Walleye Tank

Four Rochester Biotech Teams Showcase Technology at Seventh Walleye Tank Business Pitch Competition

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Four Rochester biotech startup teams competed in the seventh Walleye Tank business pitch competition this May in Minneapolis for the chance to enter into the semifinal round of the Minnesota Cup. Eighteen total startups pitched their technologies at this event. At the end of the competition, Twin Cities startups Ascension and Morari Medical walked away as overall winners.  

Startups enter into this biotech competition in two different categories: the Junior Angler or Professional Division. Junior Anglers are newer teams with ideas at the pre-prototype stage. Professional teams are further along in the business development process and may have a minimal viable product, market traction, and sales. 

Teams are judged by a panel of startup and business development experts called Walleyes. This year, Junior Anglers were judged by: Perry Hackett, serial entrepreneur and Professor of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development at the University of Minnesota; Susan Kimmel, market research expert and Gopher Angel; Traci Downs, serial entrepreneur and founder of Collider Coworking and Area 10 Labs; Mary MacCarthy, entrepreneur and Venture Center Program Manager with the University of Minnesota’s Office of Technology Commercialization; and bio tech expert Fernando Bazan. Professional teams were judged by: Sara Russick, entrepreneur and founder of investment groups Gopher Angels and Capita3; Julie Henry, Director of Business Operations for Mayo Clinic Ventures and Mayo Clinic’s Department of Business Development; Russ Straate, Associate Director of the University of Minnesota Venture Center; and Meg Steuer, Manager of Forge North with Greater MSP.

Four teams from Rochester participated in Walleye Tank including Smart Lead and MD to Me in the Junior Angler Division and Phenomix and Phraze in the Professional Division.

Smart Lead, presented by Dr. Alaa Sada, is tackling an uncomfortable garment, the radiation shield, that’s required to be worn by healthcare providers anytime they are exposed to radiation. The vest weighs about ten pounds and is often worn for very long hours. Use of the garment can lead to discomfort, bodily pain, burnout, and musculoskeletal injury. To solve this problem, the team behind Smart Lead is developing a more ergonomic vest that will continue to provide radiation protection with increased comfort due to added technology. The Smart Lead team of Mayo Clinic physicians is now working with Mayo Clinic’s Department of Business Development and Division of Biomedical Engineering to develop their first prototype. They estimate a $2.75M market for their product at Mayo Clinic alone. 

MD to Me, presented by Mayo Clinic graduate student Chris Paradise, aims to “take back control of high blood pressure.” Approximately 100M Americans are affected by high blood pressure. Only 50% of these patients have the disease under control with about 1,000 deaths occurring each day from hypertension related conditions. To solve this problem, MD to Me is developing an IoT blood pressure cuff paired with an app platform to provide real time blood pressure data to patients. Blood pressure data will additionally be monitored by a physician. The team aims to reduce medical and ER visits with their technology.

Phenomix Sciences, presented by COO Ross Higgins, is a Mayo Clinic startup founded by two physician researchers. The business aims to provide a precision medicine, multi-omics approach to treat obesity. Over 40% of the US adult population is obese, leading to $480B of direct costs to the healthcare system annually. In addition, two-thirds of obesity patients do not respond to their prescribed treatments. To solve this problem, Phenomix is pairing an AI-driven algorithm with a panel of biomarkers, which they’ve licensed from Mayo Clinic, to develop the first blood test to segment obesity patients for therapeutic targeting.

Phraze, presented by COO Jack Schneeman, has developed an AI-driven medical scribe to automate a significant portion of physician medical note taking requirements. More than 50% of physician time is spent on Electronic Medical Record (EMR) documentation. This amount of documentation is the number one cause of physician burnout. Burnout, in turn, can cause a 300% increase in the medical error rate. Phraze’s technology was shown to save about 1.5 hours per day for physicians based on simulations and testing. 

Twin Cities-based team Ascension was named the overall Junior Division winner of Walleye Tank. This startup, presented by product design engineer Lyndsey Calvin, is developing innovative solutions for transgender health. Vaginoplasty, a current care option for transgender women, involves the surgical reconstruction of the vagina. This procedure has a 50% complication rate, costing over $25,000 per patient to treat. To solve this problem, Ascension is creating a single use flushing stent to provide an improved care option. The stent is placed in the vagina during the vaginoplasty procedure and is replaced monthly for the first ninety days with a larger sized stent. This process replicates dilation and reduces the burden of compliance barriers for vaginoplasty patients. Ascension is currently targeting a $1.5B marketing that’s growing at a 41% rate.

Minneapolis-based Morari Medical won this spring’s Professional Division of Walleye Tank. This startup, presented by CEO Jeff Bennett, is developing the first ever device-based solution to premature ejaculation (PE). PE is the number one sexual dysfunction in men. It affects one in three men and results in decreased quality of life for both men and women. The Morari team is addressing this problem through neuromodulation with a small, band-aid sized device to inhibit neural activity and delay an ejaculation.

Congratulations to all the Walleye Tank participants. Best of luck to Ascension and Morari Medical in the Minnesota Cup! Look for Walleye Tank to return to Rochester for the eighth edition on December 6th. 

Three Healthtech Teams Win Big at Sixth Walleye Tank


This Friday, twenty-three different biotech teams traveled to Rochester to compete in the sixth Walleye Tank business pitch competition. This packed house event, organized by the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship and the Collider Foundation, not only served as a pitch contest. The event additionally brought together multiple pieces of the entrepreneurial ecosystem including venture capitalists, accelerator programs, medical experts, serial entrepreneurs, and business supportive services. In the end, Twin Cities companies NovoClade and ClinicianNexus and Mayo Clinic Florida team The QT Grid walked away as divisional winners. 

Teams competed in three different divisions at Walleye Tank based on stage of business development.


Junior Anglers

The first division, the Junior Anglers, included teams in the ideation phase of development who did not yet have a prototype. Nine different teams participated as Junior Anglers at the winter Walleye Tank, the largest group in the competition. 

Adjustable Fracture Nail team from Mayo Clinic Florida won second place in this division. Presented by Mayo Clinic Graduate School student Chris Mehner, Adjustable Fracture Nail targets the 15M patients suffering from long bone fractures in the US each year. These patients are typically treated by insertion of a single, non-adjustable nail into the bone to stabilize the fracture. This process, Mehner explained, it highly dependent on the surgeon’s expertise, resulting in 40% of fracture patients receiving a rotational error of the long bone. This additionally affects bone healing and may lead to joint issues. To solve this problem, the team is creating an adjustable nail containing an internal mechanism to extend the fracture line in the long bone. The nail would also utilize a laser-guided mechanism to finely adjust long bone rotation to the perfect angle. The team believes this product will produce reduced errors, lower surgical time, and decreased medical costs. They currently have a provisional patent on their design. 

Winning the Junior Angler division was the Twin Cities genome editing startup NovoClade. Presented by University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Senior Research Scientist Siba Das, NovoClade is developing SMART technology to control mosquito populations. Current insect management solutions, Das explained, are toxic and not species specific. NovoClade aims to genetically edit mosquito eggs to remove disease carrying insects from the population. The team of four leading the startup include University of Minnesota researchers with over eighty years of combined expertise in genome editing.


Mid-Level Reelers 

The second category, the Mid-Level Reelers division, included startups with a prototype or minimally viable product. These companies may or may not have product sales. Eight different teams competed in this division. 

Taking home second place in the Mid-Level category was Twin Cities startup Morari Medical. This startup, presented by healthcare marketing expert Jeff Bennett, addresses the number one male sexual dysfunction, premature ejaculation. Premature ejaculation affects one in three men and can negatively impact quality of life. The Morari Medical team seeks to treat this condition using neuro-modulation based devices to block or delay ejaculation. Neuromodulation is an evolving therapy that alters nerve activity, through chemical or electrical stimuli, at specific nerve sites in the body. With an estimated market size of $15M, Morari Medical is in the early feasibility prototyping stage of development.

Winning the Mid-Level Reeler division was Mayo Clinic Florida innovation The QT Grid. Presented by Postdoctoral Fellow Karim ReFaey, The QT Grid targets the 50M people across the world suffering from epilepsy. Epilepsy, a condition leading to changed electrical activity in the brain, can be caused by stroke, injury, or tumors on the brain or spinal cord, called gliomas. During surgery to remove these gliomas, surgeons also need to monitor electrical activity of the brain through recording electrodes. However, the monitoring devices currently on the market are either too expensive, too cumbersome, or lack complete functionality to perform these tasks. To solve this problem, this team has developed The QT Grid, a ring shaped, patented, and FDA cleared device that allows for 360-degree electrode recordings and readings from all desired areas of the brain simultaneously. The grid is additionally cheaper and more effective than other devices on the market, ReFaey explained.


Professional Division 

The final division, the Professionals, were established companies making sales and may be in fundraising mode. This division had six total participants.

Earning second place in the Professional division was Rochester company Ambient Clinical Analytics. Presented by CEO Al Berning, Ambient Clinical has developed a suite of clinical support tools. These solutions address information overload and physician burnout in healthcare settings by taking digital health data, sorting the data, and providing healthcare staff with the 1-5% of the data needed to make an informed decision. These SaaS products received Class II FDA clearance from the FDA. The products are sold on a subscription basis and are in worldwide use. Since launch of the company, Ambient has raised ~$8M to fuel business growth.

Taking home the win in the Professional division was Twin Cities company ClinicianNexus. Presented by CEO Katrina Anderson, this company is targeting the >1M medical students, daily, seeking a clinical rotation experience in over 500K clinical sites in the US alone. Traditionally this matching process is driven by the medical schools using technology as simple as a crowded excel sheet. The ClinicianNexus solution, a collaborative clinical education management tool, assists healthcare sites to proactively address their capacity to teach students; this information can then be shared with medical schools and students seeking to rotate at that particular medical location.

Competing Walleye Tank teams were judged by seasoned entrepreneurs, or “Walleyes,” including: Carla Pavone, Associate Director of the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship; Perry Hackett, CEO at Recombinetics; Julie Henry, Enterprise IP Manager at Mayo Clinic; Mark Laisure, CEO at Vortex Media; Pam York, General Partner at Capita3; Bryan Clark, Fellow, Corporate Research at Boston Scientific; Dan Cunagin, Managing Partner at Invenshure; and Fernando Bazan, biotech expert. 

Rochester startup Nanodropper won the first ever Audience Favorite Award. This company, led by Mayo Clinic Medical Student Allisa Song, is developing a universal eye dropper adapter that administers the correct size of medical eye drops to reduce prescription waste.  

Teams fed into Walleye Tank from four different funnels including an open application, a Mayo Clinic Florida Alligator Tank, DMC’s Assistive Tech Challenge, and a Student Entrepreneurial Showcase. 

The next Walleye Tank will be held on May 3rd at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Five Local Biotech Student-Led Teams Advance to Walleye Tank

Allisa Song, Nanodropper.

Allisa Song, Nanodropper.

Last Thursday local student-led innovation stole the limelight at the Entrepreneurial Student Showcase + Walleye Tank Student Qualifying Round, a collaboration between Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, Collider Coworking, and the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship. Seventeen different student teams from around the region competed in the event. Twelve of these teams pitched with the hope to enter Walleye Tank, a Minnesota-based biotech business pitch competition. From this student qualifying round, five teams were deemed ready to compete in Walleye Tank, which will take place tomorrow in Rochester. Advancing teams included Nanodropper, NeuroCog, Malleus, UVCanopy, and Intelligent Parking Solutions.

Nanodropper, presented by Mayo Clinic Medical Student Allisa Song, is addressing wasted eyedrop medications from unnecessary overflow during application of meds; the normal amount of liquid dispensed from eye drop bottles is five times that which can be absorbed by the human eye, according the Nanodropper team. In glaucoma treatment alone, excessive waste from eye drops can cost up to $500 per bottle. This waste is a large problem for low income patients or patients that run out of medication before their prescription can be refilled. To solve this problem, the Nanodropper team has developed a medical grade, single-use silicone eye drop adapter that reduces the size of dispensed eye drops to a volume that can be absorbed by the human eye to reduce medical eye drop waste. This adapter has a universal fit and is patent-pending. The team plans to deliver the product to customers through eye care clinics at a cost of $12.99, resulting in an 86% profit margin. By 2020, ~80M patients will be diagnosed with glaucoma, resulting in an estimated market size of $90M in revenue in the US market alone. Nanodropper qualified for the Mid-Level Reeler division of Walleye Tank.

Logan Grado and Ian Kitchen, Malleus.

Logan Grado and Ian Kitchen, Malleus.

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities students Logan Grado and Ian Kitchen won first place in the Junior Angler Division with Malleus, a hearing aid technology startup. By 2020 an estimated 45M people will be diagnosed with mild to moderate hearing deficiencies, requiring the use of a hearing aid. However, hearing aids are normally tuned by audiologists in a controlled clinical setting, which can be non-functional in a real-world environment. Consequently, when patients need to have their hearing aid adjusted, they have to return to the audiologist, resulting in a costly and inefficient process. Malleus aims to pair artificial intelligence with Bluetooth capable devices to create more personalized, self-directed hearing fits for patients to reduce the need for excessive hearing aid tuning in a clinical setting.  

James Perreault, UVCanopy.

James Perreault, UVCanopy.

Mayo Clinic Florida researcher and physician team of David Restrepo, Daniel Boczar, Toni Turnbull, and Karim ReFaey won second place in the Junior Angler division with their concept, NeuroCog. Brain surgery patients, the team explained, require frequent pre- and postoperative evaluations of cognitive function, which can be very time and resource consuming. To address this issue, they propose the development of a tablet-based application providing standardized, automatized cognitive testing to complement routine postoperative monitoring of neurosurgery patients. This app would incorporate artificial intelligence-based voice, facial, and text recognition to perform cognitive assessments, targeting the 13.8M neurosurgeries occurring globally each year. 

Also qualifying for the Junior Angler Division of Walleye Tank, and winning the Audience Favorite Award, was Saint Mary’s University Finance Student James Perreault with his concept UVCanopy. UVCanopy is addressing the lack of sanitation on items like wheel chairs and other hospital equipment, primarily targeting nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. The UVCanopy uses germicidal UV-C light to kill bacteria in a tunnel-shaped device. Medical equipment could be pushed through the tunnel for sterilization purposes, additionally eliminating human error involved in the sanitation process and reducing dependency on hazardous sterilization chemicals. UVCanopy proposes to make profits through subscription sales and purchases of replacement parts. The team is currently working with the Saint Mary’s University Science Department to test different light volatility in the disinfection process.  

Sinibaldo Romero, Intelligent Parking Solutions.

Sinibaldo Romero, Intelligent Parking Solutions.

The final team to qualify for the Junior Angler Division of Walleye Tank was the Intelligent Parking Solutions concept, led by Mayo Clinic Post Baccalaureate Fellow Sinibaldo Romero. This concept aims to utilize data analytics to increase parking efficiencies in healthcare organizations. The team proposed using cameras in parking spaces to identify unused spots. The product would leverage machine learning to understand parking patterns for patients and staff to determine more efficient mechanisms for healthcare parking. Parking is a multi-million-dollar industry for healthcare institutions. Missed medical appointments due to lack of parking in the US is documented to cost $150B to healthcare institutions each year.

Student showcase teams were judged by Heather Holmes, Vice President of Marketing at Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc.; Chris Lukenbill, Founder at Fresh Edge; Sunny Prabhakar, Account Strategist at Corporate Web Services, Inc., Jon Ninas, Career Awareness Specialist at Mayo Clinic; Sam Gill, Workforce Development Manager at the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce; and Brady Olson, Human Resources Administrative Assistant at Mayo Clinic. The Walleye Tank Student Qualifying Round was judged by Chris Schad, Director of Business Development for Discovery Square; Joselyn Raymundo, Founder of Rochester Home Infusion; Xavier Frigola, Director of Entrepreneurship at Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc.; and Shuai Li, Lab Manager at Mayo Clinic.

Watch all the Walleye Tank student qualifying round pitches on the YouTube channel. Catch these teams live as they pitch in Walleye Tank tomorrow starting at noon in Rochester. Walleye Tank is a free event that is open to the public.

Minnesota Startups CranioVation, LipiQuester, and Aelios Technology Win Big at Spring Walleye Tank Business Pitch Competition

Walleye Tank runner-up Jake Orme of LipiQuester.

Walleye Tank runner-up Jake Orme of LipiQuester.

Last Friday the 2018 Walleye Tank Spring Opener, the fifth edition of this business pitch competition, was held on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. Fifteen different life science and healthtech companies pitched their businesses for a chance to win entry into the semifinal round of Minnesota Cup and multiple other prizes. CranioVation, LipiQuester, and Aelios Technology walked away as big winners at this edition of Walleye Tank.

Walleye Tank is a life science business pitch competition that showcases lifesaving innovations being created in Minnesota. Companies developing science and health related technologies deliver 120 second pitches in one of two categories: Professional or Junior Angler (student) Divisions. Teams are judged by an expert panel, called the “Walleyes.”

This year’s Walleyes included: Julie Henry, Enterprise IP Contract Manager with Mayo Clinic Ventures; Perry Hackett, biotech serial entrepreneur; Sara Russick, Cofounder and General Partner at Capita3; Shaye Mandle, CEO and President of Medical Alley Association; and Fernando Bazan, Chief Technology Officer at Bio-Techne.

Over one hundred participants in Minnesota’s startup and entrepreneurial community attended this Walleye Tank event.

CranioVation, a Minnesota company using photodynamic therapy (PDT) to treat brain tumors without disrupting brain function, was the overall winner in the Professional Division, gaining automatic entry into the semifinal round of Minnesota Cup, the largest statewide business pitch competition in the nation. LipiQuester, led by Rochester resident Jake Orme, was the overall runner up with their patent-pending nutraceutical that impedes dietary fat absorption without the typical negative side effects. Aelios Technology, a team led by University of Minnesota Twin Cities students developing an Intelligent Plug for Devices, or IPlugD, to mitigate life threatening risks in healthcare settings during power outages, was the Junior Angler Division Winner, also snagging entry into Minnesota Cup.

Additional prizes were sponsored by: gBETA Medtech, Capita3, the University of Minnesota Technology Commercialization Venture Center, the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship, Collider Coworking, Gopher Angels, and the University of Minnesota Medical Industry Valuation Lab.

The next Walleye Tank, the 2018 Ice Fishing Edition, will be held in Rochester on December 7th.

Junior Angler Winners Aelios Technology.

Junior Angler Winners Aelios Technology.

Additional Prizes at the 2018 Walleye Tank Spring Opener:

·      Most Medically Impactful Venture: smartfri- an emerging startup developing a bite-activated drug delivery device to provide targeted pain relief to the mouth and throat. 

·      Most Promising Woman-Led Venture: Aelios Technology

·      Most Intriguing Venture (Rochester): LipiQuester

·      Most Fundable Venture: CranioVation

·      Best Ambassador of University of Minnesota Innovation: Addivax, an emerging startup developing antibodies to combat drug overdose.

·      Best Ambassador of Mayo Clinic Innovation (Arizona): Nipple by Number, a 3D-printed stencil that enables accurate and consistent nipple areolar complex (NAC) tattooing.

·       Best Ambassador of Mayo Clinic Innovation (Florida): sciLens, an emerging technology that combines hypersonic sound waves with noise cancelling technology into a small device that fits into a ceiling tile.

Free gBETA Medtech Accelerator Program Launches in Minneapolis to Support HealthTech Startups

gBETA Medtech cohort participant Andy Pfahnl of Kobara Medical displaying his technology at the 2018 Walleye Tank Spring Opener. Kobara Medical is an early stage medtech company developing solutions for heart failure and cardiac arrthmia.

gBETA Medtech cohort participant Andy Pfahnl of Kobara Medical displaying his technology at the 2018 Walleye Tank Spring Opener. Kobara Medical is an early stage medtech company developing solutions for heart failure and cardiac arrthmia.

Gener8tor, a national accelerator that invests in high growth potential startups, recently launched its very first industry specific program, gBETA MedTech, right here in Minnesota. The inaugural gBETA Medtech cohort jump started the program in Minneapolis on March 22nd. This pilot class will culminate with a LiveBETA Medtech pitch session in Minneapolis on May 21st.

Unlike core the gener8tor accelerator programs, where gener8tor invests in startups in exchange for equity, gBETA programs are completely free. Gener8tor invests no funds in the companies and receives no equity in return. With the freshly minted gBETA Medtech in Minneapolis, startups still receive the “same experience of introductions to mentors and introductions to investors throughout the program,” explained Director of gBETA Medtech Adam Choe. “We spend a lot of time making sure their messaging is clear and their critical pathway is well understood.”

This industry specific gBETA accepts medical device, healthcare related software, biotech, and diagnostic companies into their program. Pharmaceuticals are outside of the scope of this particular accelerator.

gBETA Medtech is made possible through a partnership with Boston Scientific, the University of Minnesota Office for Technology Commercialization, Earl E. Bakken Medical Devices Center, and Mayo Clinic.

Choe says gBETA Medtech occurs from a “perfect intersection” of these three partners with the current Minnesota startup ecosystem. Choe understands the struggles of getting a startup off the ground and wants to help other companies achieve success.

“That first valley of death where you may not know the right people and funding is tight, we can help facilitate a lot of strategic introductions. If we do it right, we can do in seven weeks what would normally take seven months,” he explained.

Participating startups do not need to be headquartered in Minneapolis or even in Minnesota; the program just requires one founder to be in Minneapolis for the duration of the seven-week program.

Adam Choe (at right) Director of gBETA Medtech during a panel discussion at the 2018 Walleye Tank Spring Opener.

Adam Choe (at right) Director of gBETA Medtech during a panel discussion at the 2018 Walleye Tank Spring Opener.

“We don’t want to come in and take over for a company,” Choe said. “We want to be there to supplement what they know is a weakness of theirs. Or maybe they don’t know it’s a weakness, but we can help them uncover some things that, when you’re in the thick of it, you kind of lose track of.”

gBETA Medtech’s first six-startup cohort spans a range of stages. Some of the current companies are funded just by the founders at this point; some by SBIR grants. Other startups in the program are led by students. For this reason, Choe says gBETA Medtech is more like a “Swiss Army knife for startups” instead of a one-size-fits-all bootcamp style program.

While this first gBETA Medtech class will continue to be a learning process, gener8tor looks forward to supporting two additional gBETA Medtech cohorts this year, attracting companies from Rochester and even outside of Minnesota. Choe hopes that involvement in gBETA Medtech will help startups attract follow-on funding and even get accepted into additional accelerator programs that can invest funding.

While gBETA Medtech is brand new in Minnesota, the core gener8tor equity accelerator program in Minneapolis has already graduated one class, investing $90,000 in five different companies. This cohort included Kaleidoscope, a company that designs and administers scholarships and locates and manages scholarship applicants and recently closed a $1.3M round of seeding funding. For equity gener8tor programs- located in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Madison- have invested in sixty-five companies.

By the end of 2018, Choe says twelve companies will have graduated from the industry agnostic gBETA that’s also run in Minneapolis. In addition, two more gBETA Medtech cohorts and another for-equity gener8tor accelerator class are anticipated to graduate from programs this year in Minneapolis, for a total of thirty-three startups.

“That’s thirty-three more startups that we’re hoping to help make introductions, facilitate mentors, facilitate investors, and just be their support and network that they need as they try to navigate the startup world,” Choe said.

Currently, gBETA Medtech is seeking more startups and mentors to help propel the program forward.

“It takes a village, it really does for a startup. We are just trying to build up the strongest network. There’s no reason why the strongest healthcare network, medtech network, can’t be in Minnesota,” said Choe.

Fourth Walleye Tank Business Pitch Competition Provides Platform For Life Science Entrepreneurs

This past Friday, the fourth Walleye Tank- a Minnesota business pitch competition- took place on the Mayo Clinic campus, gathering together entrepreneurs, investors, educators, and community members to provide a platform for the state’s life science entrepreneurs. Two Rochester startups- Brazen and Liver Cell Therapies- walked away as divisional winners.

Life science businesses at all stages of development compete in Walleye Tank in one of four categories: Junior Angler, Midlevel Reeler, Professional, and Bait Shop. The Junior Angler student teams enter the competition through an entrepreneurial course at Mayo Clinic or via the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. The rest of the competitors join “the tank” through an open submission process.

This year, startups participated from Rochester, the Twin Cities, Madison, and Jacksonville, Florida.

During the competition Junior Angler, Reeler, and Professional Division participants delivered 120 pitches to a panel of Walleyes, highly experienced local entrepreneurs and investors, to win a variety of prizes.

This year’s Walleye panel included: Wade Beavers, co-founder and CEO of DoApp; Julie Henry, Enterprise IP Contract Manager in the Department of Business Development with Mayo Clinic Ventures; John Santini, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Vergent Bioscience; Christine Beech, Executive Director of the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota; Perry Hackett, co-founder of Recombinetics; Carla Pavone, Program Director of Minnesota Innovation Corps; and Fernando Bazan, CTO of BioTechne.

Bait Shop entrants pitched directly to entrepreneurs at the event to connect these innovators to the resources they need. Participants in this division included Collider Coworking, Rochester Rising, Rochester Area Economic Development Inc., Fredrikson & Byron, and Destination Medical Center.

Brazen and Electronic Intrathecal Guidance startups tied to win the Junior Angler division, raking in $10K toward their projects from the brand-new Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship.

Brazen, a diagnostic for detecting contact sports-related brain injury, is being developed by a team of Mayo Clinic students. Current on-field brain injury assessment techniques can be subjective and mainly detect only significant brain trauma, explained the Brazen team. Instead, this startup is developing a small, portable device that gages eye movement, a symptom known to display asymptomatic brain injury. This tool will permit rapid assessment of brain trauma and prevent further injury. The team is currently developing an algorithm to support their concept. Their first target market are high school athletes.

Electronic Intrathecal Guidance is a Jacksonville, Florida startup developing an improved method for spinal tapping. About 400K spinal taps are performed in the United States each year, which are often done blindly at the patient bedside and have a high failure rate. When a spinal tap is unsuccessful, the patient is often brought to radiology to perform the procedure under X-ray guidance, exposing the patient to radiation, disrupting workflow, and resulting in $500 in extra healthcare costs. Dr. Vivek Gupta and his team are developing a technique using electronic guidance to improve the spinal tap procedure right at the bedside, without any imaging needed. His method detects changes in impedance- monitored through a patch electrode- to guide the spinal needle through tissue and cerebrospinal fluid. The whole system costs between $5-10 to produce; Gupta estimates they will sell for $25-30, creating a $1.2M market in the United States alone.

University of Minnesota startup Nominal Impedance also participated in the Junior Angler Division.

Jacksonville-based small business Concepts by Harshman won the Reeler Division, earning assistance in business development from the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship.

This startup, built by surgical assistant Tim Harshman, offers modern solutions to the retractor. 48M surgical procedures are performed each year, according to Harshman, all of which require the use of a retractor. This piece of equipment separates the edges of a surgical incision, providing exposure and access to internal organs, tissues, and cavities. Retractors have seen little recent innovation. The current models on the market, Harshman said, are cumbersome and uncomfortable to hold for the extended periods of time required for a surgery. Every time a surgical assistant must change hands, exposure is lost for the physician and the surgery is slightly prolonged. Harshman is developing the Harshman Handle and Harshman Retractor- which touts an improved toe designed compared to current retractors- to reduce surgical assistant fatigue, reduce retractor slips, and lengthen exposure time for physicians to make surgeries more efficient.

Startups Soundly and Thorx also participated in the Reeler Division.

Rochester startup MindTech won second place in the Professional, or incorporated company, Division, earning in-kind professional legal services from Fredrikson & Byron.

MindTech- led by local entrepreneurs Chad Attlesey, Pete Wall, and AJ Montpetit- is developing a “microscope for everyone” to help foster love of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) in children. The team aims for this “rugged microscope” to be distributed alongside iPads and Chromebooks during the school year. Highly portable, the device allows kids to discover in the classroom, at home, and outdoors. The microscope is also extremely capable; it magnifies up to 200X, is Wi-Fi enabled, and captures 1080p video.

Liver Cell Therapies was the overall grand prize winner, taking home $2K from Fredrikson & Byron as well as in-kind professional legal services, assistance from the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship, and a three-month full membership at Collider Coworking.

Dr. Scott Nyberg, a liver transplant surgeon at Mayo Clinic, and his team at Liver Cell Therapies are developing a liver support device to address liver failure, the seventh largest cause of death in the United States. The current solution to liver failure is organ transplant, which results in a major surgery and immunosuppression for the remainder of life. Instead, Nyberg and his team are developing the Mayo Spheri-Reservoir Bio-Artificial Liver, a support device that can hold 20-30% of a patient’s liver, helping the organ survive for days or weeks. This device can serve as bridge therapy for some patients, allowing time for the liver to heal and avoiding transplant completely. The team currently has a prototype and is raising $2M in funding to build a clinical grade device. The startup also has intellectual property for creating hepatocyte spheroids- or 3D globules of liver cells- through a rocking protocol. These spheroids can be used to treat liver failure outside of the patient.

Marvel Medtech, Thrivors, and Superior Medical Editing also participated in the Professional Division.

Congratulations to all the teams that pitched at Walleye Tank. Look for the next competition to roll out in spring 2018.

Rochester Youth Startup Via Moves on to Semifinal Round of Minnesota Cup Business Competition

The Minnesota Cup, the largest statewide startup competition in the United States, moved into the semifinal round yesterday. This year’s competition will award over $450,000 in seed funding to emerging businesses across eight different divisions. One entrant from Olmsted County, the minority and women-led tech startup Via, moves on into the Minnesota Cup semifinal round in the Youth Division.

This year’s Minnesota Cup competition began in late March with an application launch party and culminates in a final awards event on October 9th at the McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis.

This is the 13th year of the competition.

Since its inception, Minnesota Cup has drawn in over 12,000 Minnesota-based startup participants from 93% of Minnesota counties. Finalists have raised over $230M since 2005.

Any startup in Minnesota with less than $1M in annual revenue can enter the Minnesota Cup competition in eight different divisions: Food/Ag/Bev, General, High Tech, Energy/Clean Tech/Water, Impact Ventures, Life science/HealthIT, Student (anyone enrolled in graduate or undergraduate school between the ages of 19-30), and Youth (anyone under 18 years of age).

Besides gaining access to seed capital, throughout the Minnesota Cup competition startups receive input on their business plan, gain access to mentorship opportunities with key industry leaders, and receive media coverage.

On May 30th, the eighty semifinalists for the 2017 competition were announced, ten from each division. Over the next seven weeks, the semifinalists will be paired with mentors, tweak their business plans, and compete for the top spot in their respective divisions.

Each divisional winner will receive $30,000 in seed capital and move on for the chance to win the $50,000 grand prize. The youth division leader will be awarded $20,000 and will also move on in the competition.

This year, both student and professional division winners in Walleye Tank, a life science business pitch competition developed in Rochester, gained automatic entry as life science division semifinalists. Look for the Twin Cities-based startups Dolore Biotechnology and Dose Health as Minnesota Cup progresses.

In Olmsted County, one entrant moved on to the semifinal round, the Youth Division tech startup Via.

Via is addressing the prevalent health issue of distracted driving from texting, especially among teens. Via is developing an easy to use app that places phones into “driving mode” when the user is operating a vehicle to mute notifications and avoid unnecessary health risks.

Two Minneapolis Biotech Startups Win Third Edition of Walleye Tank

The third installment of Walleye Tank, a Fishing Opener expedition, was held last Friday at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus. Walleye Tank is a life science business pitch competition that celebrates the entire entrepreneurial community. The event took place in Minneapolis for the first time in the history of the competition. Twin Cities based startups Dolore Biotechnology and Dose Health walked away as divisional winners.

Walleye Tank occurs biannually in Minnesota. The pitch event originated at Mayo Clinic and has brought in competitors from Rochester and Minneapolis/Saint Paul since its inception. Walleye Tank contains two startup divisions: student “Junior Anglers” and more seasoned “Professionals.”

This edition, Junior Anglers featured student groups from both Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities. The Mayo cohort developed the entire concepts for their pitches in the four weeks preceding the competition in an entrepreneurial class led by Dr. Ekker. The UMN student groups are under the guidance of Carla Pavone, Associate Director of the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship and Walleye Tank event planner.

In total, seventeen life science startups pitched their concepts to the “Walleyes”- a panel of seven biotech entrepreneurs, investors, and analyst experts- as well as to the gathered entrepreneurial community.

A group of three UMN student founders at Dolore Biotechnology won the Junior Angler division. Dolore Biotechnology is creating a portable, point-of-care device to provide rapid diagnosis for sickle cell disease from a single drop of blood.

Minneapolis startup RxFunction was runner up in the Professional Division. RxFunction developed a solution for peripheral neuropathy patients afflicted with balance problems called Walkasins. Walkasins consist of a leg unit and foot pad to measure foot pressure and provide immediate sensory input to users.

Minneapolis startup Dose Health walked away as the overall Professional Division winner. Dose Health created a smart pillbox to increase pill-taking compliance. Their device holds fourteen doses of pills in segmented compartments and sounds an alarm when it’s time to medicate. Multiple caregivers can be alerted if the pills are not dispensed.

For the first time in the history of the competition, Walleye Tank winners received entry as semifinalists in the Minnesota Cup, the state’s premier business pitch competition. Look for the next edition of Walleye Tank this fall.

Two Mayo Graduate Students Developing Automated Solution for Cell Culture

By kaibara87 - originally posted to Flickr as Cell Culture, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5618734

By kaibara87 - originally posted to Flickr as Cell Culture, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5618734

Two Mayo Clinic PhD students are creating “solutions for your solution problem.” These female innovators are developing a self-contained, modular system that eliminates a major pain point among life science researchers: the daily need to change cell culture media.

Sherri Biendarra, a third year developmental biology and regenerative medicine student, and Lindsey Andres-Beck, a second year neuroengineering student, both have felt the burden, personally, of working with cell culture. Any researcher working with cultured cells- animal or plant cells growing outside of their normal environment for research purposes- knows that they can be particularly…greedy. Especially sensitive cell types need to have their media- a liquid chock full of nutrients and other growth supplements that cultured cells need to survive- replaced every day. This means hauling yourself into the lab on weekends, holidays, and during inclement weather just to keep vital research experiments running.

The pair of students set out to “decrease the burden on grad students and post docs who are wanting to do that really exciting research,” explained Andres-Beck. They developed a concept, termed C2 Solutions, to automate portions of the cell culture process, eliminating the need for researchers to be present for the daily media change and freeing up more time to do experiments rather than basic maintenance tasks. Biendarra and Andres-Beck are creating a product that will sit on top of a normal six- or twelve-well cell culture plate, remove old media, and supply fresh media to cultured cells without any researcher needing to be present.

The C2 Solutions concept was developed during a twelve-week course at Mayo Graduate School called Case Studies in Entrepreneurship. The course teaches students about business development and brings a sense of the entrepreneurial spirit to the Mayo student population. Biendarra and Andres-Beck had previously completed all their course requirements, but felt that the class was worth exploring.

“I know I’m leaning away from the standard academic track. You know, you do your postdoc and you get a faculty position. …I’m more interested in kind of learning and exploring my skill sets and my knowledge base to help me make an educated decision about what else…what other area to pursue,” Biendarra explained.

Andres-Beck admits that, “I came in very traditional, like I want to go straight through to being a [Principle Investigator] and now I’m not sure. But I want to explore my options. And regardless of what I choose, these skills will be useful to me.”

From day one, the goal of the course was to create a science-meets-business idea and develop that concept far enough along to answer a certain set of questions by the end of the class. This involved landing on a viable concept, adjusting the concept to meet a perceived market demand, and drilling the idea down to a persuasive two-minute pitch.

The top three student teams from the course competed in the “Junior Angler” division of Walleye Tank, Rochester’s first life science business pitch competition, at the end of the twelve weeks.

“So by the time we had done the pitch at Walleye Tank, we were kind of at the idea of a base concept of what we think a first minimal viable product would be. And at that point, we had accumulated a number of customer interviews as well to back up that this product would be valuable and what we think important factors for consideration and design of something like that would be,” explained Biendarra.

The pair thought they would just take the course, learn about business development, and then move on with their research. “And then we accidentally invented a thing. And it’s really exciting and cool and we want this thing to exist in the world,” said Andres-Beck. C2 Solutions won the student division of Walleye Tank; Biendarra and Andres-Beck will continue to pursue their concept to the next stage.

This entrepreneurial class and Walleye Tank opened up an entrepreneurial community that these female innovators had not known or had access to previously. “It’s been cool to, as a part of this class, just learn about this community I had no idea existed,” Biendarra explained.

The experience allowed the women to meet real, in-the-flesh life science and tech entrepreneurs, people they could potentially turn to for advice and valuable feedback. “Just having access to these people, talking to them, learning what the process looks like. Not just from reading, but from people who are actually doing it, I think was one of the main value adds for this class,” Andres-Beck explained.

While the skill sets these women learned would be of value to any student, they don’t necessarily think that developing a business, or exploring entrepreneurship, during graduate school is right for everyone. The lead scientists, or Principle Investigators (PIs), in each of the women’s labs have a strong entrepreneurial bent, and understood that time spent learning about entrepreneurship was valuable. However, not all PIs have the same view point.  Furthermore, to describe the life of a graduate student as “hectic” is an extreme understatement. There are a lot of moving parts to try and balance. The focus is supposed to be on the research.

For now, the goal of both women is to complete their studies and graduate on time. “I think most of the [students at Mayo] are still primarily focused on doing their research to publish papers and get to their postdoc,” said Biendarra.

Mayo might not be pushing straight up entrepreneurship among its students. “But if you’re interested, and you find the community, then you get a lot of support,” explained Andres-Beck.

The institution is, however, recognizing that times are changing. It’s getting increasingly difficult for PhDs to obtain full-time research faculty positions. Mayo Graduate School developed a relatively new initiative, Career Development Internships, which allow students to explore alternative careers in teaching, writing, and industry while pursuing their graduate studies.   

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Two Rochester Life Science Startups Win Walleye Tank Business Pitch Competition

This Friday the second edition of Walleye Tank, Rochester’s first life science business pitch competition, took place. Teams competed in one of two categories: “Junior Anglers”, Mayo Clinic graduate and medical students who built their concepts in only twelve weeks, and “Professionals”, more experienced bioscience companies.

Fourteen total life science startups competed to attract the attention of six “Walleyes”, seasoned business professionals including Area 10 CoFounder Traci Downs and Vice Chair of Mayo Clinic Ventures Andy Danielsen. Teams presented their concepts to the audience in two minutes or less and then were questioned by the Walleyes about their strategy and business plan.


At the end of the afternoon two Rochester-based teams, C2 Solutions, a student-led startup concept to automate cell culture, and COVR Medical, a startup creating a soft, breathable garment that limits exposure of a patient’s body during surgery, walked away winners. Geneticure, a Minneapolis/Rochester-based pharmacogenomics company targeting hypertension, took away second place in the Professionals division. 

Rochester's First Biotech Business Pitch Competition, Walleye Tank, Returns for an Ice Fishing Edition this December

walleye tank.jpg

Technology transfer, the process of bringing a technology or product to market within academia, poses a significant and intimidating barrier to the scientific researcher. Launching a startup around that technology is also uncharted water to most scientists.

Dr. Stephen Ekker, Mayo Clinic Professor and CoFounder of InSciEd Out Foundation and Lifengine Technologies, wants to help Mayo Clinic researchers surmount these hurdles. This spring, he launched his class within Mayo Clinic to teach entrepreneurship and biotech business development. The class culminated in a biotech focused business pitch competition, called Walleye Tank, which ended up being a completely sold-out, packed house endeavor.

Dr. Ekker’s first class ran for twelve weeks and had fifteen total students. The main goal: to have the students develop a successful business pitch by the end of the course.

“So we started on day one. I was like, this is the pitch. You’re going to be pitching to the class June 23rd. And then for the rest of the class, we’re going to figure out how.”

What exactly does Dr. Ekker think are critical components of a good business pitch? Enthusiasm. Honesty. And validation of the business hypothesis.

A good pitch also tries to sell something that’s a bit risky. “You worked on trying to convince people that your idea is worth the risk. What you’re doing is not removing risk,” he explained. If a pitch involved something of zero risk, it didn’t pass for Walleye Tank; the idea just wasn’t big enough.

During Dr. Ekker’s class, students met in teams to develop and grow their potential business ideas. Some of these ideas died off, leaving behind the strongest concepts.

On the final day, the students delivered their pitches to the class and were graded by two Rochester biotech entrepreneurs. The highest three pitches were entered into the Walleye Tank as “Junior Anglers”. Two of these three top startup concepts were completely developed within the class.

The Walleye Tank competition itself had two groups of competitors, Dr. Ekker’s “Junior Anglers” and the “Professionals”, some more established biotech entrepreneurs. Each startup was given two minutes to pitch their concept, followed by three minutes of questioning by the “Walleyes”, some very seasoned entrepreneurs and business developers.

Dr. Ekker especially loved that the “Junior Anglers” reached this stage in only twelve weeks.

“Because I keep being told that it takes forever to do this stuff. If you’re focused and you’ve got the right environment, it doesn’t take twelve weeks,” he said.

He believes that both his course and Walleye Tank are critical to Mayo Clinic right now.

“Mayo is super smart people. …We have tons and tons of inventors. We have very few entrepreneurs. And I would argue that we don’t even have a minimum nucleation of people that know the difference, let alone are entrepreneurs.”

Dr. Ekker sees a large educational problem within Mayo Clinic. People don’t understand that an invention is not a product and an inventor is not an entrepreneur.

His major goal with his class was to develop a core competency in business development and entrepreneurship which he felt was lacking.

“My expectation was if I had fifteen people who knew what a business canvas was and knew what a customer interview was and could be thoughtful about the difference between an invention and a product, the class was successful. That was my bar. …Whether there would be a business product out of the class, no idea. And I have no idea if it’s replicable.”

Dr. Ekker’s drive to form Walleye Tank stems back to his time at the University of Minnesota. In 2000, he helped to build the first of a recent generation of biotech companies. However, people questioned why the company was being created in Minnesota, where there were no perceived resources and infrastructure and a weak University technology transfer program.

Since that time, he knew there had been a number of biotech success stories, which “succeeded in spite of the University of Minnesota.”  He was also told that there was no need to hold a business pitch competition at Mayo Clinic.

His major goals with Walleye Tank were to show that we do have a critical mass of biotech entrepreneurs in Minnesota who are running companies well beyond the idea stage, despite the systems around these entrepreneurs.

He anticipated that Walleye Tank would spread some of the business development lessons taught in his class to the audience. He hopes that this information will help to weed out weaker invention disclosures from ever getting to Mayo Clinic Ventures, the arm of Mayo Clinic that commercializes Mayo-developed inventions.

“I’m hoping that we actually make Mayo Clinic Ventures’ job easier. My goal is not to make anybody’s job harder. I do believe in the idea that it takes a village to raise a startup.”

Dr. Ekker made a strong push to have Walleye Tank take place during normal work hours instead of in the evening; the pitch competition was held at 2pm on a Friday.

“I actually think if Mayo Clinic wants entrepreneurship to be successful, it’s going to have to be a part of people’s day jobs. It can’t just be evening and after hours.”

Plans for the next class and Walleye Tank are already laid and will likely include a collaboration with the University of Minnesota. The next Walleye Tank, the ice-fishing edition, will take place December 16th at Mayo Clinic.

Big Walleyes come to Town and Stir the Rochester Entrepreneurial Waters

Last week, Rochester was overrun by some pretty big….fish….when the Walleyes came to town.

The past Friday, the inaugural Walleye Tank entrepreneurial pitch slam competition was held in Rochester.  The event was organized by Mayo Clinic Professor Dr. Stephen Ekker and local entrepreneur and Collider Community Manager Jamie Sundsbak.

The goal: to “build a community of entrepreneurs that are going to change the world,” said Ekker at the start of the competition.

It seemed like Rochester was hungry for exactly this type of event.  The room was packed and online registration filled up days beforehand.  Companies pitched from Rochester, the Twin Cities, and even the West Coast.

“The event exceeded my expectations in every way.  It was great to see businesses in the region all getting together to showcase their emerging technologies,” said Sundsbak.

But this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill business pitch competition.  The whole event had a quirky, you guessed it, fish theme.

After all, the walleye is the Minnesota state fish.  Just in case you didn’t know.

Pitching companies were divided into “Junior Anglers”, Ekker’s student entrepreneurs, and “Professionals”.  Wrapping up the event were the “Bait Shops”, organizations offering startup support like Collider, the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator, and Techstars++.

Junior Anglers and Professionals were allotted two minutes to sell the crowd on their concept, followed by three minutes of hot water questioning by the seasoned Walleyes.

The Walleye judges did not come into town to play.  These veterans have years of experience in healthcare, biotech, and entrepreneurship.  The Walleye panel included:

  • J. Fernando Bazan, CTO of Bio-Techne
  • Will Canine, Cofounder of Y Combinator startup OpenTrons Labworks
  • Dan Estes, Mayo Clinic Ventures Director
  • Perry Hackett, Twin Cities entrepreneur and Recombinetics Cofounder
  • Luke Isman, head of hardware programs at Silicon Valley based accelerator the Y Combinator and
  • Kelly Krajnik, Business Development Manager at Mayo Clinic Ventures.



GeneCoach is developing a weight-loss product that understands metabolic pathways at the genetic level.




GenetiPure is developing a platform for improved companion animal health, starting with a healthier alternative to the mini horse.




GoAudio has ready to use technology that provides better hearing screen and more efficient health visits.






  • SlateQ created an online marketplace for science writing and editing.              
  • Auric Sciences is developing a nanotech drug delivery platform to address a variety of skin issues.
  • The Genome Collective is building a platform that allows users to sell their personalized healthcare data.
  • LAgen Laboratories has developed improved retinal pigment epithelial cell lines for research use.
  • Ambient Clinical Analytics created a platform and algorithms to allow clinicians to address issues in patients and make quick medical decisions.
  • LIFEngine is marketing a gene editing toolkit that is faster and cheaper than their competitors and is designed to scale.
  • Micrometer is creating an improved platform for microbiome sequencing.
  • B-MoGen is a gene editing company that is the first to bring mitochondria DNA editing to the commercial market.
  • WellTwigs is a Twin Cities based company that uses hardware sensors and apps to help women conceive.
  • Immusoft is a Seattle-based company that uses genetically altered B cells for therapy.
  • Imanis Life Sciences developed live reporter imaging tools to easily and visually monitor gene transfer.
  • Recombinetics is a Saint Paul based company that uses gene edited animal model systems for human benefit.

At the end of the day, GoAudio took home the prize in the Junior Angler division and was awarded an oversized lure.  All the better to attract Walleyes with.

Ambient Clinical Analytics took third place in the Professionals division.  Auric Life Sciences took second and was awarded a Walleye-shaped cribbage board.

Micrometer took home the grand prize, plus a snazzy three dimensional metal Walleye.