February 25, 2015

Miami life science startup attracts $5.5 million in funding for oral cancer system


Matthew H.J. Kim, who founded Vigilant Biosciences, and serves as the company’s chairman and CEO, is shown with Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, who is looking at a OncAlert point-of-care test prototype. Vigilant is working on an early detection system for risk of oral cancer. PATRICK FARRELL MIAMI HERALD STAFF

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Matthew H.J. Kim, a patent attorney by training, was heart-broken seeing the the suffering and aggressive treatment his mother went through with oral cancer. He also saw first-hand the results of what he calls an inadequate standard of care resulting in most cancers of the mouth not being detected until stage three or four. A mortality rate as high as 50 percent could be cut way back with early detection, he believed.

“I felt helpless and wanted to do more. ... You are fighting great odds by the time you get to that stage,” said Kim, explaining his mother had to lose a portion of her jawbone as part of her treatment.

More than four years ago, Kim began researching technologies in development and found one at the University of Miami. After more research and talking to the scientists there, he began negotiating the license. “In homage to my mother, I executed the license on Mother’s Day of 2011,” he said, and Miami-based Vigilant Biosciences was born.

Since then Vigilant’s products — a point-of-care oral rinse test and a more quantitative lab test that can aid in early detection of risk for oral cancer — have been in development and have passed one of the key regulatory hurdles toward commercialization in Europe. On Tuesday, the company announced it has completed its Series B round of funding, which will pay for commercialization in Europe and the start of the regulatory process in the U.S. this year.

The company’s $5.5 million investment round brings the total amount raised to date to $7.8 million. The financing includes investments by White Owl Capital Partners, venVelo, the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research and several existing investors, as well as a group of private and angel investors committed to the life sciences.

Specifically, Vigilant will use the funds to drive toward CE Mark approval in Europe and U.S. regulatory approval for its OncAlert Oral Cancer Risk Assessment System. The funds raised will support the international product launch and commercialization of the OncAlert System as well as other products in Vigilant’s pipeline.

“As hundreds of thousands continue to be diagnosed with oral cancer every year, we are committed to providing an accurate, effective and affordable way to aid in the early detection of risk for the disease. This funding will enable us to address this critical market need that has gone unmet for far too long,” said Kim, who founded two other companies and developed a number of medical screening and monitoring systems.

Vigilant’s OncAlert Oral Cancer Risk Assessment System is based on patented technology that detects specific protein markers known to indicate an elevated risk for oral cancer, even prior to the observation of visual or physical symptoms. The simple, oral rinse procedure is easy to administer during a dental checkup and non-invasive for the patient, the company said. Both the rapid point-of-care test and the more extensive lab assay that comprise the OncAlert Oral Cancer Risk Assessment System could be on the market in Europe by mid-year. 

“Together, it will be a very effective early detection system for the risk of oral cancer. Our test is a very simple and elegant solution that can be easily integrated into the standard of care,” said Kim. While his mother is now five years cancer free, others aren’t so lucky. “We are now focused on oral cancer but we believe the technology has promise for other cancers,” said Kim.

According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 600,000 new cases of head and neck cancer and 300,000 deaths each year worldwide. Currently, the vast majority of patients are detected through a visual exam and/or are symptomatic, at which point they are likely late stage. As a result, oral cancer often goes undetected to the point of metastasizing. Early diagnosis of oral cancer results in a cure rate of up to 90 percent, the company said.

Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, an associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, is scientific founder and chief scientific officer of Vigilant. Her clinical research on selective salivary biomarkers for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma serves as the foundation for the company’s initial product. The company last week added a vice president of global sales and marketing to the team.

Vigilant, now a team of 10, received support and mentorship from the U Innovation team, led by Norma Kenyon, chief innovation officer at the UM Miller School of Medicine. U Innovation also connected Vigilant with the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, which provided the company’s initial seed funding of $300,000 that served as a catalyst to attract more seed capital.

The Institute invested another $200,000 in the Series B round, and like U Innovation, it helped with introductions and access to resources, Kim said.

“Matthew started the company to address the lack of good diagnostics for oral cancer, a disease that both of his parents suffered from,” said Jane Teague, chief operating officer of the Institute. “Vigilant exemplifies what programs like ours are all about, providing seed funding to early-stage companies to bridge the gap until they qualify for and can attract later-stage financing.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article11095052.html#storylink=cpy

February 24, 2015

Magic Leap's Rony Abovitz on starting a company: Don't do it if it's not rocking, if it's not awesome


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com 

Rony Abovitz, CEO of the mysterious Magic Leap startup, returned to his alma mater, the University of Miami, to share some secrets of entrepreneurial  success -- and just a very few snippets about the company he is currently building.

"There's a whole mystery to what Magic Leap does and I hope half the room isn't here to find that out because I am not really going to unveil it," he told the group of about 250 gathered at the UM Newman Alumni Center for the College of Engineering's Entrepreneurship Forum, part of its Engineering Week events. Instead he talked about pivotal moments in his career of starting companies, including a couple that will no doubt become part of Magic Leap lore, and what he has learned about being a leader.

Magic Leap, founded in 2011 and  based in Dania Beach, is developing "Cinematic Reality" backed with an eye-popping $542 million  from Google and venture capitalists, the third largest fund-raising round of the year last year. "I still go holy crap, I still can't really believe it," he said of the round. The company is now valued at about $2 billion. 

One of the first articles that have begun to explain the technology was published this month in the MIT Technology Review. Said the writer, Rachel Metz, who tried an early prototype of the technology: "It’s safe to say Magic Leap has a tiny projector that shines light onto a transparent lens, which deflects the light onto the retina. That pattern of light blends in so well with the light you’re receiving from the real world that to your visual cortex, artificial objects are nearly indistinguishable from actual objects."

Metz said the company is aiming to fit its technology into a "glasses-like wearable device" and that, according to Abovitz, the technology  "is not far away." He may share a few more details with the world today: Abovitz is hosting a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) at 2 p.m. EST.   (Update: read it here)

The fast-growing Magic Leap is approaching "a few hundred" employees spread between Dania and Mountain View, Calif., as well as New Zealand and London, Abovitz said in a short interview before the UM talk. Abovitz said he would like to base 80 percent of the company in South Florida.

He also said in the interview he wants to help South Florida grow a technology community and would like to see UM become a Stanford of the South. Abovitz earned his engineering bachelor's and master's degrees at UM in the mid-90s and was in one of the university's first biomedical engineering programs, which he credits with stirring his interest in developing technology for the human body. Before starting Magic Leap, Abovitz was co-founder of Mako Surgical, the South Florida medical robotics company that sold for $1.65 billion to Stryker in 2013.

Abovitz believes in the next five years augmented reality technology will become widely adopted. But what sets  Magic Leap apart from its competitors is how it works with the body rather than against it, he said before the talk. "No one else is doing that.... Put the body first and engineer around it... All computing will be biomedical going forward."

 In the talk at UM, Abovitz shared some of the defining moments of his career. For instance, one day after receiving good news about funding for the robotics company, Sept. 11, 2001 happened. Another one: Going public in 2008.

During both times, the world was ending but the team kept going. In 2001, after his investors pulled out, that meant taking a van around the country, prototype robot in the back, and not coming back until the company secured funding. In 2008, Mako was known as that crazy team trying to go public during the Great Recession.  These are the times you learn what you are made of, he said.

But these defining moments also included the first time a Mako robot was used in a surgery on a human.  "That was one of the greatest moments of my life," he said of the successful surgery in a Fort Lauderdale hospital in 2006.

There have already been a few pivotal moments in the Magic Leap story, too. Abovitz said a trip with music industry mogul Chris Blackwell to Blackwell’s GoldenEye resort in Jamaica in 2011 helped to ferment Abovitz’s idea for Magic Leap. He loved being out in the environment, not staring into the phone, and realized computing had to change. “That’s where the world becomes your new desktop. … We shouldn’t bend to technology, technology should bend to us.”

 Four days after Magic Leap received the "serious capital" from Google and other investors,  Google executive Alan Eustace parachuted a record-setting 135,000+ feet from a balloon near the top of the stratosphere. Eustace had spent time in Magic Leap in May, and was one of the engineers who pushed for the funding. That was a message too: "For cool things to happen, you have to get out of your comfort zone," said Abovitz, who  took up his own challenge of becoming a javelin thrower on the UM team during his college years.

"When you are doing something neat and you’re doing it with neat people and there is that convergence, something amazing will happen," he said. "If you really want to change the world, you have to have that attitude."

On leadership, he told the engineering students and alumni, you have to be bold. "It's little like jumping off a cliff with your backpack, a bag of parts and you are building the plane wings and engine  on your way down.... You also have to be insanely tough, you'll get pummeled over and over again and you have to keep getting back up. ... And you have to attract a team that is freaking smart."

Creativity and finding a counter-balance play a big role too -- it's why he was a cartoonist for the school newspaper during his UM years and now plays in a band, Sparkydog & Friends. But he told the students the most important thing to learn is teamwork. "Starting a company is like doing 100 Iron Mans [competitions] in a row," he said. And while it requires endurance and mental toughness, have fun. "Don't do it if it is not rocking, if it's not awesome."

And don't take yourself too seriously, said Abovitz, who once gave a TED talk dressed as an astronaut.

Posted Feb. 24, 2015 

January 19, 2015

Q&A: Healthcare ventures ‘a work of love with a mission to cure’

Carmen I. Bigles, who studied architecture, has been busy building healthcare companies, including Coquí Radiopharmaceuticals. She says she couldn’t do it without ‘Team Bigles-Serrano.’

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

BMQACarmen0100 Bigles MSHWith her two daughters playing and singing together at a desk off to the side, Carmen I. Bigles explains what motivates her to juggle two large healthcare ventures at the same time.

“The reason I do it is right over there — those two little girls,” Bigles said in her makeshift office in a construction trailer as workers were building the Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center in Doral.

She has co-founded the center for advanced oncological radiation technology with her husband and “best friend,” Dr. Pedro A. Serrano-Ojeda, a radiation oncologist. The state-of-the-art Doral center, set to open in the second quarter of this year, is the second center; the first site opened in Bayamón, Puerto Rico in 2007. “It’s a work of love with a mission to cure,” she said.

With a growing company to run, her husband practicing medicine half the week at their clinic in Puerto Rico, and an 8- and 10-year-old to raise, Bigles doesn’t need another challenge. But in 2009, a big one came onto her radar.

Mo-99 is the parent isotope of Technetium-99, which is used in 80 percent of nuclear medicine procedures worldwide. Globally, only a small number of facilities have the capacity for the commercial production of radioisotopes. Yet the U.S., the largest market for medical radioisotopes, has no domestic supply and in turn relies on imports from Europe and elsewhere.

Essential to nuclear medicine, radioisotopes are applied in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the brain, heart, lung, liver, among many others. Having a half-life of only 66 hours after production, Mo-99 cannot be stockpiled and presents unique distribution challenges when imported into the U.S. In recent years, Mo-99 shortages deprived patients of lifesaving diagnostics and treatment. And time is of the essence: Many reactors around the world are aging and set to go offline by 2016.

Still, there are only 24 hours in a day — Bigles wasn’t convinced she was the one to take this on until team and family members urged her on.

“We went to our daughter’s school, and my husband grabs me by my hands, and says ‘you know, uranium. That’s what people are fighting over getting to make weapons. A superhero would be really good right now to save this. If you brought this to the States, you would be creating manufacturing jobs in the U.S and you would help stop the proliferation of weapons-grade uranium and the future of those two little girls would be saved.’ I cried, dried my tears went inside and said ‘let me think about it.’ Then I said, ‘let’s do it.’ ” Bigles recalled.

So Bigles started Coquí Radiopharmaceuticals, with the mission of establishing a domestic source of Mo-99 by 2020 or sooner. The regulatory hurdles are high, as are the financing requirements — the overall cost of the project is in the $330 million range and Coquí is financing it in stages, she said.

Coquí just signed a contract with INVAP [an Argentinian nuclear engineering firm] to design Coqui’s Medical Isotope Production Facility in Alachua on land gifted by the University of Florida Foundation. Coquí is beginning the licensing application for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the construction plans for local regulators. At any given time there are about 200 people involved in Coquí, she said.

In that trailer she shared the triumphs and struggles of her entrepreneurial journey, which she said would only be possible because she is part of “Team Bigles-Serrano.” The Miami Herald followed up with additional questions by email.

Q. What was you and your husband’s biggest challenge developing the first Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center and what did you learn for your second center now under construction?

A. There were many challenges and we risked everything financially. The bank basically had everything we owned for collateral. In that situation, you either sink or swim. I am happy to say we became gold medalist swimmers.

Q. How did co-founding Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center in Puerto Rico prepare you for your current endeavor with Coquí?

A. The principles employed for the Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center — perseverance, organization, sacrifice, faith and empathy for patients and their families — all apply for Coquí as well. The success of the oncology center gave me the heart to continue to seek endeavors to assist people that are in the battle for their lives. It also gave us an understanding as to the importance of nuclear medicine. Patients need the precious, scarce medical isotope (Technetium-99m, the daughter of Molybdenum-99) for diagnostics as do scientists and doctors who are arduously working on treating and finding cures to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and cardiac diseases, among others.

Q. What is Molybdenum-99?

A. Mo-99 is the parent isotope of Technetium-99m, which is used in 80 percent of nuclear medicine procedures worldwide. Technetium-99m is used in approximately 50,000 medical diagnostic procedures each day in the U.S. However, the U.S. has no production source for Mo-99. International production facilities are old and frequently unreliable and this delays delivery.

Q. What would happen if the U.S. is not in control of its own supply of radioisotopes?

A. In 2012, Congress passed legislation making it a national priority to produce Mo-99. When the Canadian reactor goes offline (expected 2016) there will be no major reactor this side of the hemisphere that can supply substantial amounts of Mo-99. The scenario is gearing up for supply shortages and the price is more than likely going to increase significantly due to the fact that current suppliers may need to rent more time in existing reactors for the fission production of the isotope.

Q. Why did you name your company Coquí?

A. Coquí is the common name for a small frog endemic to Puerto Rico. They are onomatopoeically named for the very loud mating call the males make at night. I believe they are the loudest amphibian. I am Puerto Rican and just like the Coquí, our company started small but we look to be very loud in our industry.

Q. There is certainly a long regulatory and licensing process, not to mention a capital intensive one, involved with developing Coquí. Was there ever a time you thought about giving up?

A. I have to confess, yes, but I persevere. I believe that when Coquí is operative what we produce will save lives, so that certainly keeps me going. We have a spectacular team of individuals helping us through this process — INVAP, MPR Associates, Gresham, Smith & Partners, Hogan Lovells, ENERCON, CHW and the University of Florida, among others — and to that end I am truly inspired to see this through.

Q. I am sure you have faced a number of naysayers. What keeps you going?

A. I have unshakable faith in Coquí. I know from the bottom of my heart that I will leave this legacy for future generations. We are making history and those naysayers have only encouraged me to go further, to be louder, and to say that with my team we will make Coquí thrive. We work so hard because the U.S. patients need this product and the world needs non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Q. How do you balance raising two young girls, helping to run the construction of the second Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center underway in Doral and running Coquí all at the same time?

A. I belong to another team, the Serrano-Bigles team. This team is comprised of my husband and best friend, Dr. Pedro A. Serrano, my two daughters Carmen Irene and Caterina Isabel and yours truly. The girls travel with me to meetings around the world and they are humble, very well behaved, have empathy and are of pure heart. I am very organized, I listen well, I ask questions, I do not do well with drama and I do not like to waste time.

Q. What stage are you at with Coquí?

A. We recently signed the official land transfer declaration with the University of Florida Foundation for the 25-acre parcel in Alachua County which Coquí will call home. We are currently in the licensing process and the environmental report is 85 percent complete. Much time and work goes into the environmental report and licensing. For example, the migrations of birds on the site had to be evaluated for 12 months. The licensing application is about 40 percent complete and we are on schedule to submit our application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the last quarter of this year.

Q. Tell me a little about your board of directors.

A. Luis Reyes sits on the board and has more than 35 years of nuclear experience and has served in various Nuclear Regulatory Commission senior management positions. Most recently appointed to the board is Ian Turner, the former head of the radiopharmaceuticals business for the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO). Michael Matte has served as the chief financial officer, executive vice president and secretary of QuePasa Corp. since 2007 and is a director of Iris International and GelTech Solutions.

And we have two prestigious radiation oncologists on our board, Dr. James Welsh and my husband, Dr. Pedro Serrano-Ojeda. Welsh is a board certified radiation oncologist and neuro-oncologist, president of ACRO (American College of Radiation Oncology) and has been a member of the Advisory Committee on the Medical Uses of Isotopes, which advises the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on medical issues, from 2007-2014. Serrano-Ojeda is a certified radiation oncologist who founded Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center Puerto Rico with me in 2007 and has a patent pending medication that will hopefully cure cancer.

Q. I know Louisiana and the world of gumbo was trying hard to lure Coquí as well as other states. Why did you decide to build in Florida on land given by the University of Florida Foundation?

A. There is a long history of the site selection process and many individuals worked to bring Coquí to Florida, including Governor Rick Scott. The research and synergy with the University of Florida, their Nuclear Engineering Department and all the local hospitals and medical research that is conducted at the university is very impressive. I am truly grateful to the University of Florida Foundation. It is as if our relationship was always meant to be.

Q. What does your architecture and urban planning — plus mathematics — background bring to the table?

A. It has been a great confluence for me. I’m able to look at all aspects of this project from the micro to the macro. It’s like viewing a movie with 3-D glasses, you have a better perspective.

Q. I imagine the world of nuclear medicine is rather male dominated. If that’s so, what’s that like for you? Do you have other women on your team?

A. Yes, it is dominated by men. I also work very closely with the government and that is also predominantly male dominated. I am not intimidated and I believe most recognize that, so for the most part, I believe it gets us past any gender issues. I do have many brilliant women in my team, but mainly as of coincidence. I also have many brilliant men that are part of the team as well.

Q. What’s the best advice you have ever received and from who?

A. It was from a man who passed away some time ago, he was a father figure for me. He said, “Always get to yes and leave your emotions on the side.” In other words, make intelligent decisions and leave your ego on the sideline.


Ventures: President and CEO of Coquí Radiopharmaceuticals, which she founded in 2009 with the goal of establishing a medical radioisotope production facility in the United States; Co-founder and former chief financial officer of Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center.

Age: 42

Family: Born in Puerto Rico, Bigles lives in Coral Gables with her husband, Dr. Pedro A. Serrano-Ojeda, and their two daughters, Carmen Irene Serrano-Bigles and Caterina Isabel Serrano-Bigles.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Interamerican University in San Juan; master’s degrees in architecture and suburban and town planning from the University of Miami.


Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.


November 24, 2014

Startup Spotlight: Entopsis

Ena00 Entopsis BIZ PPP


Headquarters: Hialeah Technology Center

Concept: Entopsis is developing an innovative molecular profiling platform that will allow people to diagnose themselves for diseases at home easily, cheaply and quickly using just a NuTec, a specialized glass slide the company developed, and an app on their smartphone. A liquid sample of blood, saliva or urine is placed on the glass slide, heated to cause changes in color and photographed with your smartphone or with a photo scanner. Then, the photo is uploaded through the corresponding app, which will deliver the diagnostic results through a cloud-based system in seconds.

Story: Entopsis founders Ian Cheong and Obdulio Piloto (pictured above)  met while obtaining their doctorates at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and have been friends for 12 years. Since both had scientific medical backgrounds, they knew that they wanted to work together to create a technology that would help people in a significant way. Many people in developing countries lack access to life-saving diagnostic tests, mostly due to their high cost, invasiveness and the countries’ lack of advanced medical infrastructure, so Cheong and Piloto set out to create a diagnostic platform to tackle that problem.

Ens00 Entopsis BIZ PPPThis is a testing technology that can be applied to almost any substance and across a range of industries such as food science, with food contamination and agriculture, with disease detection in livestock and for people to be tested for various diseases. Entopsis is the only company in Florida supported by the competitive Peter Thiel Foundation’s Breakout Labs.

Launched: January 2012

Management team: Obdulio Piloto, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO; Ian Cheong, Ph.D., co-founder; George Huang, Ph.D., CFA, chief financial officer; Tingjun Lei, Ph.D., lead scientist (pictured below).

No. of employees: six

Website: www.entopsis.com

Financing: “We have invested $500,000 in the business to date, including self-funding, gifts and funding from Breakout Labs and other investors for the research and development phase,” Piloto said.

Recent milestones: Entopsis has significantly improved the capabilities of its novel machine-learning system, a process that took about five months. This breakthrough in technology now allows for a quicker and more accurate diagnosis, improving the overall product. In addition, their team has also made numerous improvements to the molecular binding surfaces on the NuTec, thus allowing for the capture and visualization of even more diverse biomarkers. Entopsis also just recently expanded manufacturing and laboratory space at the Hialeah Technology Center, allowing the company to run more tests on a variety of sample types without risk of cross contamination.

Biggest startup challenge: Funding and access to patient samples. “In order to test our platform across multiple industries, we need to partner with different beta testers in each field, such as the food industry, diagnostics, and bio defense, in order to identify problems and how NuTec can potentially solve them,” Piloto said. The company can develop a new diagnostic test in less than a week: “The challenge we are encountering is gaining access to patient samples so that we can fully demonstrate the advantages of our technology.”

Next step: Finalizing the NuTec platform and developing tests for commercial use. “Right now, we have many different prototypes, so we want to take the best aspects of all prototypes and turn them into one platform to commercialize for public use, while making the testing as automated as possible,” Piloto said. “Once complete, we will offer the platform to beta-testers and further optimize before offering the platform to the consumer market. We are always looking for partners interested in co-developing tests with our team.”

Investor/mentor's view: “Breakout Labs looks for novel cutting-edge science with broad application. Entopsis is based on an entirely new way to analyze biomolecules that, if successful, could become the new paradigm for rapid molecular identification in contexts ranging from food safety to medicine,” said Lindy Fishburne, executive director of Breakout Labs, adding that Entopsis has faced and overcome a number of development challenges.

“Because we fund many platform technologies, we see that our companies very often face a theoretical embarrassment of riches in choosing the right first application. The advice we give them is to go out and talk early and often with the potential customer to understand the pain points that the technology can solve and where the practical challenges would be in its integration into existing workflows or pipelines,” Fishburne said.


Enp00 Entopsis BIZ PPP

 Photos by Pedro Portal / El Nuevo Herald

Posted Nov. 24, 2014

November 12, 2014

View: Florida’s science/tech ecosystem -- the next frontier is here

By Jerry Haar

HAARLate in September, Bioheart, a South Florida-based biotech company, opened a new facility overseas, the South African Stem Cell Institute and immediately began treating patients with their stem cell therapies for spinal cord injury, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disease and more.

As our state and our community very much need to grow knowledge-based industries, the Bioheart news is especially welcome.

Precisely what is the status of life sciences and advanced technology (the non-start-up arena) in the state? What are the challenges and opportunities it faces? What policies and actions are needed to enhance this sector?

The installed base of science and technology institutions in the state is good and dispersed both geographically and by industry sector. Florida is home to world-class biomedical research institutes and more than 1,000 biotech, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies employing over 25,000 professionals. This includes Scripps, Sanford-Burnham, Max Planck Institute, Torrey Pines, VGTI Florida, Draper Laboratory and UM’s Hussman Institute for Human Genomics. Florida ranks third nationwide for pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, and Florida universities invest over $1.2 billion annually in R&D in the life sciences. That includes all of the research-oriented state universities as well as the University of Miami.

One must mention also the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Research, which pairs commercially viable discoveries with management and capital. They promote economic development through commercialization and have helped firms such as U.S. Bioplastics, Accelogic, and Garmor.

The principal challenges facing Florida in the life sciences and advanced technology fields are human capital and wage rates. STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) are the future of the state’s economy, with 1-in-5 job postings in those fields; moreover, the top jobs typically pay double Florida’s average wage. Nearly 80 percent of the fastest growing careers are in STEM fields; and half of these jobs do not require a four-year college degree. Unfortunately, continuing poor performance by Florida students on the FCAT, especially in science and math, sends up a red flag to life sciences and tech companies thinking of expanding in the state or coming to the state. Many firms also complain about the preparedness of college graduates they seek to recruit.

The other challenge is wages. Examining comparative costs of life sciences companies vis-à-vis other states, Florida boasts a zero state income tax in the belief that is a game-changer. It is not. Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania all have state income taxes under 6 percent; yet the average wage rate, in biotechnology for example, is in many instances more than double Florida’s.

To strengthen Florida’s science and technology ecosystem, consideration should be given to:

l. Upgrading standards in secondary school and higher education, not watering down the FCAT and not lowering college admission and grading standards.

2. Instituting apprenticeship programs in life sciences and advanced technology, modeled after the Knight Foundation-funded Venture for America and Enstitute.

3. Advocating continuing professional education at all levels.

4. Pursuing cross-county coordination and cooperation to recruit companies.

5. Targeting those life sciences and advanced the fields that can provide the greatest impact to economic development and employment generation.

6. Promoting more vigorous commercialization of university research with strong IP and financial incentives for inventors.

7. Creating a public-private investment capital fund, like Philadelphia.

8. Considering an eMerge Americas in the life sciences, showcasing talent and companies in the state and inviting investors poised to fund them.

Miami-Dade County’s “One Community One Goal” initiative provides a sound road map from which the rest of the state could benefit as well.

The race is on to advance life sciences and technology, and the competition with other states for talent and investment dollars is intensifying. Florida must do much more to remain a contender.

Jerry Haar is a visiting scholar at Harvard and Georgetown universities and a business professor at Florida International University.

Posted: Nov. 12, 2014


November 11, 2014

Venture Hive partners with Paul Singh's Disruption Corporation, will be honored at White House


Venture Hive, a Miami-based startup accelerator, incubator and education company, and venture and tech firm Disruption Corporation have teamed up in a move aimed at expanding opportunities for early stage entrepreneurs and investors to educate themselves on how to grow a successful company. The partnership is being announced Tuesday in Washington DC.

Vh2"The partnership with Disruption is a win-win for all of South Florida,"  Susan Amat, founder of Venture Hive, said Monday night. "Finding investors who have been involved in hundreds of early-stage tech deals and who have raised over $100 million in seed and post-seed tech investments is rare. Even more than that, they are dedicated to education and economic development. We are excited about the collaboration, which will lead to more investable companies and wider rang of financing options for our companies. ... Paul [Singh] and George [Kellerman] are full- spectrum investment experts and most importantly, they understand how to create a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem from scratch.”

Paul Singh founded Disruption Corporation last year as a platform offering research, investment and advice about the maturing private market. Earlier this year Singh, a globally recognized expert on tech investment and growth, launched Crystal Tech Fund, the venture arm whereby Disruption invests in high-growth tech companies. Singh, a northern Virginia native, was a founding partner of Silicon Valley venture firm and accelerator 500 Startups. George Kellerman was a fellow partner at 500 Startups and joined Disruption as a Managing Partner in May.

“In Venture Hive we are partnering here with a true leader in entrepreneur education,” Singh said in a news release. “The fastest way to grow a new entrepreneurial ecosystem is to make sure investors are learning how to make smart investment decisions at the same rate that founders are learning how to build smart companies.”

As a result of the partnership Disruption Corporation’s team of investors and analysts will take the lead in managing and educating the investor community, as well as diligence and investment in accelerator companies, both in Miami and among Venture Hive’s network of investor partners in Latin America. Venture Hive offers young companies in its accelerator a $25,000 non-equity grant and six months of rent-free office space and collaboration to grow their businesses.

Venture Hive will also be honored at the White House on Wednesday as one of the 50 winners of the inaugural nationwide Growth Accelerator Fund competition by the U.S. Small Business Administration.  Venture Hive was selected from a pool of more than 800 applications. The prize comes with a a $50,000 SBA grant.

Last month, Venture Hive  announced a partnership with DLA Piper, a global law firm in more than 30 countries. DLA Piper will provide Venture Hive companies with legal guidance as well as on-site office hours.

Opened in January, 2013, Venture Hive offers governments, institutions and communities  turnkey solutions to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem based on sound educational and economic development principles at the K-12, university, and incubator and accelerator levels. 

The deadline for applying to Venture Hive's third accelerator class is Nov. 24. Apply at  www.venturehive.co.


Posted Nov. 11, 2014

November 10, 2014

CorQuest Medical, a stealth medical device company in Miami, is sold to Cardio3 BioSciences in Belgium

A South Florida entrepreneur and a former University of Miami heart surgeon teamed up two and half years ago to create a medical device company for cardiac surgery. Now CorQuest Medical has been sold to a publicly traded Belgian company that aims to  take its technology to market.

CorQuest Medical of Miami, which specializes in developing medical equipment and technologies that facilitate minimally invasive cardiac surgical procedures, was purchased by Cardio3 BioSciences, a biotechnology company focused on the discovery and development of regenerative and protective therapies for the treatment of cardiac diseases. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Serge Elkiner Bio PicCorQuest was co-founded by a pair of Belgians: Dr. Didier De Cannière, a professor of surgery in Brussels and formerly director of Minimally Invasive and Robotic Cardiothoracic Surgery at UM, and Serge Elkiner, an entrepreneur and CEO of Miami-based YellowPepper, a fast-growing provider of mobile-banking and payment solutions in Latin America.

“He came to me and said 'look, I have this patent and I think it is a pretty good idea but I just don’t know how to build a company,' ” said Elkiner (pictured here). “When he showed me the idea, which is completely different than what existed today, and the benefits it would bring the patients, I told him I would help him.”

The company raised angel money, built a prototype of the device, did animal testing and has been quietly developing its technology with a team of three in Miami and board member Dr. Pedro Martinez-Clark, an interventional cardiologist in South Florida, plus a team of engineers in Belgium and France. CorQuest was part of an emerging but fast growing medical device industry in South Florida; there are nearly 150 device companies in Miami-Dade and Broward.

"Since Serge showed me the technology, I knew CorQuest was onto something important in the medical device space.  This shows another example that healthcare companies like Mako Surgical, CorQuest and others, can have a bright future in South Florida," said Dr. Stewart B. Davis, CEO of Bioceptive and a South Florida medical device serial entrepreneur and angel investor.

The companies said CorQuest's technology, currently in the advanced pre-clinical development phase, enables cardiologists to take a unique access route directly to the patient's left atrium and therefore has the potential to become a breakthrough innovation for therapeutic indications such as mitral valve disorders and structural heart disease, conditions often linked to heart failure.

Cardio3 BioSciences, which first learned of CorQuest at a conference, aims to obtain European approval by the end of 2016, which would allow commercialization of the device in Europe. The first indication to be targeted with the CorQuest technology is expected to be the repair or replacement of the mitral valve.

The companies believe the market potential is huge, as the global market of cardiac medical devices is expected to total $65.6 billion in 2015, with an annual growth rate of 9.8 percent.

"With their track record in device and therapeutic development, I am confident that Cardio3 BioSciences will successfully bring CorQuest's technology to physicians and, ultimately to patients," said De Cannière, who will remain involved in the company.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

Posted Nov. 10, 2014

August 01, 2014

Miami pharma startup receives $300,000 in funding

The Institute for Commercialization of Public Research said this week that it will provide $300,000 in funding to RxMP Therapeutics, an emerging pharmaceutical company in Miami. The non-profit institute supports new company creation based on publicly-funded research, and bridges early funding gaps for companies spinning out of Florida-based universities and research institutions.

RxMP Therapeutics’ innovative hemostatic agent, RMP-HPE, is based on technology licensed from the University of Miami, the news release said. RMP-HPE quickly stops and prevents excessive bleeding in pre-clinical testing, which positions it as a potential improvement over existing therapies. Excessive bleeding is life-threatening and may occur during surgical procedures, trauma care, obstetrics procedures, and even dentistry.

Currently, the primary treatment for excessive bleeding is blood transfusions. In 2011, 13.8 million units of blood were transfused in the United States, with 2.38 million people transfused for all causes of bleeding. "Blood transfusions are the standard treatment for bleeding, but have serious risks. By reducing or even eliminating blood transfusions in cases of excessive bleeding, RMP-HPE should limit patients’ exposure to these serious risks, as well as reduce costs,” said Jamie Grooms, CEO of the institute.

The institute's funding was matched by a private investment, Grooms said.

The Institute typically provides  $50,000 to $300,000 in seed funding, either as debt or equity. Since 2007, 32 companies have been funded through Institute seed capital programs; you can see them here.

Posted Aug. 1, 2014


June 07, 2014

Entrepreneurship Datebook


Tech eggSTARTUP GRIND: Startup Grind features Rodolfo Saccoman, founder of Miami-based startup AdMobilize (and a 2013 winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge), with a product that offers real-time analytics for the offline outdoor advertising world. Event is 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, June 10, at The LAB Miami, 400 NW 26th St., Wynwood. Register here.

NONPROFIT BASICS: SCORE Miami-Dade presents “How to Start and Run a Not-for-Profit,” 6 p.m. Thursday June 12, at Small Business Administration, 100 S. Biscayne Blvd., Miami. $40 in advance. RSVP: events@scoremiami.org

FISHACKATHON: “Fishing for Sustainable Code” is a free hackathon for marine industry experts and hobbyists, programmers and innovators focused on challenges in fishery management, 6 p.m. Friday, June 13, through 2 p.m. Saturday, June 14, at Venture Hive, 1010 NE Second Ave., Miami. More info: fishackathon.co

BIKE / HACK / MAKE / DRANK: Bike on over, hack out a bike-share program, make bike accessories with a 3D printer and stay for a beer at this event by The LAB Miami and Republic Bike, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, June 14, at The LAB Miami. More info here.


Simplikate of Miami, providing mobile applications for malls, airports and luxury real estate, was acquired by Austin-based Phunware. MIT Enterprise Forum and Miami Innovation Fund are teaming up on “GeekTank” June 19. Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel introduced the 2014 class of Thiel Fellows, including Benjamin Englard, 18, from Miami. Read about these stories and more on Starting Gate on MiamiHerald.com/business.

Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg

Posted June 7, 2014 

June 06, 2014

Miami teen selected as Thiel Fellow, already in San Francisco

Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel  introduced the 2014 class of Thiel Fellows this week, and one of them is Benjamin Englard, an 18-year-old  from Miami.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Thiel  Fellowship is a controversial but thought-provoking program that awards 20 young people $100,000 two-year grants who agree to drop out of school and advance their "potentially world changing" ideas. For the 2014 Fellowship, the Thiel Foundation received applications from nearly every state in the U.S. and from 44  countries. Over the past three years, Thiel fellows have started dozens of companies, created more than 182 jobs, and generated more than $87 million in economic activity, said Peter Thiel, creator of the Thiel Fellowship.

Benjamin Englard 2 (1)Benjamin Englard graduated from Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High in Miami-Dade County in 2013 and completed his first year of college studying computer science at the University of Michigan, which has an impressive  program, he said. He is  interested in natural language processing, computer vision, distributed computing and the synthesis of computer science with other fields and is working to combine ideas from computer science and psychology with the goal of personalizing technology.

The other 19 fellows - all age 20 or under - are mainly from the U.S., including five from California, but also hail from Canada, India and Bulgaria.  

When applying for the Thiel, a process that started in October, Englard was working on developing algorithms that will predict personality traits based on social media, allowing the data to be used in recommendation engines and in advertising systems, he said Thursday from San Francisco. Now he is also pursuing two “bigger and more challenging” projects – one involved education-technology and innovative ways of using teachers and materials in virtual classrooms and the second involving artificial intelligence to automate the creation of pictures videos and animations.

Over two years, each fellow in this fourth class receives $100,000 from the Thiel Foundation as well as mentorship from the Foundation’s network of tech entrepreneurs, investors, scientists and futurists. Projects pursued by the 2014 class of fellows span numerous science and technology fields, including aerospace, computer science, education, game development, biotechnology, health I.T., neuroprosthetics, and civic technology.  “As student debt soars and the wages of college graduates sag, the need for more thoughtful and personalized approaches to finding success is greater than ever,” said Peter Thiel, creator of the Thiel Fellowship, PayPal co-founder and venture capitalist.

Although fellows aren’t required to move out to Silicon Valley, they are encouraged to in order to be close to the mentors and get the most out of the program. Englard said he was provided an apartment in San Francisco as part of the fellowship and moved there on Sunday. “I’m extremely excited to be able to pursue my ideas without being constrained by classes,” said England, who would not go so far as to say he wouldn’t be returning to college after the two years but for now his focus is 100 percent on his projects.

The Fellowship application process is known for its challenging and unconventional nature -- the final round included two-minute lightning pitches, one-on-one mentor matches and even a Lego bridge-building challenge, and the journey of this year’s 40 top finalists was documented by a WIRED  mini-series “Teen Technorati.”