Three Olmsted County Teams Advance in MN Cup Business Competition

Three companies from Olmsted County advanced to the MN Cup Semifinals: NanoDev Therapeutics, Zerda, and JATS.

MN Cup is the largest annual venture competition in the state of Minnesota.  The contest is in its twelfth year of running and will award out $402K in seed funding.  1,500 companies entered the competition in 2016.  The pool was whittled down to 80 semifinalists, announced in the beginning of June.  MN Cup culminates with the Final Awards Reception held during Twin Cities Startup Week September 19-25th. 

Selected semifinalists span eight divisions: Energy/CleanTech/Water, Food/Ag/Bev, General, HighTech, Life Science/HealthIT, Social Entrepreneur, Student, and newly added Youth.

NanoDev Therapeutics was selected as a semifinalist in the Life Science/Health IT division.  This business is a hybrid of Mayo Clinic and MNPHARM/Garden Fresh Farms teams.  Garden Fresh Farms was the Energy/CleanTech/Water Division MN Cup winner in 2013.

Zerda advances in the HighTech Division. 

JATS, a women-led group, will advance in the Youth Division.  

Techstars Chicago's Troy Henikoff Delivers Lessons on Startup Ecosystem Growth

Last week was a busy one for innovation in Rochester.  The last BioAM Founders Series was held Tuesday night.  Three Techstars++ companies- LiquidLandscape, Nebulab, and Solenica- and Techstars++ interns spent the week interfacing with the Rochester community.  Techstars++, Mayo Clinic, and DMC also brought in Troy Henikoff to speak and impart some wisdom and advice from his many years of experience building up Chicago’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

When Troy struck out on his own, Chicago was an entrepreneurial desert.  There were entrepreneurs.  But they had no supportive infrastructure for business growth.  Troy built up a design consulting company from scratch in this environment, which was eventually acquired by Medline.  He built and ran three more startups afterwards- SurePayroll.com, Amacai, and OneWed.com.  SurePayroll was acquired by Paychex for over $100M in 2011, which was huge at the time for Chicago.  But even at the time of this exit, there was no real support structure for Chicago’s entrepreneurs.  Companies born in Chicago were leaving to build their businesses elsewhere.  Troy, and others in the community, felt there had to be a way to keep these companies in Chicago.

Troy was always an entrepreneur.  As a boy he cut lawns, delivered papers, and did whatever he could to raise $87 and buy half of a sailboat with a childhood friend, a passion that would consume him until his early 20s.  While in college, Troy thought that designing sailboats might not be the best way to make the world a better place.  He briefly considered designing helicopters and submarines, until he discovered this involved sitting in a cubicle all day, spending eighteen months to design a single hinge.  It just didn’t seem all that appealing any more.

Troy decided to take a huge leap and open up a design consulting firm in Chicago, where he was born and raised.  He was twenty-one-years old, straight out of college, and had no real opportunity costs.  What did he have to lose? 

This was in 1986.  The word entrepreneur was not thrown around in Chicago all that much at the time.  This was twenty-three years prior to things like Shark Tank.  Without any entrepreneurial infrastructure, Troy built up his companies in Chicago.

During this time, he mentored a group of students at Northwestern University who created a company called Next Big Sound.  He watched the company struggle for a year to gain momentum before they were accepted to the Techstars Acclerator in Boulder, Colorado in 2009.  Next Big Sound left Chicago and never came back.  The company was very successful and was recently acquired by Pandora.

Next Big Sound wasn’t the only startup to speed out of Chicago and never look back.  Troy continued to see Chicago-born startups leave to build their business elsewhere because the city had no support system, no real depth, to support entrepreneurs.  It was time for a change.

Troy co-founded Excelerate Labs, in a sense a startup for startups, to being to accelerate entrepreneurial growth in Chicago and keep Chicago talent in the city.  Excelerate began to build up that innovation ecosystem and infrastructure that was lacking.  For the first time, Excelerate offered entrepreneurs exposure to leading experts and investment opportunities.  Excelerate facilitated knowledge flow from experienced business leaders to Excelerate Founders.  Thirty companies graduated from the accelerator in three years, netting $35 million in capital. 

Excelerate Labs became Techstars Chicago in 2013.

If Excelerate Labs laid the groundwork for entrepreneurship in Chicago, 1871 raised it up into the rafters.  1871 opened up in 2012 and to date is the largest coworking space in Chicago.  Two thousand entrepreneurs work out of this massive space on a daily basis, and Troy runs the whole thing.

Chicago has transformed since Troy first launched his entrepreneurial career there.  The city has rapidly grown over just the past five years from an entrepreneurial desert to an oasis.  Now Chicago has 1871.  They have Built In Chicago, a news platform that serves as the voice of the Chicago’s startups and has unified the community.  They have investment funds like Impact Engine, FireStarter Fund, and The Starter League.  Chicago’s startups have created real economic value in the city, generating over $80 billion in transactions over the past few years.

Troy has witnessed a revolution in Chicago’s startup scene and has a pretty good idea of what it took to change this landscape.

He says a community needs all the right ingredients for the startup ecosystem to be successful.  This includes a mix of universities, funding sources, entrepreneurs, and big corporations.  And these pieces should all have some sort of presence in one space, like 1871.

Successful startup communities also need to have entrepreneurs as their leaders and should not rely on legislation to cause change.  Entrepreneurs work on a different time scale and think in terms of long, even generational, commitments and not in terms of individual transactions, which can be especially demoralizing for entrepreneurs working without pay.  The payoff is in the long run.  The value is in the stable, robust ecosystem being created.

Moving away from this transaction view is key to encouraging all the different factions- the entrepreneurs, the corporations, the city councils- to work together to build a successful startup ecosystem.  Everyone benefits from an economically strong community in the long run. 

The Chicago startup scene went from pretty much nothing to a robust ecosystem in only five years.  Why can’t we do that in Rochester?  What’s stopping us? 

As an entrepreneur myself who recently moved back to Rochester for the opportunities which I believe lie within this city, for the opportunities housed in this movement to build the startup infrastructure, it was encouraging to look around a packed room at Troy’s talk and see so many other faces inspired to take this journey.

It may take us more than five years to reach whatever entrepreneurial success looks like to Rochester, but we’ll fight to get there.

Former Mayo Clinic CIO Abdul Bengali Speaks about Future of Healthcare at Last BioAM Founders Series

BioAM wrapped up its final Founders Series with a bang last Tuesday night, hosting Abdul Bengali, former CIO of Mayo Clinic and healthIT aficionado. 

Mr. Bengali was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan and became interested in this wacky new thing called computers as a youth.  In 1968, he traveled to the United States to study computer science and has been here ever since.  He met his wife, who incidentally was from Minnesota, during his studies at California State Polytechnic University.  The couple moved to Minnesota after his graduation in 1973 with the dream to have a two story house, a fireplace, and two children.

Mr. Bengali took a job in programming at Mayo Clinic in 1977, which began his thirty-five-year career at the medical institution.  He retired from the position of Chief Information Officer (CIO) in 2012.

He recently leveraged his experience in healthIT to launch a startup called DocHelp.com, which he likens to the Expedia of healthcare.  DocHelp.com brings transparency to the healthcare system, allowing consumers to book appointments with care providers using the platform without having to call the office directly or request an appointment.

Mr. Bengali sees healthcare as an industry in transition, moving from a fee-for-service to a pay-for-value model.  But what will it take for healthcare to evolve?  Mr. Bengali thinks that entrepreneurs and startups, just like the ones emerging in Rochester, will play a significant role in this healthcare transformation.

Right now, we have an explosion of medical information in healthcare.  We have the ability to collect the same amount of gene mapping data and genetic information in one year as we did in the past one-hundred years combined.  This power gives healthcare provides a lot more information about each patient, but it also increases the number of facts needed to render a clinical decision.  Moving into the future, how will the healthcare system synthesize all this information together to make these clinical decisions and render good patient outcomes?

Mr. Bengali believes that healthcare will reach a point in its evolution where it has to start thinking of information as a service.  Take the old TV Guides as an example.  These books were just pages of information about the week’s television lineup.  They themselves did not offer any programming, they just synthesized all the information about the television that week into one space.  In a similar manner, healthcare has reached the point where samples taken during an exam can be sent off and deconstructed to gain another level of knowledge and information that’s useful to the healthcare provider for clinical decision making.

Mr. Bengali sees several major trends occurring in healthcare right now.  He thinks that healthcare will have to revamp its business model, where eventually providers will need to post their outcome, safety, and patient satisfaction records.  He also sees a drive in millennials to access healthcare online, on their own terms.  Lastly, he sees a huge need for self-service in healthcare, which is where his own startup falls into place.  3.4 billion medical appoints are made annually in the United States.  1.2 billion of those could be self-service.

Medical Device Startup LifeSAVR Solutions is Developing a New Guidewire to Improve Aortic Valve Repair

Jordan Pollack saw a problem.  While he, and his three other LifeSAVR Solution Founders, were in graduate school at the University of Michigan, they observed a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) surgery at Beaumount Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.  This minimally invasive procedure uses a catheter and guidewire to replace diseased aortic valves in the heart.  But the only way to visualize this internal procedure, and ensure correct placement of the new valve, was through fluoroscopic guidance, or fluoro.  Using fluoro, the whole procedure is visualized in real time by X-rays projected on a screen above the patient.  Fluoro and physician experience are the only way to know that the replacement valve is in the right location before it’s deployed.  Jordan and his other classmates felt there had to be some better way to ensure proper valve placement during TAVRs that didn’t rely solely on just a 2D image and a good bit of guessing.

Aortic valve disease, or aortic stenosis, is a large problem in the US and is especially prevalent in the elderly.  One study estimated that every one in eight people over the age of seventy-five in has moderate to severe aortic stenosis[1]. 

 Aortic stenosis involves a narrowing of the aortic valve from calcification or plaque buildup.  There are a total of four valves in the heart: the tricuspid, pulmonary, mitral, and aortic valves.  These valves open in only one direction to allow unilateral blood flow through the heart.  The aortic valve connects the left ventricle to the aorta, the largest artery in the body, to funnel blood from the heart out into the vasculature.  If the aortic valve is narrowed, the left ventricle has to work harder to pump blood, which leads to improper blood perfusion to the body, weakening the heart tissue and leading to a high morbidity rate if left untreated.

Replacement of the aortic valve via open heart surgery is the gold standard for aortic stenosis treatment.  During this process, patients are opened up, the old, diseased aortic valve is excised, a new valve is sutured into place, and the patient is closed back up.  These replacement valves implanted during surgery are usually metal based and inserted during a procedure that lasts for several hours.  Afterwards, patients usually have a two-week hospital stay, followed by several weeks of recovery.

 However, there’s another option on the market, at least for high risk US patients.  “One of the biggest technologies and treatment modalities that came storming out of the market is TAVR, which is transcatheter aortic valve replacement,” explains Jordan.

TAVR first hit the market in Europe in 2006-2007 and entered the US commercially in 2011.  TAVR was given FDA approval in the US only for high risk patients with aortic stenosis, those for which surgery would be too risky to complete. 

Approximately 300 to 500K elderly US patients are eligible for this minimally invasive procedure.  As opposed to open heart surgery, TAVR is a catheter lab procedure that takes ninety minutes or less to complete.  During the procedure, a three-meter guidewire is traced up an artery, usually the femoral artery in the leg, with fluoro guidance.  The guidewire runs all the way up the artery to the aorta, through the diseased valve, and into the left ventricle.  The operating physician then uses a balloon to expand the damaged, narrowed valve.  The balloon is removed and the new, prosthetic valve is traced along the guidewire path with a catheter, until it reaches the diseased valve.  Most current valves used in TAVR are self-expanding and made up of valve leaflets from pig or cow pericardium, as opposed to the metallic valves used in open heart surgery.

TAVR has been successful and there are promising results from clinical trials in high risk patients.  “The push is to make TAVR the goal standard to completely replace open heart surgery,” explains Jordan.

There are some potential issues with TAVR that have slowed down the process for the procedure to become the standard of care for aortic stenosis treatment.  “The big thing is longevity.  No one really knows how long these valves [used in TAVR] will last,” says Jordan.  The field is just beginning to see the first patients who have had TAVR replaced valves for ten years. 

The other problem compared to open heart surgery is the general…murkiness of the whole process.  Physicians aren’t opening up a person like in open heart surgery and are relying on fluoro and 2D images to determine if a valve is in place before it’s deployed- a process that leads to 3-5% of TAVR valves being acutely misplaced, which can lead to perivalvular leak.

Valves can also be chronically misplaced, where they are just slightly misaligned or shift overtime from excessive calcification.  Besides health implications to the patient, misplaced valves are pricey.  Each valve costs $40K to replace, which has to be assumed by the hospital system in cases of valve misplacement by the physician.

“That’s really the problem that we’re trying to solve, is valve misplacement during the TAVR procedure,” explains Jordan.

Jordan and his three-person team of University of Michigan graduates founded LifeSAVR Solutions and are developing a product called the Corfinder; “cor” is the Latin word for heart.  Their product will provide “quantitative, adjunctive confidence for physicians to know that he or she has place the valve properly.”  The Corfinder is not meant to replace fluoroscopic guidance or physician experience, but to complement them.  The team is creating this specialized guidewire, the Corfinder, with a series of sensors along the distal tip.  The Corfinder will help to refine detection of the native valve during TAVR procedures and ensure better alignment between the annulus, or base, of the new prosthetic valve and old, diseased valve.   

The LifeSAVR Solutions team is currently in the technology and feasibility stage of the process.  They are incorporating the tiny sensors onto the guidewire and are getting the product down to a functional form factor.  

Jordan has found some great resources in the Twin Cities to help the team with this process.  In CoCreateX, he found a group where he could interact with people doing similar types of things.  However, “…the biggest community that’s provided me with connections is the Jewish community,” he notes. 


[1] http://www.edwards.com/eu/procedures/aorticstenosis/Pages/prevalence.aspx

Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator Startup grandPad Takes Strides in Senior Market

The mantra that drives Scott Lein, CEO and Co-Founder of GrandPad, to build intuitive, transparent, and engaging technology that enables seniors to enjoy life to the fullest.

The GrandPad tablet fills a key technological void: a mobile device that is not only user friendly for seniors, but truly connects seniors with their loved ones. Every aspect in the design of GrandPad has been tailored to suit the senior demographic, assuming absolutely zero prior computer experience, so much so that GrandPad stands by their “90/90” rule: A 90-year-old can fall in love with GrandPad within 90 seconds of opening the box. 90 seconds: the approximate length of time it takes to turn on and get through step two of an iPad set-up process.

How can a 90-year-old fall in love with GrandPad within 90 seconds of opening the box?

First, the device arrives pre-charged and instantly turns on; there is no “on” button. This alone prevents any negative first impressions with suspicions of complicated technology. Second, the tablet arrives pre-configured and set-up with ultra-fast Verizon 4G LTE connectivity. Absolutely no “set-up” for the GrandPad is required. Thus, during the 90 second trial window, rather than configuring Wi-Fi networks, setting up Apple IDs, etc., the senior is experiencing the feel of the device – a 7” tablet, in a non-slip case- and, using a special stylus designed for seniors, is interacting with the device by moving through the various easily seen applications.

GrandPad easily allows seniors to:

1)   place phone and video calls

2)   receive and send email via voice recognition

3)   view family photos and videos

4)   take and send pictures using the built-in camera

5)   see the current weather for each family member’s location

6)   play a variety of games

7)   listen to music

8)   “lookup” anything via Wikipedia

9)   and call an Uber.

The result? They fall in love. The countless pictures uploaded to Facebook and Instagram throughout the family get automatically pushed to GrandPad, making sure Grandma and Grandpa are constantly in the loop. They can place a hassle-free video call and easily stay involved and connected to their family. Finally, Grandma and Grandpa have a device that keeps them simply connected to their family.

The GrandPad Journey

After Scott first introduced his 80-year-old mother to Skype, the video calls were an instant hit and quickly became a regular part of their weekly routine. However, over time the calls that had brought so much joy to both Scott and his mother crept further and further apart. Something was always wrong. Skype needed to be updated. The network modem needed to be restarted. The PC froze. An unrelated application went awry and demanded precedence.

These “normal” issues are solved with secondhand precision by tech savvy “youngsters”, but present a very real roadblock for less computer literate seniors. Indeed, these challenges left Scott’s mother constantly confused and eroded her self-confidence. Skype video calls went from bringing joy to being psychologically and physiologically harmful.

The problem was clear: technology is built for people 20 years of age, not 90 years of age. Nevertheless, conventional wisdom says that seniors just need to be trained, they need to be pushed, and they need to try harder. After all, seniors are very smart people, there’s no reason they can’t adapt. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. When Scott realized there was no technological solution for seniors, GrandPad was born.

Solving this technological problem wasn’t exactly straightforward, but began without preconceived notions regarding what the solution should be. Instead, Scott and his son- Issac Lein, GrandPad Product Designer and Co-Founder- approached the process very scientifically and allowed the solution to reflect the problem.

For example, after quickly realizing a tablet was the best form factor, what was the right size? Many iterations later, the 7-8” size was ultimately chosen as providing the best balance between weight, screen real-estate, and portability. Prototypes were built, tested, and the results were carefully recorded. These results, in turn, influenced the resulting prototype, and the “build, test, learn” cycle continued. In what must have been a dizzying initial 6 months, over 1,000 iterations of prototypes and software were cycled through.

Minnesota Connection

Scott grew up on a farm in Decorah, Iowa- a small town about 1-hour south of Rochester, Minnesota. Scott attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa where he double majored in computer science and business. After college, Scott worked in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for nearly 22 years where he held an executive position with BestBuy for over 7 years, as well as positions with Target and Accenture. His relocation to Silicon Valley occurred roughly 6 years ago following a 3-year stint living in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Today, Scott splits his time between Orange County and Wabasha, where he owns a home. Despite Scott’s part-time Midwest residency, there’s clearly good reason to consider himself a “mid-west guy.”

Although GrandPad originally grew out of the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator (and remains a current tenant), the organization is split, roughly 50/50, between Orange County and Minneapolis. The Orange County division houses the technological aspects, whereas the Minneapolis division houses the operational aspects of the company. Although separated by ~1900 miles, this company division seems to make a lot of sense. Technological innovation is the heartbeat of Silicon Valley and first class customer care is instinctive for Minnesotans.

The Future

Currently there are approximately 20 million seniors in the US and this population is expected to increase more than two fold, to ~70 million, by 2030. Accordingly, it doesn’t take a mathematician to understand the market for GrandPad users will follow a similar trajectory. Expanding globally, this market cap increases roughly 10 fold and therefore, on solely the basis of potential customers, the future for GrandPad is very bright.

Very few companies are targeting the senior demographic, leaving this particular market relatively untapped. Although Scott Lein and GrandPad are shaping up to be leaders in the tablet market, it remains unknown whether or not other technology platforms targeted at seniors will also gain a foothold.


For aspiring technology entrepreneurs, Scott offers two pieces of advice. First, identify your goal and focus everything you do around that very specific goal. Critical to success is doing one thing well – “don’t be an inch deep and a mile wide”. Startups lack two precious resources: time and money. Accordingly, do not be afraid to say no to anything that does not directly support your mission. Second, put the customer first, resolving any issues that arise ASAP. Technological innovation should be customer driven, and this simple, yet fundamental point, should be imprinted into the DNA of your company and employees.

The final four are just the beginning: Rochester’s first Youth Startup Weekend cultivates youthful enthusiasm for entrepreneurship

During the third weekend of March, Rochester teens had an exciting opportunity to learn entrepreneurial skills and to become part of the Startup Weekend global phenomenon by creating and pitching their own startups. The ultimate goal was for each team to develop a fledgling startup with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), or be on track to produce one, by the end of the 54-hour competition.

Despite hectic student schedules and a late-season snow, eager teens gathered at University Center Rochester on Friday evening, March 18th, for Rochester’s very first Youth Startup Weekend. From the initial pitch session and team formation through Sunday afternoon’s final pitch competition, the young participants were stretched and challenged, actively learning important entrepreneurial concepts and skills through the Startup Weekend format of collaboration, adaptation, and rapid iteration based on customer feedback.

Opening Night: Initial Pitches and Team Formation

Startup Weekends are fast-paced, immersive experiences—this one was no exception. Lessons in key entrepreneurial principles began immediately, even before the initial pitch round.

After explaining the key concept of a MVP—the simplest version of a startup’s product or service that still delivers its core functionality to the customer—emcee Michael Norton introduced the teens to the anatomy and art of the pitch. The teens then participated in a rapid-fire group brainstorming and pitching activity to get their creative juices flowing.

Next, the initial pitch round kicked off the 54-hour countdown.

Teen participants had sixty seconds to pitch their ideas to peers. In addition to identifying a problem and proposing a solution, each pitcher explained to the group why his or her particular solution was unique and what kind of team and skills would be needed to build that solution. Individual participants pitched fourteen ideas in all, after which all the participants voted to determine which ideas would move forward.

Teen participants were instructed to vote not by choosing which ideas they thought were the best in the abstract, but instead by choosing the three projects that they most wanted to work on during the weekend. That self-selecting process emphasized the concept of “Team >> Idea”—that having a strong team excited to work on a project is a better driver for a startup’s success than is an idea by itself.

Final Pitch Competition

The fast-paced weekend culminated Sunday afternoon with a Shark Tank-style pitch competition. The four teams pitching were DyverseUniverse, Smashoid, VolunTappr, and CampStarter.

Smashoid’s “fun and feverish” mobile game Dot Smash targeted socially connected entertainment. Each of the other three teams, however, created a tech-based platform or tool for fostering and strengthening real-life community connections. DyverseUniverse pitched a non-profit diversity outreach organization targeted to middle schoolers. VolunTappr pitched an app to connect volunteers with fellow community members or organizations in need of assistance. CampStarter pitched a website through which teens could share skills and interests by organizing their own summer camps.

Judging and Awards

The judges were local experts Emily Benner, Senior Vice President of Research and Product Development at Preventice Solutions; Dr. Mustaqeem Siddiqui, a Mayo Clinic physician and a Medical Director with Mayo’s Global Business Systems division; and Andrew Danielsen, Director of Business Development at Mayo Clinic Ventures.

The judging criteria consisted of three key elements for entrepreneurial progress: customer validation, MVP design and execution, and business model development.

Although the judges acknowledged the teens’ relative inexperience, their questions probed how well each team had practiced those three entrepreneurial elements while refining its initial startup idea and developing its MVP.

The judges’ questions themselves were important learning experiences for each team. In particular, the judges emphasized the importance of developing a clearly defined value proposition, identifying a customer base, obtaining useful feedback, differentiating oneself from competitors, and, of course, generating revenue.

The judges presented four awards, one for excellence in each of the three categories and an overall grand prize.

DyverseUniverse was recognized for Excellence in Customer Validation, Smashoid for Excellence in Business Model, and CampStarter for Excellence in MVP Design.

VolunTappr won the grand prize for overall excellence.

In addition to the public recognition, VolunTappr’s prizes include a legal consultation from Rochester law firm Dunlap & Seeger and the opportunity to interview for a Techstars++ residency. Now rebranded as Volunteerium, the all-female team is developing their app further in order to enter Technovation[MN]’s upcoming Appapalooza pitch competition.

Promoting an entrepreneurship culture in Rochester and Southeast MN

Perhaps the most exciting moment of all came Sunday afternoon when emcee Michael Norton asked, “who learned something new this weekend?” Both the student participants and the adult mentors raised their hands.

The Rochester Youth Startup Weekend organizers hope that the enthusiasm sparked by this exciting and successful event will generate additional momentum for holding a second Startup Weekend in November 2016, open to participants of all ages from Rochester and Southeast Minnesota.

By making Rochester’s Youth Startup Weekend a reality, these eager teens have gained extremely valuable new skills, self-knowledge, and a growing entrepreneurial mindset that they can apply in all areas of their lives—and of course we hope that some of these exciting projects will continue.

The teen participants also showed the adults that it’s possible to take the risk of giving ideas a chance to grow!

Wanted- More Wet Lab Space for Minnesota's Life Science Entrepreneurs

Last week, Life Science Nexus was privileged to tour the Worthington Biotechnology Advancement Center (BAC) and developing wet lab space with Worthington Regional Economic Development Corporation (WREDC) Executive Director Abraham Algadi. 

Click here to access our previous story about the BAC wet lab incubator. 

The BAC and associated incubator have a great opportunity to begin to fill a gaping hole in our life science startup space in Minnesota.  It’s no secret.  We in Minnesota have precious little wet lab space for our life science entrepreneurs.   

But what is the real utility of a wet lab space?  How can it spur innovation and entrepreneurship?  What can the Worthington BAC incubator bring to the table?

The Worthington Bio Science Conference wrapped up last week with a panel discussion surrounding the BAC lab build-out, what needs to happen to complete the space, and what value the lab would add to the community.

This expert panel was led by non-longer “homeless” life science entrepreneur Goutham Vemuri, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) Project Development Director Harold Stanislawski, and AURI Senior Director of Science and Technology Rod Larkins.

Lack of access to a wet lab space is a major barrier to success for life science entrepreneurs.  Unlike some other science disciplines such as robotics, life science companies require critical infrastructure and equipment like centrifuges, fume hoods, and sub-zero freezers to generate intellectual property.  A life science startup is not really something that can be launched out of a basement.

Minnesota has very limited wet lab space for non-institute associated scientists, especially outside of the Twin Cities area.  AURI is stepping up to fill these gaps at their Crookston and Marshall facilities in western Minnesota.  Vemuri himself found a great home to make progress on his proof of concept at the AURI Marshall facilities. 

The 2000 square foot wet lab area being build in Worthington will provide space and infrastructure for the “homeless researcher” in southwestern Minnesota, helping to build up the entrepreneurial community in the city.  The lab space has great potential beyond this application.  The area could also be used by the larger companies in Worthington, like the animal vaccine developer Newport Laboratories, for processes such as product validation.  Training and other STEM outreach initiatives could also take place using the lab equipment.

The WREDC and city of Worthington continue to bring the BAC wet lab closer to a concrete reality.  The community is motivated and pointed in the right direction.  We at Life Science Nexus and across the state look forward to watching this story unfold.


Minneapolis-based LogicStream Health Leverages Health Informatics and EHRs to Improve Health Outcomes

The expanding Minneapolis-based company LogicStream Health developed a clinical process measurement platform to improve the quality of patient care and lower overall costs to healthcare systems.  The LogicStream Intelligence Platform reduces unnecessary variations in patient care and helps healthcare systems quantitate and improve best practices.

“Being able to measure the process of care is a key to clinical quality improvement.  That may seem self-evident since if you can’t measure a process, you can’t improve it.  However, despite its importance there is a significant gap in this area at most health systems,” explains Dr. Dan Rubin, Chief Medical Officer at LogicStream Health.

But what exactly is process of care and how can it be measured? 

Let’s say you need to have a knee replacement surgery to relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis.  There are many different pieces of care surrounding that surgery, beginning even prior to the day of operation.

First, you go through pre-operative assessments, dredging through your current medications and dosages, including a list of medications you might have been taking to prepare for surgery.  Then comes the actual surgery.  Lastly post-operative procedures occur, including prevention of any hospital acquired conditions.

What dictates this process of events and how do care providers know what protocols to follow when administering the care?

It boils down to Electronic Health Records, or EHRs.  In a nutshell, EHRs are the updated, 21st century version of the paper patient chart.  These digital EHRs are much more fluid and up-to-date than their predecessors.  They contain all the patient’s medical records and personal history and allow that information to be shared in a secure, seamless manner with all the patient’s care providers.

But EHRs go beyond this little snapshot of individual medical information.  Healthcare systems have built best care practices, or exact protocols detailing the steps to patient care, into the EHR.  These best practices have similarities regardless of the healthcare system.  But even when the best care practices are in place the problem lies in the human component.

“Obviously humans are fallible when it comes to following process and remembering to take every last step. …What’s challenging for [the healthcare systems] without LogicStream is really to measure how well these things are functioning and whether they are working as intended to drive outcomes,” explains Dr. Rubin. 

Once a best practice is standardized and built into the EHR, healthcare system teams usually need to tweak and improve these protocols to obtain the best outcome possible.  They also need to measure the level of best practice compliance across care provider teams.

Healthcare systems use the LogicStream Intelligence Platform to pull information from the EHR, analyze that information, and determine if their best practices are- or aren’t- working to drive the expected outcomes.  The LogicStream Platform makes any iterations and improvements to these best practices and compliance measurements possible.  Without LogicStream, these healthcare systems are basically “flying blind” and have no discreet way to measure their clinical process.

For example, LogicStream was used by one client to standardize care in order to prevent catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI), a common hospital acquired condition. LogicStream standardized the catheter use process, controlling which patients actually had catheters inserted and standardizing the process of catheter removal.  LogicStream reduced the number of catheters in use, decreased the rate of UTIs, and minimized unnecessary costs to the health system.

The eighteen person LogicStream team of informaticists and healthcare experts has clients “in every geographic region of the US,” says Dr. Rubin.  This growing company graduated from the TreeHouse Health accelerator in December and transitioned into a new space in the North Loop region of Minneapolis to continue the development process.

It’s a very exciting time for LogicSteam Health and other companies operating in health informatics- the crossroads where “clinical medicine, workflow, data, and the EHR all come together.” 

“I think we’re on the verge of a revolution around informatics where the pace at which we can impact and improve care is really starting to increase. …We’ll be able to standardize what happens on a much larger scale and much more effectively.  All this is really due to these key disciplines coming together and being brought to bear on the problem of unnecessary variation of care,” emphasizes Dr. Rubin.

Minneapolis Team Designs Card-Sized Epinephrine Auto-Injector to Increase Carrying Compliance in Severe Allergy Sufferers

A Minneapolis team has developed a slimmer, sleeker alternative to the EpiPen to increase carrying compliance and ensure that life-saving medications are on hand in emergency situations.  AdrenaCard brings peace of mind to food allergy sufferers and proves that perseverance, research, and product design pay off in the end.

Up to 16 million people in the United States are at risk for anaphylactic shock- a potentially fatal allergic reaction that occurs rapidly after exposure to certain proteins or toxins.  Currently, the EpiPen is the standard of care to mitigate this reaction. 

The EpiPen delivers a measured dose of epinephrine into the body.  Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, activates the body’s fight-or-flight response, stimulates the heart, and increases blood flow to elevate breathing levels and relieve anaphylaxis symptoms long enough for a patient to get to a care center to receive further treatment.

Epinephrine is highly effective in temporarily relieving symptoms of anaphylaxis.  The problem lies in the method of drug delivery.  The EpiPen is bulky and highly inconvenient to carry.  Of the 16 million people at risk for anaphylactic shock, less than 25% actually own an EpiPen or other auto-injector to deliver epinephrine.  Less than 50% of this device-owning population carries the pen at all times, creating a 90% or 14.6M patient care gap.

“We found that two biggest issues with the products on the market today are their cost and the carrying compliance,” says Tyler Ebert, AdrenaCard CEO and Co-Founder. 

The average EpiPen on the market today costs $260.  Most doctors prescribe at least two of these devices, amounting to $520 of total expense.  EpiPens and other auto-injector devices are reimbursable by insurance.  However, most patients have high deductible healthcare plans and end up paying a lot of this cost out-of-pocket. 

The AdrenaCard team of Tyler Ebert and Chris Kuehn set out to improve upon this standard of care while students at the University of Minnesota (UMN).

Tyler Ebert was drawn to the UMN specifically to study entrepreneurship and has a background in restaurant development and food counseling.

As a food counselor at the university, people would often come to speak with him about their food allergies.  Even though they realized the importance of the device, many would not have their auto-injector on them.  Tyler dug into the details surrounding auto-injectors and discovered the high rate of non-compliance in device carrying and the massive market for auto-injectors.  In 2014 alone the auto-injector market had $1.3B in sales and continues to grow.

The idea of an improved device to deliver epinephrine was compelling from a clinical, personal, and business perspective.  Most importantly, Tyler wanted to improve the situation for these food allergy patients.

Tyler formed a partnership Chris Kuehn, who had logged time in medical device innovation at both Boston Scientific and Precision, Inc.  AdrenaCard was born.

“[…] what we created is a device that delivers the same life saving medication [as the EpiPen], with a form factor that is the size of a credit card,” explains Tyler.

The slimmer, smaller size of the AdrenaCard auto-injector allows it to be easily carried in a pocket, wallet, or attached to a key chain, making the device more likely to be on hand in case of emergency.

The AdrenaCard delivers the exact same drug as the EpiPen.  However, the AdrenaCard has a beautifully improved form factor and design because the team invested extensive time and effort to understand severe allergy patients and their lifestyle.

The pair initially struggled to gain traction and raise their first round of seed capital in the Twin Cities area due to a crowded market and especially busy time of the year.  They sought out partners beyond the Twin Cities area and found a great resource base in Alexandria, Minnesota.

Alexandria and the expertise of central Minnesota often gets overlooked.  But this self-sustaining area has real expertise in contract manufacturing of scientific and medical devices, which they export around the world.

The AdrenaCard team linked up with their now lead investor, UMN Reagent and serial entrepreneur Thomas Anderson, who introduced them to the greater Alexandria community.  Within this group, the AdrenaCard pair found people “[…] who would not only invest in us, but sat with us as advisors and mentored us.  They helped to build us,” explains Tyler.

AdrenaCard raised their first round of capital with this amazing partnership in Alexandria.  To date, this is the largest amount of seed funding raised by undergraduate students in the history of Minnesota.  The team is currently raising a Series A to get them through FDA clearance as early as 2017.

AdrenaCard also found a great partner for product development in Minneapolis-based Worrell Design, a company that specializes in medical device design and human factors.  Working with Chris Kuehn, the Worrell team has brought the AdrenaCard device to the level it’s at today.

AdrenaCard recently competed in the US National Competition of Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, which attracts top student entrepreneurs from about the world.  The team ranked as the #2 student-owned business in the country for 2015, garnering AdrenaCard national recognition.

The AdrenaCard team proves the value of hard work, dedication, and perseverance in reaching your goals.  They have brought national media attention not only to themselves, but the to the great work being performed in the Twin Cities entrepreneurial scene as a whole.

Celebrate Pi Day with Twin Cities Entrepreneurial Communities

Pi Day- a day near and dear to any mathematician- is right around the corner.  Pi Day celebrates the mathematical constant Pi , the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.  The first three significant digits of Pi are 3.14, making March 14th (3/14) the perfect day for festivity.

Seem weird?  That’s because Pi Day is strange…and geeky.  “[Pi Day]’s the height of nerdiness,” explains CoCreateX catalyst Ben Ihde.  “It’s like Thanksgiving for nerds,” says another catalyst Mac Cameron.

Why not just harness Pi Day and celebrate your inner geek?  Although, it’s probably best not to celebrate an event like Pi Day alone.

CoCreateX- a Saint Paul based group that harnesses the power of the community to help others realize their creative potential- is celebrating Pi Day in style.  The group is hosting Big Pi Day in possibly the best location ever- the Twin Cities Trapeze Center. 

This year Pi Day falls on a Monday.  Monday’s just are not meant to be holidays.  So CoCreateX and other like-minded Twin Cities communities will celebrate Pi Day on Saturday, March 12th.

This upcoming Saturday, five community partners- including CoLab, Mad Scientists, diyBio, MAV Meetup, and Tesla Works- will hold Pi Day events throughout the day, “showcasing quad copters, trebuchets, and sequencing of the genome,” says Ben Ihde, to touch on just a few of the day’s activities.

On Saturday evening, these communities, along with many others, will come together at Twin Cities Trapeze to cap off the celebration with CoCreateX’s Big Pi Day night.  One of the CoCreaters will even stun the crowd on the flying trapeze!

Big Pi Day will also feature art, music, and local food.  Plus, of course, flying acrobatics.  There might possibly be no better way to celebrate a day dedicated to a mathematical constant.

All nerdiness aside, Big Pi Night will focus communities within the Twin Cities and the power and possibilities harnessed within these groups to fuel individual innovation.

These communities, and the support they offer, would not be possible without dedicated, passionate organizers.  “Being a community organizer is really, really difficult.  Community organizers create an enormous amount of value for lots and lots of people,” explains CoCreateX catalyst Nick Powley.

Big Pi Day will not only celebrate these individual Twin Cities communities but will “highlight the contributions of community organizers to our city,” says Nick.

The group is doing things a little differently for Big Pi Day.  No one has to supply any personal information or email address to register for the event.  Individuals just need to say they will attend and indicate if they will bring any guests.  That’s it.

“It’s really about bringing people together, creating that experience, and inspiring people to participate in all of the wonderful things these community organizers have been doing for them. […] This year’s Pi Day is really about giving thanks for communities, their organizers, and all of the wonderful people of the Twin Cities who’ve been so supportive of those types of groups,” explains Nick.

You can always celebrate Pi Day alone by eating Pi inspired foods like pizza, chicken pot pie, or of course, good old pie, or running 3.14 miles.  But why not step out and try on one of these communities on for size?  Interact with some like-minded innovators, nerds or not.  It’s the perfect opportunity to try something new. 

Why eat pie alone?  CoCreateX will have enough for you and 199 of your new friends.

Check out bigpiday.com to learn more about the CoCreateX event and location.

Also check out the daytime events from these great Twin Cities innovation communities.


Minnesota Startup Geneticure Designed Gene Panel to Direct Hypertension Treatment and Control High Blood Pressure Faster than Standard of Care

Geneticure- a startup with close ties to Rochester, Minnesota- created a panel of genes involved in hypertension to support decision making processes for clinicians and to control the disease faster for patients.

Seventy-eight million Americans, or every one in three, are afflicted with high blood pressure.  Five million new diagnoses spring up every year.  Over fifty percent of the US hypertension population, or thirty-seven million people, do not have the disease under control, often because they are taking the wrong medications.

The current guidelines, or standard of care, for treating hypertension targets three systems: the kidneys, the blood vessels, and the heart to inhibit sodium reabsorption, induce vasodilation, or reduce total cardiac output.  According to the standard of care, every patient presenting with hypertension begins treatment with the same drug, usually a diuretic.  The drug is slowly titrated up until the maximum tolerable dose is reached. 

If the first round of drug treatment does not control the hypertension, a second drug class is added without taking the patient off the first drug and the titration process is repeated.  If blood pressure levels still remain uncontrolled, a third class of drugs will be added into the regiment. 

This process is a very long and frustrating road to controlling hypertension, lasting up to twelve to fifteen months and adding unnecessary costs to the healthcare system.  Even with complete medication compliance, 40% of hypertension patients do not have their condition under control due to this trial-and-error process.

Geneticure aims to disrupt this paradigm of treatment and control hypertension faster than the standard of care by providing a more personalized, individual approach to hypertension treament.

The company has “identified and patented a unique panel of genes that are fundamental causal factors behind the disease and the corresponding responses that the patient could expect based on these various classes of drugs,” explains Geneticure Co-Founder and President Scott Snyder.  He thinks that Geneticure can slash the time for controlling hypertension down to two to six weeks.

“We’re eliminating those unnecessary office visits.  We’re eliminating unnecessary prescriptions.  But also we’re getting one of the deadliest diseases in the US under control quite a bit quicker. […] The risk factors of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack go through the roof when you don’t control the disease,” Snyder explains.

The Geneticure team designed a post-diagnosis product to help clinicians make more informed decisions to treat and manage hypertension patients. 

The startup focuses on pharmacogenetics- or how an individual’s DNA affects their metabolism and response to certain drugs.  They created and patented a panel of genes involved in hypertension regulation.  Genes included in the panel were curated from over twelve thousand peer-reviewed manuscripts.  The presence of certain alleles- or variant forms of the same gene with slightly different DNA sequences- of these genes correlate with a particular response to drug treatment. 

To begin the Geneticure testing process, hypertension patients have a sample of DNA taken right in their doctor’s office.  The Geneticure DNA collection kit comes in a clean, freshly designed box with the inscription “say ahh…” on the inside thanks to Snyder’s extensive Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) background.  The kit contains two buccal cheek swabs for painless, non-invasive DNA collection.  After the sample is taken, it’s lysed in two small vials, which are bar coded to protect patient identity.  The samples are then shipped off to the CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement and Amendments of 1988) certified lab at the University of Arizona (UA).

Once at the lab, the DNA is extracted and the Geneticure proprietary assay run.  A report of the findings is returned to the clinician with the patient’s genotype- the DNA sequence at these targeted alleles- and the predicted patient response to drug therapy, including the literature supporting the recommended drug treatment. 

For example, if a patient has the genotype, or alleles, EE for hypertension gene LSN, Geneticure would know that gene LSN relates to blood vessel function and might predict that a vasodilator be the first line of defense in controlling this particular patient’s hypertension.

The Geneticure team is stacked with three National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded scientists who know a thing or two about cardiology and genetics.  The company was begun by the Snyder brothers, President Scott Snyder and Chief Operating Officer Eric Snyder.  The latter Snyder performed his thesis work in cardiology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and then went on to UA, where he collaborated with genetics expert and now Geneticure Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Ryan Sprissler.  Sprissler runs the UA Genetics Core Facility and receives all the Geneticure DNA samples.  The fourth co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. Tom Olson, serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine and Consulting in Cardiovascular Diseases at Mayo Clinic. 

Late last year, the team added a second business man to the team, Ben Bowman.  Bowman has an extensive background in startup development and was the Founding CEO of General Blood, a company that optimized the human donated blood market.

The group launched a retrospective stage phase one clinical trial early last year to demonstrate the efficacy of the gene panel in directing hypertension treatment and found quite a bit of success.

“…we were more than twice as good as the standard of care in predicting that first drug class that was successful,” explains Snyder.  In one particular case, Geneticure would have controlled a hypertension patient nine months faster than the standard of care. 

Geneticure also thinks they can improve patient therapy compliance “by providing a personalized medication solution. […] [Patients] are going to be more likely to take that drug if they know it was a solution that was developed for them,” explains Snyder.

Snyder predicts, “Without question, at some point in the future, your doctor will not prescribe a drug for hypertension without you taking our test.”    

CoCreateX and UMN MDC Event Leverages the Power of the Twin Cities Innovation Community

I’ve had the unique opportunity to follow and engage with the Saint Paul based CoCreateX innovation group for a little over one year.  They served as my first real introduction into the Minneapolis/Saint Paul entrepreneurial community and the power harnessed therein.

This past Tuesday night, CoCreateX co-hosted a Medical Event with the University of Minnesota Medical Devices Center (MDC) in the MDC space on the university’s East Bank campus.  Anyone interested in learning about the Center and medical device commercialization was encouraged to attended. 

But the night was really about community, resource sharing, and helping one another.  The purpose was to collect like-minded individuals into one space to advance and give exposure to personal and community projects. 

The event format was designed to share stories and ideas of innovation from our rich entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Twin Cities. 

CoCreateX printed company and group posters from the community and hung them around the space to gain exposure for these organizations. A handful of innovators gave three minute pitches throughout the night, which were broken up by half hour interactions and informal networking.  Pitches were delivered by AdrenaCard, Worrell Designs, a medical device map, Transfuse Solutions, ImmerGen Studios, AxioMed, the UMN Engineering World Health student group, a heart cooling catheter and system company, and the Pediatric Device Innovation Consortium. 

The event was yet another interactive, engaging activity arranged by CoCreateX, leveraging the assets and expertise of the community to build and bolster innovation across the board. 

Encounters such as this are even more proof that innovation and comradery are thriving in Minnesota.  

The Beer Dabbler Owner gives Fireside Chat at Latest Startup Grind Minneapolis

Startup Grind Minneapolis held its latest event this past Monday, featuring local Twin Cities entrepreneur Matt Kenevan.  We noted Startup Grind a few weeks ago as one of the top ten websites that every entrepreneur needs to know.  Beyond the website, Startup Grind is actually a large community of entrepreneurs with over 213 worldwide chapters. 

This latest Startup Grind event put on by the Minneapolis chapter was an informal fireside chat.  The event took place at CoCo Coworking in the beautiful and historic  Minneapolis Grain Exchange Building.  If you’ve never been in the space before, it’s something to see.  There’s nothing quite like looking up from your cubicle to just take in the architecture- the structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places- or glace up at the ticker board to check out the upcoming entrepreneurial events in the area and see a large, pixelated cow.  They offer tours of the space every Friday, if your interested is now sufficiently piqued. 

This Startup Grind Event was a laid backed talk with the one-of-a-kind business man Matt Kenevan.  Kenevan is perhaps best known for his Beer Dabbler craft beer festivals and his work to build up the Twin Cities craft brewery scene.  Kenevan currently owns five independent companies, all of which are loosely tied together in some manner or another, mostly through beer.  After plying everyone with pizza and bottles of Fulton beer- because what Twin Cities event is complete without a local brew or two- we got to jump into the mindset of Matt Kenevan and understand what makes him tick as an entrepreneur. 

As with a lot of entrepreneurs, the ability to answer only to himself was a major reason Kenevan was driven to become a small business owner.  Apparently, he just really likes wearing shorts to work.  But with that freedom also comes a price.  He said to remember that in small business ownership, there is no nine-to-five or Monday through Friday.  It’s all the time.  If you feel like you’re working, it’s probably not the right field for you.  He said it’s all about finding a level where you don’t even know you’re working. 

He also wanted to prove to the nay-sayers that he could do something or get something to work which was thought to be impossible.  Enter one of his businesses: The Growler.  Maybe you’ve seen it.  It’s in about every pub and brewery in the Twin Cities.  The magazine is of course about beer.  But it also contains cultural and lifestyle stories for everybody.  Kenevan wanted negativity kept out of The Growler, avoiding any hurtful words for beer enthusiasts and brewers who were putting everything on the line to make their dreams a reality, valuable advice for all of us spreading written words out there.   In an era where print is supposed to be dead, The Growler has been up and running for three years.

It might seem that winter beer festivals in Minnesota are a crazy idea, but Kenevan made that work as well.  His first plan was to throw beer fests in twelve different cities.  In the end, he said that was an incredibly bad and unsuccessful experience where he lost a lot of money.  But he was still convinced that the winter beer festivals could work, but maybe the concept of the twelve cities was wrong.  He advised that you can have the best business plan in the world, but there will still be something wrong with it.  It’s all about rolling with the punches and making the best of the situation.  Kenevan said that it’s alright to fail.  We all do.  It’s just important to avoid landing in that same position twice.

He has revamped the beer festival model, paring it down to just three events all held in the Twin Cities: the Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival, Summer Beer Dabbler, and the Beer Dabbler at Twin Cities Pride.  Although he still can’t control the weather, the highly successful Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival celebrates it’s seventh season this February 6th.   It’s not always great.  He called the 2014 Winter Dabbler during the polar vortex “the most horrifying experience of my entire life”.  But if you have a good product, people will withstand subzero temperatures for it.

Some of Kenevan’s businesses didn’t necessary have a road map.  They were like a choose your own adventure plan.  He said it’s all about taking opportunities when they are presented.  That’s how another of his businesses, The Beer Dabbler Store, was launched.  He needed an office space and wanted to be more than a beer festival promoter.  He also wanted to create a physical space where people could come to talk to him about the beer fests.  So he opened up the store front, selling craft beer apparel.  His refrigerated tap trailer company, Metro Cold-Stor, also developed from seizing an opportunity.  Kenevan saw a need for the service in the area.  But, he also saw a personal need to get out of the office a few times a week, which Metro Cold-Stor provided.

Every entrepreneur’s journey is different and Matt Kenevan’s is truly unique.  Join Startup Grind Minneapolis for their next event in March with the software design and development company The Nerdery.