, to the Olin Cup or Discovery Competition that help foster more developed or mature projects into real companies with serious funding,” Brimer said.

“Washington University’s focus on entrepreneurship has allowed us and other students the ability to get valuable feedback and funding to help turn ideas into viable companies with large potential for impact,” Cohen said.

The pair has received mentorship from the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, the Hatchery entrepreneurship course at Olin Business School taught by Holekamp and from Mario Castro, MD, director of the Asthma and Airway Translational Research Unit at the School of Medicine.


CIMIT is the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology. A 15-year-old nonprofit consortium of Boston-area teaching hospitals and engineering schools, CIMIT brings innovators together to explore, develop and implement novel technological solutions for today’s most urgent health-care problems. Participants in the consortium are Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Medical Center, Boston University, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Northeastern University, Partners HealthCare and VA Boston Healthcare System.