U of M Touts Record Number of Startups in FY19
U of M Medical School researchers and advisors discuss work on an investor pitch, as part of the University's Venture Center program Discovery Launchpad. (Photo courtesy of the U of M).

U of M Touts Record Number of Startups in FY19

Through the U’s Venture Center, research ideas turn into full-fledged startups. In the university’s most recent fiscal year, 19 companies were launched.

Another year, another batch University of Minnesota startups. In fiscal year 2019, nineteen companies were launched based on discoveries and inventions by university researchers, the U announced Tuesday. That marks a new record for the university.

Companies reach official “launch stage” once they’ve obtained a license for their intellectual property. The U facilitates development of new companies through its Venture Center, which is part of the U of M Technology Commercialization department.

Eleven of the 19 businesses this year are based in Minnesota, and they’re all rooted in some form of science technology, from health and medicine to software, energy and environment, and food and agriculture.

“These [businesses] hold exciting potential to improve society by bringing research-based solutions to the public in a wide range of fields,” said Russ Straate, associate director of the Venture Center, in a statement. “As a land-grant university, the U of M has a responsibility to ensure promising new technologies move beyond the bounds of academia and benefit Minnesotans’ health, environment, and quality of life.”

This year, more than half of the new technologies from the companies pertain to health. In fact, eight companies are in the medtech space.

And Straate’s not surprised the second most popular industry among the year’s newest businesses is biopharma.

“We’ve got a lot of biotech research going on here at the U of M and we’re seeing a lot of them come out as a startup, which then gets positioned really nicely for big biotech companies to acquire them,” said Straate.

After they launch, many startups aim to get acquired or go public, he said. In the last two years, eight Venture Center-launched startups have been acquired or gone public.

Since its founding in 2006, the Venture Center has launched a total of 154 startups—78 of which are currently active, according to the U. Straate says the U of M’s average startup output is about 15 to 20 companies a year, which puts it on par with top-tier institutions like Stanford and the University of Michigan.

Last year, the U earned international recognition for its startup output. London-based business publication Global University Venturing shortlisted the university for its GUV Award, which is given to organizations with a strong track record of spinning off companies from research.

To date, the U’s established spinoffs have raised more than $400 million in outside capital.

The key to the U’s success is “finding entrepreneurs that have the ability, the willingness, and the desire to come in and partner with us,” said Straate.

“We can have really good technology and inventions, but if we don’t put the right management team in place to guide the companies and operationalize them [it doesn’t matter],” he said.

To help bring researchers’ ideas to fruition, the U pairs them with outside businesspeople. This helps the researchers focus on continuing their work within the school while someone else handles the marketing elements, such as obtaining financing.

“We’re always looking for entrepreneurs to work with us to help cofound businesses,” said Straate. “It’s a key ingredient.”

Those partnerships come from entrepreneurs from all over—even Canada, as is the case with RetiSpec Inc., one of the 19 new companies to launch this past year.

Last October, RetiSpec teamed up with researchers at the university to research Alzheimer’s detection.

In addition to partnerships, the U has a variety of programs and resources that help facilitate startup development, including the recently established Discovery Launchpad program. Debuted in February, Discovery Launchpad connects researchers with coaches to help them learn how to bring a technology to market.

Some Discovery Launchpad participants are among this year’s set of 19 new startups. That includes Anatomi, which has created technology that cultivates neuronal cells from stem cells in order to enable faster drug development; and Darcy Solutions, which has created a novel heat exchanger that uses underground water streams for increased heat pump efficiency.

Below, we list the other 16 companies the U of M launched in the last year, and their product offerings:

Aurora Concussion Therapy—Infrared light therapy for faster concussion recovery.

Belalcazar Consulting—Software measuring thoracic impedance to better monitor fluid load in heart failure patients.

BGK LLC—Intra-oral device for targeted drug delivery.

Cancer Therapeutics Labs—Cancer therapy for animals.

Cerovations—Implanted, redundant drain line from the brain to the abdomen to improve the drainage of fluid off the brain after trauma.

Eaterpad—App that uses nutritional data from the UMN Nutrition Coordination Center to help people better understand their eating habits.

Geofinancial Analytics—Near real-time satellite image analysis focused on fugitive methane emissions from super-emitters.

Hybridge Medical—Tool for taking biopsy samples from the lung.

Interventional Pulmonary Solutions—Medical device for placement, repositioning, or removal of central airway stent.

Invisian—An orthodontic device system for simplified jaw fixation.

Jord BioScience—Biological plant control mechanism that uses a mixture of bacteria that can be adjusted for specific crops and conditions to increase crop yields.

Plasma Tech Holdings—Process that uses a plasma energy field that reacts to soybean oil, the main component to produce biodiesel.

Sciamble Inc.—Enhancement to US3D software models for improved analysis of aerodynamics factors.

Sollievo Pharmaceuticals—Compound and proprietary intranasal drug delivery device for treating epilepsy and other indications.

Stratix—Technology for growing high-quality biofilms.

Stryke Club—Grooming and acne skin care line for boys.