Valentina Dargam has always been interested in medicine and projects that could help improve a person’s quality of life. She drew closer to turning those interests into reality when she and undergraduate Biomedical Engineering student Maria Camila Giraldo recently won second place at the 2019 Florida Blue Health Innovation Pitch Competition. Valentina and Maria presented an entrepreneurial pitch related to Valentina’s graduate work on new diagnostic approaches for aortic valve disease.
Valentina was born in Argentina and moved to the United States when she was 10 years old. She earned a BS in Biomedical Engineering from FIU in May 2018 and matriculated straight into the BME PhD program. “Biomedical Engineering, in my opinion, is the only undergraduate major that directly exposes you to medical issues and gives you the training to address them,” says Valentina, now a second-year doctoral student in BME.
The Florida Blue pitch competition was held in Orlando on September 19, 2019. The second place award that Valentina and Maria won included $5,000 in prize money and an invitation to pitch their idea at another conference later in the year. Fifty applications were submitted from teams across Florida, and from those applications, 12 teams were chosen to participate in a mentorship program to learn more about entrepreneurship and business development. Those 12 teams competed in the pitch competition.
“Several potential investors and collaborators have expressed interest in helping move the idea forward,” Valentina says.
Valentina also competed at StartUP FIU eMerge Americas Pitch Night and won a spot at eMerge Startup Showcase in March. EMerge Americas is an innovation and technology event in Miami with over 16,000 attendees. There, Valentina will present the same project she and Maria presented at the Florida Blue pitch competition.
Valentina, a McNair Research Fellow, says that FIU has played a crucial role in advancing her academic career by providing scholarship and research opportunities. “I met great mentors that encouraged me to pursue a PhD,” Valentina says. “They believed in me regardless of my previous experiences and were fully invested in my success. I wanted to stay at FIU because I know the importance of having people believe in you. Here, not only can I get a great education, but I can also be part of an inclusive community.”
After she completes her doctoral degree, Valentina plans to apply to a postdoctoral science policy fellowship to learn more about science advocacy and tackle issues such as lack of federal funding for research and bridging the minority gap in STEM education.
“I would love to come back to FIU for a faculty position and pay forward some of the great mentorship I received here,” Valentina says.
Valentina advises other students to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. “Apply to scholarships, fellowships, travel awards, competitions, or anything else that might be relevant to your academic career,” she says. “Win or lose, you gain so much experience just by trying!”