• Medical Innovation

    ‘Walleye Tank: Ice Fishing Edition’ competition names biomedical innovation champions

Graphic showing a walleye leaping in the air to catch a dollar bill on a fish hook.

Twelve teams from Mayo Clinic and across Minnesota cast their reels in "Walleye Tank: Ice Fishing Edition" competition in December 2021. Over 200 people gathered virtually to watch as teams in three divisions — Junior Angler, Midlevel Reeler and Professionals — pitched their biomedical innovation ideas before a panel of expert judges.

Inspired by TV's "Shark Tank," Walleye Tank is a competition that enables Minnesota life science entrepreneurs to hone their pitching skills, get expert feedback, win prizes, and network with those in the entrepreneurial community.

Kari Snaza, Mayo Clinic's chief strategy officer, kicked off the event, saying, "I applaud all of you for attending to apply and exercise your imagination, your skills and your expertise to improve health care. … I'm confident that all of you will walk away better — maybe swim away better — just for being a part of it (Walleye Tank) and surrounding yourself with a supportive community."

Judges at this event were:

  • Bryan Clark, Boston Scientific Corp.
  • Marlon Cush, J.D., Change Healthcare.
  • Karla Frohmader Hilsaca, Ph.D., Business Development, Mayo Clinic.
  • Ning Gao, Center for Digital Health, Mayo Clinic
  • Perry Hacket Jr., Ph.D., University of Minnesota.
  • Polly Israni, Google Cloud.
  • Rayvn Miller, Medtronic.
  • Branden Moriarty, Ph.D., University of Minnesota.
  • Imran Nasrullah, J.D., Bayer AG.
  • Timothy Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., General Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic.
  • Ann Schulte, Discovery Launchpad.

Which teams hooked the big one?

These teams were the 2021 Walleye Tank: Ice Fishing Edition champions:


This team's project, which was presented by Derek Prusener, a Mayo Clinic Convergence Science Fellow, won in the Junior Angler division with its idea of "a simple secure seal for carotid closure." The team won a $2,000 prize to further develop this idea. This team came to Walleye Tank fresh from a first-place win at Alligator Tank, a similar pitch competition held in October 2021 at Mayo Clinic in Florida.


This project, presented by Brian Bechard, FreeNAV business development director, won in the Midlevel Reeler division with its idea for a wireless GPS for the body. The team won an $8,000 prize.

Bechard says FreeNAV's wireless electromagnetic tracking technology is "set to enable the clinical navigation market with a more cost-effective, reliable and modular solution for minimally invasive surgical and diagnostic procedures.”

Herald Therapeutics

This project, presented by David Ingbar, M.D., won in the Professionals division with the team’s experimental therapy to treat acute respiratory syndrome, including COVID-induced acute respiratory syndrome, hooking a $10,000 prize.  The innovation is currently undergoing phase II clinical trials.

"There is no current medical therapy for acute respiratory syndrome. Our approach is to use a special formulation of the naturally occurring thyroid hormone, T3, to decrease lung damage and speed healing," says Dr. Ingbar, director of Pulmonary & Critical Care and professor of Medicine at University of Minnesota Medical School.


This team's project, presented by company co-founder Scott Carpenter, was a runner-up in the Midlevel Reelers division and received special "crowd favorite" recognition for its innovation: an Apple Watch and iPhone app designed to help caregivers monitor the location and health of loved ones who have dementia.

"Our company was founded on the idea of using wearable technology, in particular smartwatches, to reduce the burdens of caring for vulnerable people while also preserving their autonomy and dignity," says Carpenter.

More information

Contact the Office of Entrepreneurship for more information about the Walleye Tank competition, or the related Alligator Tank or Roadrunner Sprint in Florida and Arizona, respectively. The office offers Mayo Clinic staff and students educational and networking opportunities, continuing medical education-accredited workshops and application support for innovations. To learn more, email the office.

The next Walleye Tank event is planned for April.

Watch the full event video below: