Third Bridge Grants Advance Student Tech Toward Commercialization

The program awards funding to student teams ranging from $10,000 to $75,000

A Third Bridge grant helped Prof. Leila Daneshmandi launch the company Encapsulate along with fellow UConn Ph.D. Armin Tahmasbi Rad ’19.

A Third Bridge grant helped Prof. Leila Daneshmandi launch the company Encapsulate along with fellow UConn Ph.D. Armin Tahmasbi Rad ’19 (Contributed photo).

The School of Engineering is looking for innovators ready to take their technology to the next step as entrepreneurs.

The Third Bridge program awards non-dilutive funding to student teams ranging from $10,000 to $75,000. CTNext and Connecticut Innovations are funding the program for the ninth consecutive year. Submissions are due by Sunday, May 15.

In addition to the funding, sponsors and the Third Bridge board provide recipients with mentorship and networking support. Engineering students currently or previously enrolled in the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship courses (ENGR 5300, ENGR/MGMT 3500 and ENGR/MGMT 3501) are encouraged to apply for the grants. Applications from other UConn students will also be considered.

As Prof. Leila Daneshmandi can attest, support from the program has been instrumental in helping scores of student teams successfully transition their innovative technologies to commercialization. A Third Bridge grant helped her launch Encapsulate along with fellow UConn Ph.D. Armin Tahmasbi Rad ’19 (ENG). Their technology grows patient-derived cancer cells and screens them against chemotherapeutic drugs to determine the most effective treatments on an individualized basis.

“Third Bridge was one of the first funds we received when we started Encapsulate. It helped us to really advance our technology from an ‘idea’ that we were working on at the time as students to a business and company in the research and development stage at UConn’s Technology Incubation Program,” Daneshmandi says.  “With Third Bridge’s support, we moved from proof-of-concept to working on our prototype and purchasing the equipment and resources necessary to start our partnership with Hartford Healthcare for our clinical studies.”

Now Daneshmandi and Prof. Hadi Bozorgmanesh are the principal investigators of the program.

“Most tech companies create value after 10 plus years,” she says. “If you look at companies like Tesla, Google, or Amazon, their values have been created long after their start. The first few years are especially tough. The Third Bridge grant comes in at an early stage for these companies and helps the tech creators and innovators overcome some of these hurdles through providing crucial funding and mentorship. It’s one-of-a-kind.”

Many of the grant awardees establish successful companies through UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP), including Encapsulate, Aqualumos, and Bastion Health. All three companies are in the TIP Farmington incubator on the campus of UConn Health.

Aqualumos founders received two Third Bridge grants in 2020 and 2021 totaling $76,000. The company is developing a photocatalytic reactor for drinking water utilities that breaks down toxic chemicals known as PFAs.

Company CEO and founder Nikolas Franceschi-Hoffmann says PFAs are present in the bloodstream of about 99 percent of world’s population and have contaminated essentially all water sources. The chemicals do not degrade naturally and are linked to detrimental health effects from high cholesterol to cancer.

While Aqualumos has a way to go before it reaches commercialization, the Third Bridge grants enabled investment by private investors by allowing the company to de-risk the needed technology. Aqualumos is set to seek additional funding sources and continue lining up investors.

“We expect that round will help us to begin with some of our earliest prototype pilot systems and will enable us to build the models needed for successful scale up and validation prior to seeing the first systems implemented in the field by around 2026,” says Franceschi-Hoffmann.

Bastion Health provides specialty telehealth for men’s reproductive and prostate health, providing at-home assessment, treatment, and health catching. CEO and founder Reza Amin says the company received two Third Bridge grants, first in 2018 and then in 2020.

The grants came at a very early stage for Bastion Health and served as pre-seed funding for the company, supporting research and development and design. Amin says it was also pivotal in development of the “MVP of our platform technology,” resulting in traction for closing seed round funding in the fall of 2020.

The benefits of the program go beyond funding, Amin says. “We have received a priceless mentorship from Dr. Bozorgmanesh and other mentors and advisors of the program, which was a tremendous resource for our success.”

To apply for the program or to receive more information, visit