AWARE Program Awards Five Teams with Proof of Concept Funding

Categories : EnterpriseWorks, Recognition & Awards
Posted on: July 16, 2020

Champaign, Illinois (July 16, 2020) – Accelerating Women And underRepresented Entrepreneurs (AWARE) has awarded proof of concept funding to five new teams working on a wide variety of technologies. 

The AWARE proof of concept award provides funding to potential Small Business Innovation Research(SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) applicants to enable prototype development and accelerate the path toward commercialization. The award provides up to $1,500 to each recipient to complete their proof of concept project.

The award recipients are working on projects from various disciplines ranging from healthcare, online platforms, and agtech.

The award recipients include:

  • Gabriel Burks of FrostDefense Envirotech, whose project focus is on the agricultural industry. Specifically, his project aims to create a capsule that delays the end of dormancy in grapevines while withstanding harsh environmental conditions, resulting in a more stable product.
  • Dr. Leanne Labriola  is developing a one-handed ocular biopsy kit with a customized needle and collection chamber. This kit will provide a superior method for fluid collection by shortening the length of the needle to decrease the risk of tissue injury during collection and reduce fluid loss.

AWARE funding allows me to build the right type of foundation for biotech innovation,” she said. “It not only provides seed funding for prototyping but also gives access to experienced mentors. This will streamline our team’s productivity and delineate important first steps in development.”

  • Also in healthcare, Dr. Mobola Kukoyi is creating a low-cost, portable, and battery-operated bi-level positive pressure (BiPAP) ventilator. The BiPAP ventilator is a vital part of treating respiratory failure, and her project could prove valuable to resource-limited hospitals. “I am thankful to the AWARE program for the Proof of Concept Award. The COVID pandemic has further highlighted the need for more respiratory assist devices,” she said. “We know how the U.S and other first world countries were affected by the ventilator shortage, so you can imagine the impact on healthcare in resource-limited settings.”

Amari Simpson and Ella Van Wyk are award winners seeking to improve community engagement through an online platform.

  • Van Wyk’s team is creating a philanthropic gaming app called Illini-On. This project seeks to engage University alumni while soliciting donations through in-app purchases.
  • Amari Simpson is developing Roots & Legacy, an online platform designed to provide digital tools and resources to aid engagement among Black individuals and Black-owned businesses. Roots & Legacy aims to assist Black individuals and their families in curating information about their culture and family history while offering free advertising services for Black-owned businesses.

“We are honored to be the recipients of the AWARE award, and we can now begin the development of our platform and launch a pilot study in the fall,” Simpson said. 

After receiving the AWARE proof of concept award, the recipients and their teams have three months to complete their projects and meet their milestones using the award funds. They will meet with mentors and receive other support services to advance their opportunity to create a successful startup. 


The AWARE (Accelerating Women And underRepresented Entrepreneurs) program, is administered by the EnterpriseWorks incubator at the University of Illinois Research Park. It was created to offer resources and an enhanced infrastructure to make the current entrepreneurial ecosystem more accessible to women and underrepresented entrepreneurs. The program, with funding from the Small Business Administration, offers resources, mentoring, training, and networking.

About Research Park at The University of Illinois

The Research Park at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a technology hub for startup companies and corporate research and development operations. Within the Research Park, there are 120 companies employing students and full-time technology professionals.