Last week, on a sunny spring day, the 2022 President’s Engagement, Innovation, and Sustainability Prize winners were recognized at a special luncheon, a momentous occasion that hasn’t taken place in-person since 2019. The 12 Prize recipients and their advisers, as well as past Prize winners and Penn leadership, joined together at the University Meeting and Guest House for a meal, good conversation, and celebration.
To the group, as well as family members tuning in through Zoom, Interim President Wendell Pritchett described this year’s winners as exemplifying creativity and leadership. “They epitomize why these prizes are central to the vision we share for Penn,” he said, before distributing handcrafted certificates to each of the six teams.
Eli Moraru, who earned one of the inaugural President’s Sustainability Prizes for his nonprofit The Community Grocer, said the event was uplifting for two main reasons: The first being that he got to network with his fellow PEP/PIP/PSP cohort, and the second being his connection with past Prize winners.
“It’s a real community,” Moraru said, sharing, as an example, how Christina Miranda from Be Body Positive Philly—a winner in the 2021 cohort—approached him expressing her interest in serving as a resource to his team in any way possible.
“It’s just one more reason showcasing how we aren’t alone in this,” Moraru said.
Chosen from an applicant pool of 71 people, the two other President’s Sustainability Prize-winning teams include Saif Khawaja for Shinkei Systems and Sarah Beth Gleeson, Shoshana Weintraub, and Julia Yan for EcoSPIN. Earning a President’s Innovation Prize, which was founded in 2016, is William Kohler Danon and Lukas Achilles Yancopoulos for Grapevine. In 2015, the very first President’s Engagement Prizes were announced. This year, Penn awarded this honor to two teams: Seungkwon Son, Max Strickberger, and Sam Strickberger for College Green Ventures and Manoj Simha and Rowana Miller from Cosmic Writers. Each team receives $100,000 to help get their projects off the ground, plus a $50,000 living stipend post-graduation per person.
William Danon and Luka Yancopoulos, winners of the 2022 President’s Innovation Prize, will offer a software solution to make the health care supply chain more efficient.
by Brandon Baker
William Danon and Luka Yancopoulos are best friends. They’re also business partners.
The duo, who received this year’s President’s Innovation Prize (PIP) for Grapevine, met during sophomore year, connected through Yancopoulos’ roommate. As time went on, they did everything together: cooked meals, played basketball, and read and discussed fantasy novels.
“We spent a lot of time together,” Danon says.
It was only natural, then, that when the time came to start an actual venture, they’d do it together.
“They’re like brothers, in a very good way,” says mentor David Meaney of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, who describes their working dynamic as “complementary.” “I think that will serve them well. Most of what we do in faculty is collaborative, and I see elements of that in their partnership. I give them credit for stepping out and doing something unusual and keeping at it.”
How Grapevine came to be
Grapevine is a software solution and professional networking platform that connects small-to-medium-size players in the health care supply chain. It’s a sort of two-pronged solution: It helps institutions like hospital systems connect disjointed operations like procurement and inventory management internally, but also serves as a glue between these institutions and purveyors of medical equipment.
“William and Luka are impact-driven entrepreneurs whose collaborative synergies will take them far,” says Penn Interim President Wendell Pritchett. “The software provided by Grapevine is poised to reinvent how the health care industry buys and sells medical supplies and services and, truly, could not come at a timelier moment.”
The company is the evolution of a project they began at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, called Pandemic Relief Supply, which delivered $20 million of health care supplies to frontline workers.
“My mom was a nurse practitioner at New York Presbyterian Hospital, the largest hospital in the United States, and she was coming home with horror stories,” recalls Yancopoulos. “In surgery or the ER, a surgeon had to put on a garbage bag because they didn’t have a gown. And they gave her one mask to use for the rest of the month, and I’m seeing on the news, ‘Don’t wear a mask for more than three days.’”
This is where Yancopoulos and Danon first developed an interest in the health care supply chain. Using a database Penn allows students access to that maps the import of any good in the country, they did keyword matching to identify instreams of different goods and handed off findings to New York Presbyterian procurement staff. When McKesson, the largest provider of health care products and services in the U.S., took notice of what they were doing and reached out, they realized they were onto something. In response to their success, they started a company called Pandemic Relief Supply to distribute reliable medical supplies, including items like medical-grade masks and gloves, to frontline workers in the healthcare space.
As time passed, that project evolved into something larger: Grapevine.
In short, Grapevine’s software creates a professional networking platform to resolve miscommunications between suppliers and buyers, as well as adds a layer of transparency between interactants. Suppliers on the platform display real-time data about their inventory and shipping process, with timestamps; this prohibits companies from cherry-picking data or making false claims and creates a more health-care-supply-specific space for companies to interact than, say, LinkedIn.
“Primarily, the first step is we want people to use it internally, and streamline operations, and then through that centralized operational data, you can push that externally and that’s where [Grapevine] becomes a connector,” explains Danon. “Because when you’re choosing to connect with someone, the reason you can do so way more efficiently or quickly, is that data is actual operational data.”
To accomplish this level of transparency, the beginnings of Grapevine involved lots of legwork. Last year, the duo moved to Los Angeles to take stock of what suppliers existed where, and how reliable they were. They realized that many suppliers existed around Los Angeles because of port access; many medical supplies are imported from Asia. Their time in LA made the problem feel even more tangible, they agree.
“We were able to see people were doing outdated processes—manual processes—because there’s no other option,” Danon says. “So, we said, ‘Let’s get out there and do some work to be digital and technologically innovative.”
N.B.: Yancopolous’s senior design team created “Harvest” for their capstone project in Bioengineering, building on the existing Grapevine software package. Read Harvest’s abstract and view their final presentation on the BE Labs website.
University of Pennsylvania Interim President Wendell Pritchett announced the recipients of the 2022 President’s Engagement, Innovation, and Sustainability Prizes. Awarded annually, the Prizes empower Penn students to design and undertake post-graduation projects that make a positive, lasting difference in the world. Each Prize-winning project will receive $100,000, as well as a $50,000 living stipend per team member.
A Penn Bioengineering student is behind one of the prize-winning projects. Grapevine, winner of the President’s Innovation Prize, aims to increase resilience within the healthcare supply chain. BE senior Lukas Achilles Yancopoulos and his partner William Kohler Danon created Grapevine, and Lukas went on to adapt the Grapevine software into his award-winning senior design project Harvest by Grapevine along with team members Nicole Bedanova, Kerry Blatney, Blake Grimes, Brenner Maull.
“This year’s Prize recipients have selflessly dedicated themselves to improving environmental, health, and educational outcomes for others,” said Pritchett. “From empowering young people through free creative writing education to building robotics that minimize fish waste to reducing microfiber pollution in the ocean, these outstanding and inspiring projects exemplify the vision and passion of our Penn students, who are deeply committed to making a positive difference in the world.”
William Kohler Danon and Lukas Achilles Yancopoulos for Grapevine: Danon, a history major in the College of Arts and Sciences from Miami, and Yancopoulos, an environmental studies major in the College and a bioengineering major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science from Yorktown Heights, New York, will work to increase resilience across the health care supply chain, with a particular focus on small-to-medium businesses. Grapevine builds upon Danon and Yancopoulos’sinspiring work with Pandemic Relief Supply, a venture that delivered $20 million of health care supplies to frontline workers at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are mentored by David F. Meaney, the Solomon R. Pollack Professor of Bioengineering and senior associate dean for Penn Engineering.
Read about all the winning projects at Penn Today.