Faculty Mentor: Christian Poellabauer, PhD

Author: Notre Dame ESTEEM

Last year, Christian Poellabauer, an associate professor of computer science and engineering, was working with ESTEEM student Shane McQuillan on speech-analysis software that can detect a concussion with a smartphone. The project led to a startup company. Notre Dame senior John Vernon attended the research meetings and participated in the discussions, then decided to pursue another use for the technology when he was accepted into this year’s ESTEEM class.

The Contect team - pictured here - won the McCloskey Business Plan competition in 2013

This year, Poellabauer, whose own research involves wireless networks with a focus on using mobile devices to promote health care, is working with Vernon on addressing speech disorders with the devices. The technology could help physicians diagnose and assess treatments for dysarthria, a difficulty with producing speech that can also indicate an underlying condition such as a brain tumor or stroke.

Poellabauer, who has been involved in other startup companies and advises one or two ESTEEM student each year, says the experience teaches him about opportunities beyond the laboratory that he had not considered.

“I’m always excited about getting ESTEEM students,” he says. “They are smart kids. They are really excited about something. I like it when they have a bit of a technical background. I am an engineering professor. I have very little business experience. We work on these technologies and then start thinking about ‘What can we do with that?’”

Poellabauer, who saw McQuillan’s team win the prestigious McCloskey Business Plan Competition last year, urges students to consider competing with their ideas. The complementary initiatives foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem that impacts professors as well as students.

“This is extremely valuable,” he says. “They’re filling a very nice void from an engineering or science faculty perspective – ‘Is this something we should take a closer look at?’ Many of us would be curious about that, but we have no idea where to get started and we don’t have the time to investigate that too much. I’m gaining from this process.”