UF graduate student’s veterinary stem cell project wins contest

By Milenko Martonovich

Tatiana Salazar

Tatiana Salazar is a graduate student of genetics and genomics at the UF Genetics Institute. (Photo courtesy of UF Genetics Institute)

A veterinary medical startup focused on stem cell therapy for competitive horses won the University of Florida Big Idea Competition and its $25,000 grand prize April 24 at Emerson Alumni Hall.

The competition, sponsored by the Warrington College of Business Administration’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, had 240 entries from graduate and undergraduate students and teams. Last year’s inaugural competition had 140 entrants.

Stem Point—founded by Tatiana Salazar, a doctoral student of genetics & genomics at the UF Genetics Institute—provides customers with state-of-the-art, safer alternatives for the isolation and preservation of stem cells for their showing, racing or companion animals.

Stem Point has developed a new method of stem cell mobilization that allows for the isolation of mesenchymal stem cells directly from the blood, rather than tissue removed from the animal. This makes the procedure faster, safer and virtually painless with all the benefits that are offered through traditional methods.

Salazar, 27, said the roots of Stem Point began during a five-year research project led by Dr. Maria Grant, a former UF researcher now at the University of Indiana. In addition, Salazar said Dr. Huisheng Xie, a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine, was a key collaborator.

After the team made their findings, Salazar said a gap in the marketplace for this type of service made creating Stem Point intriguing.

“There were almost no offerings for this from veterinary stem cell companies,” Salazar said.

Salazar, originally from San Jose, Costa Rica, said she saw the UF Big Idea Competition advertised in a campus newsletter, and decided “to give it a shot.”

“I just thought it would be a great opportunity to get some experience and get the business plan going,” Salazar said. “It was challenging, but exciting.”

Because Stem Point received such positive feedback from the competition’s judges, Salazar said she probably would have sought a small loan to get the company off the ground. That won’t be necessary after winning Friday’s competition.

“It was incredible,” Salazar said. “As you move on in the competition, you always have hope. I know the other teams had great products so it would be difficult. I was elated.”

Salazar said the company should officially launch in a few months.

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