MIT scholars awarded 2024 Kavanaugh Fellowships

The program provides fellows training in commercializing research, allowing them to explore entrepreneurial aspects of their work.

Two MIT scholars have received 2024 Kavanaugh Fellowship awards to help broaden their entrepreneurial skills and transform groundbreaking research in drug delivery and water treatment into viable commercial ventures. 

The Kavanaugh Fellowship gives scholars training to commercialize their research. This year’s recipients are Grant Knappe and Arjav Shah. Knappe’s work centers on a drug delivery platform for an emerging class of medicines called nucleic acid therapeutics. Shah is using hydrogel microparticles to remove heavy metals and other contaminants from water.

The yearlong fellowship allows scholars valuable time to fully engage in business planning and decision-making, a critical factor in startup success. Knappe and Shah developed their entrepreneurial skills through MIT’s innovation ecosystem, including I-Corps, Sandbox, the Legatum Center, Venture Mentoring Service, Blueprint by The Engine, and J-WAFS.  

“The fellowship gives scholars the tools to turn their academic work into tangible solutions to pressing societal problems,” said Michael J. Cima, program director for the Kavanaugh Translational Fellows Program and the David H. Koch Professor of Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “The 2024 fellows demonstrate not only academic excellence but also a deep understanding of the practical applications of their work. Their projects have strong potential for scalability and implementation, aligning with the fellowship’s core mission.”
Knappe is a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemical Engineering (ChemE). His research project aims to overcome current limitations in delivering nucleic acid therapeutics, which include the gene-editing technology CRISPR and mRNA, the molecule behind two major covid-19 vaccines. Knappe’s platform is non-viral—that is, it doesn’t use viruses to deliver genetic matter into cells—and is based on structured nucleic acid nanoparticles, which have shown to be safe, versatile, and scalable.
With the support of the fellowship, Knappe plans to gather further evidence of his technology’s effectiveness, ensure intellectual property protection, and take important steps to develop a successful venture-backed company.
A PhD candidate in ChemE’s Chemical Engineering Practice program, Shah is also doing coursework in the Sloan School of Management. His project aims to solve one of the world’s most urgent problems in water purification and wastewater treatment: eliminating micropollutants. These include lead; PFAs, the compounds known as “forever chemicals”; and certain dyes, pesticides, and antibiotics. His technology is suited to a broader range of molecules than conventional water treatment methods and offers greater flexibility for customization.
Under the Kavanaugh Fellowship, Shah plans to refine his business plan, conduct detailed analyses, and coordinate on-site pilots with potential customers.
Past Kavanaugh Fellows are credited with spearheading robust startups, including low-carbon cement manufacturer Sublime Cement and SiTration, which is using a new membrane technology to extract critical materials such as lithium.
For more on the Kavanaugh Fellowship, visit