Healing System for Vaginal Tears Takes Top Prize at UCI Stella Zhang New Venture Competition

VagAligna took home the top prize at the Stella Zhang New Venture Competition at UCI. (Photo: Business Wire)

IRVINE, Calif.--()--A promising treatment for vaginal tears impressed judges at the UCI Stella Zhang New Venture Competition enough to earn the team VagAligna the $20,000 first prize in the 2023 competition on Thursday, May 25, at the University of California, Irvine Paul Merage School of Business.

According to team leader Fiza Qureshi, there currently are no healing treatments for women suffering from vaginal tears, most commonly occurring during childbirth – pain medicine and time are all that’s available. She and her teammates – Hailey Matyac, Angie Espino, and Maile Adams – have come up with a healing protein to be administered through an adhesive hydrogel applied directly on the wound.

Because this is a medical product, it will require clinical trials and FDA approval. But, Qureshi said, this team of bio-medical engineers has come up with the very first direct healing solution for an all-too-common problem.

That promise was enough to convince the five judges at the Grand Finale to award VagAligna the first prize for 2023 out of the 10 finalists presenting Thursday evening. The second prize, $5,000, went to Leprendo, an online specialty food product and produce company connecting producers directly with restaurant chefs and private consumers.

All 10 finalists also received prize money for finishing first ($10,000) or second ($5,000) in their respective business tracks, making the total prize pot $100,000. About 100 teams began the journey seven months ago, working on proposals through the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

This was the 19th annual New Venture Competition. It became the Stella Zhang New Venture Challenge last year after Stella Zhang, a 2005 UCI graduate with an MBA from the UCI Paul Merage School of Business, made a significant contribution to the event and the prize money pot.

Zhang is a cofounder and partner at Sunstone Management Inc. and American Lending Center (where she is COO), both headquartered in Irvine.

“This event means so much to me,” Zhang said to open the finals. “We’ve watched past winners go on to accelerators and beyond. We’re so proud to witness this journey.”

The other teams presenting – and taking money home – were:

  • Helios – A license plate kit with advanced safety features to enhance driver safety.
  • Orii.AI – An AI scheduling platform to aid students with time management.
  • Help Belt – A device that helps those with arthritis or other disabilities with buckling seat belts.
  • Omni Pet Club – A diverse modern and inclusive leash system for all pet owners.
  • ChewRank – Connects foodies with friends to share rankings, creating an unbiased ranking system
  • Hyperion Therapeutics – A set of mechanism-based Therapeutics targeting early retinal disease.
  • Shower Power – A shower system with technology to recycle the 5% of water wasted at its source.
  • TeamMade – Creating affordable and sustainable housing with Accessory Dwelling Units.

Dr. Imran Currim, distinguished professor of marketing, faculty director at the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and a founder of the New Venture Competition, said much the same before awarding the giant prize checks.

“We’re seeing the future here,” he said. "The amazing hard work these teams have put in is just the beginning.”

For more information about the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, click here.

About Sunstone Management

Sunstone Management is a diversified private capital sponsor firm located in Southern California that invests in diverse early-stage technology entrepreneurs who seek to build great companies. We believe in the aspirational power of the American economy to attract and inspire investors and entrepreneurs from throughout the world. We deliver new and exciting opportunities for economic growth through the creation of innovative public-private partnerships, and our unique experience across government, education, and private sectors. Identified by Financial Times as one of America's Fastest Growing Companies three years in a row.

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Jennifer Huang
Sunstone Management
(562) 732-0617

Release Summary

VagAligna's promising treatment for vaginal tears earned the team the $20,000 first prize at the 2023 UCI Stella Zhang New Venture Competition.


Jennifer Huang
Sunstone Management
(562) 732-0617