April 17, 2015

MoneyTree Report: Healthcare attracts most of South Florida's VC funding

MoneyIn the first quarter, South Florida companies attracted 79 percent of Florida’s $89.7 million share of venture capital investment. Investments in YellowPepper, OrthoSensor and Pure Life Renal led the pack. But Florida companies still draw only a tiny sliver of the national venture capital pie.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

South Florida companies reeled in the lion’s share of the state’s venture capital financing in the first quarter, and most of the investments were in healthcare-related companies.

Venture capitalists invested $89.7 million in Florida-based companies, and $70.9 million of that fueled companies based in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to the MoneyTree Report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association released Friday.

The biggest financing rounds went to YellowPepper of Miami, a fast-growing mobile banking and payment network for Latin America that raised $19 million, OrthoSensor of Dania Beach, a maker of smart orthopedic devices, also with $19 million, and Pure Life Renal of Hollywood, a dialysis company that raised $10.5 million, according to the report.

Healthcare companies, including biotech, medical devices and medical technology services, grabbed $45.2 million in South Florida. In addition to OrthoSensor and Pure Life Renal, other investments included $7.3 million in Brickell Biotech, an early-stage biotech company focusing on skin diseases; $5 million in Vigilant BioSciences of Miami, a company developing a test for oral cancer risk, and $3 million in USARAD of Fort Lauderdale, an early-stage medical device maker.

Interest in the life sciences is on the uptick and a national trend, said Bruce Booth, partner in Atlas Venture, which specializes in early-stage biotech and last year seeded a company out of Scripps Research Institute called Padlock Therapeutics. Booth has been seeing a big increase in platform companies and virtual biotech companies that don’t have their own labs but instead partner with research organizations around the world.

“The environment has never been as strong as it is now for putting together new companies and being able to attract financing to scale them over time,” said Booth. “We’ve had eight or nine quarters now where we have had the best IPO environment in the 40-year history of biotechnology. We also have a really strong M&A environment.”

Investors in Florida are taking notice, too. Part of OrthoSensor’s funding came from Tullis Growth Fund, part of the Tullis family of private equity funds that invest in emerging healthcare companies. Tullis, based in Connecticut, established an office in Palm Beach Gardens about five years ago.

“We are looking at more investments in Florida right now — we’re finding the opportunities here,” said Jim Tullis, the fund company’s founder, who lives in Palm Beach County. “This is a terrific area with a very promising future. The local research base coming off the universities is exceptional and probably under-recognized by venture capital at this point. … The tax situation doesn’t go unnoticed by CEOs looking for their next effort, there is an increasing talent pool available and there is good local capital in Florida in terms of angels and, increasingly, funds. It’s a nice combination of technology, people and money.”

OrthoSensor, founded in 2008, has already raised about $53 million in financing, bringing its total funding to about $72 million.

Vigilant BioSciences’ financing included investments by venVelo, based in Central Florida, and the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, which provides seed funding and support to early-stage companies commercializing university technology, as well as a group of private and angel investors committed to the life sciences.

Of the 19 investments of the New World Angels, one of South Florida’s well-established angel groups, more than a third are in healthcare-related industries. And in a recent interview, John Sculley, the former Apple CEO who is now an angel investor and startup mentor in Palm Beach County, said he sees healthcare and specifically health-tech startups as a huge opportunity for the tri-county area and the state: “Healthcare is a $3 trillion annual spend, it’s incredibly inefficient, its rules are fought by special interest groups and there is a legacy of incumbent large customers and government institutions that don’t change quickly.”

To be sure, Florida grabbed only a teeny slice of the national venture capital pie — two-thirds of 1 percent — in all industries. Even though Florida is the third largest state by population, it was No. 28 in the first quarter for venture investments, according to MoneyTree’s data. Florida’s total of $89.7 million in 14 deals is down from $129.6 million in 19 deals in the first quarter of last year and way down from last quarter’s $581.2 million, which included the $542 million Google-led investment in Magic Leap.

Nationally and in all industries, venture capitalists invested $13.4 billion in 1,020 deals in the first quarter of 2015, according to the MoneyTree Report, based on data provided by Thomson Reuters. Quarterly VC investment declined 10 percent in terms of dollars and 8 percent in the number of deals, compared to the fourth quarter when $14.9 billion was invested in 1,103 deals. However, the first quarter is the fifth consecutive quarter of more than $10 billion of venture capital invested in a single quarter.

Ride-sharing company Uber and highflying SpaceX drew the highest investments — $1 billion each — while Lyft was No. 3, receiving with $530 million.

Nationally, the software industry continued to receive the highest level of funding — $5.6 billion — of all industries, despite being down for the quarter. The biotechnology industry captured the second largest total during the quarter with $1.7 billion. Overall, first-quarter investments in the life sciences sector (biotechnology and medical devices combined) received $2.2 billion going into 193 deals nationwide, including nine in Florida.

MoneyTree Report results are available at www.pwcmoneytree.com and www.nvca.org.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Top deals

In South Florida, these were the top deals in the first quarter, according to the MoneyTree Report.

YellowPepper: $19 million

OrthoSensor: $19 million

Pure Life Renal: $10.5 million

Brickell Biotech: $7.3 million

VirtualWorks: $6.7 million

Vigilant BioSciences: $5 million

USARAD: $3 million

AviseNA: $517,000


April 07, 2015

Budsies: They are cute but will "Shark Tank" take the bait?

Alex Furmansky - Founder & CEO of Budsies small (1)


Will the Sharks bite on Budsies? Tune in Friday night to find out.

Alex Furmansky (pictured above) is the founder and CEO of Budsies, a Lake Worth company that turns drawings and pictures into custom-sewn plush figurines or stuffed animals. Furmansky launched Budsies out of his South Florida home in August 2013 and has sold about 8,000 Budsies so far. He will now get a chance at exposure to 8 million ABC "Shark Tank" fans – and a possible investment. (see a quick video cameo of Budsies products on Shark Tank's video promo here.

Budsies taped its Shark Tank episode last fall and is not allowed to say more about the investing outcome, but Furmansky is excited about the marketing opportunity:“Budsies has already brought a tremendous amount of joy into the lives of so many of our customers – including children who are fighting cancer and create Budsies of their superhero parents and armed forces members who can’t be home for the holidays but send Budsie Selfies of themselves instead. I cannot wait to see what the imaginations of this new influx of customers will create.”

The company has worked with and received orders from professional illustrators, corporate brands, video game producers, book authors, creative adults, teenagers and children, Furmansky said. The product line includes The Original Budsie, Budsie Selfies and Budsie Petsies.

Budsies is the second South Florida company to appear on Shark Tank already this year. Last month,  AquaVault was on the show, and ended up making a deal with Shark Daymond John: $75,000 for 25 percent of the company.

Here's the pitch! Let's see if the Sharks cuddle up to Budsies.


 UPDATE AFTER THE SHOW: No deal. Kevin O’Leary (aka Mr. Wonderful) and Daymond John both gave Alex offers (50% and 40% respectively for $100K) following his pitch but Alex Furmansky declined both believing the Sharks were undervaluing the company.  Over the weekend, the Budsies website received 100K visitors from fans, supporters and new customers, the company said.

Nice touch giving the Sharks Budsies that looked like them. 

March 23, 2015

OrthoSensor raises $19 million in Series C funding

OrthoSensor, the Dania Beach-based maker of intelligent orthopaedic devices, raised $19 million in a Series C round of financing. Bridger Healthcare and The Tullis Growth Fund participated in the round, the company said.

The proceeds will be used to drive the commercialization of VERASENSE, OrthoSensor's leading product, and expand product development activities. OrthoSensor produces sensors that deliver data during surgery that help doctors pinpoint the positioning of knee implants to minimize or eliminate complications after surgery. OrthoSensor markets the disposable sensors through leading sellers of medical devices including Biomet, Stryker and Zimmer Holdings.

VERASENSE is a disposable sensor-assisted total knee replacement instrument that delivers data wirelessly and enables surgeons to make evidence-based decisions on ligament/soft tissue balance and implant position in real time.  Patients whose knees have been balanced through the use of VERASENSE show statistically significant improvements in joint function, pain, activity level and patient satisfaction, the company said.

"Our proprietary technologies are providing orthopaedic surgeons with valuable new tools to enhance clinical outcomes and deliver greater patient satisfaction following total knee arthroplasty procedures," said Ivan Delevic, president and CEO of OrthoSensor. "We have an exciting path forward and believe that the support of high-profile investors such as Bridger Healthcare and The Tullis Growth Fund illustrates broad potential impact of our technology in the future of orthopaedics."

OrthoSensor, founded in 2008, has already raised about $53 million in financing, bringing its total funding to about $72 million.

March 21, 2015

500 Startups' PreMoney Miami: Emerging opportunities, unicorns, bubbles and more


McClure interviews Fabrice Grinda at 500 Startups' PreMoney Miami event on Friday. 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The secret to building a healthy ecosystem, according to Dave McClure: Write checks.

Of course there is a little more to it, he said, but it’s really key, particularly at the seed stage level -- $100K to $2 million check sizes, the founding partner of venture fund and accelerator 500 Startups told attendees on Friday at the Epic, where 500 Startups held its first PreMoney conference outside Silicon Valley.

“The opportunities here are huge. Right now you are sitting on your money and putting it all in real estate," McClure said. "Some of the best entrepreneurs are right under your noses. They won’t stick around if you don’t write checks. … It’s really that simple.”

Money2Several hundred accredited investors and others attended the all-day PreMoney Miami conference, sponsored by the Knight Foundation and others, to network and hear a variety of speakers from Silicon Valley and other regions –- including Christine Herron of Intel Capital,  Ash Fontana of AngelList and Thomas Korte of AngelPad. But some of it also focused on Miami. You can see slideshares of many of the presentations here: http://www.slideshare.net/500startups/. Videos will be posted on PreMoneyMiami.co soon, McClure said.

Christian Hernandez Gallardo, founder and managing partner of White Star Capital, talked about ecosystem building around the world and even blogged about it. The secret, he says, is starting with “a healthy supply and access to technical talent. If ‘software is eating the world’ you need founders and team members who can build said software,” he said. To become an ecosystem, that base of talent needs the right building blocks, including culture and role models, accelerators and incubators, seed funding and advisors, and growth stage capital. “And the final (and one could argue most critical piece) of healthy ecosystems is a vibrant and active path to exits.”

Building that ecosystem will take time, he said, but in the meantime Miami is already attracting new talent.

David Koretz of Plum said when he told VCs he was moving from the Valley to Miami, he got comments like “you are halving your odds of success by moving there” and “you are moving from the major leagues to a farm team” -- “It wasn’t a positive reception,” he said.

Beyond the  tax advantages, he chose Miami for quality of life and lower burn rates. “In Miami, capital goes twice as far if not three times as far.” But also, he said, the culture wants you to win.

“I moved here in January, got introduced to almost everyone in the first few weeks, these are things that don’t happen in the Valley,” he said.

Not that everything is perfect. His view: "There are a lot of people playing VC. It’s not that hard to get $100K in Miami, in my opinion, but expansion capital doesn’t exist here. A lot of businesses are going to die in that gulch.”

Angel investor Mark Kingdon, whose third investment was Twitter, moved here last April from New York. The former CEO of Second Life and other companies invests in ecommerce and social media  and has already made two South Florida investments: Sktchy and Everypost.

He rattles off the advantages: Weather, yes, we have to say that. It’s a gateway market. The immigrant energy here is invigorating. There is startup capital here. Rent and office space is half. You can get incredible developer talent for less.  Developer salaries are just about half of major markets -- It’s hard to recruit loyal employees in the Valley.

“And I love the deal flow I have seen here; it’s much more than I expected,” said Kingdon, who said four of his last five investments were not from the Valley or New York.

He agreed with Koretz about the welcoming community. "I think that is important because we need to recruit more entrepreneurs to the market, it is a numbers game.” 

As to challenges: “I think the winning companies are underfunded, there may be too many checks written -- a lot of companies are getting a little bit of money, and it is not being consolidated around the winners.”

Patrick McKenna of High Ridge spent 12 years in the Valley and built three companies before focusing on investing full-time and moving here last July.

He said he was looking for a world class city with a highly connected airport in the eastern time zone with interesting people and a progressive culture. Miami ticked all the boxes. “What surprised me is there is so much more,” said McKenna, who already invested in his first Miami company Home61. “And I wasn’t particularly focused in Latin America, but I have found great opportunities.”

Opportunities in LatAm and other areas of the world was also a focus of the conference.

“The reason we are bullish about emerging markets is because we think it is an easier bet. There are really not that many people paying attention to it,” said McClure, whose 500 Startups really has invested in about 1,000 startups, not only in the Valley but in Latin America (100-plus), India, China, Taiwan, Middle East and the UK.

“Exits and available capital have been challenges, but we want to be first in,” said McClure. "We are starting to see very big companies coming out of unusual places like Nigeria, like Pakistan, like Thailand. We are seeing respected investors like Sequoia making $100 million investments or more in emerging markets," said McClure, whose 500 Startups is  raising its third fund. "This is new."

Globally and in the U.S., angel investor Fabrice Grinda, co-founder and CEO of OLX, has a track record of picking winners. He’s made 182 investments, 22 of them this year. They include both seed stage and late stage deals and he’s had 56 exits so far, 30 of them in the money. He invests in categories that he understands, particularly marketplaces. Dropbox, Airbnb and Alibaba are just a few. “Do I like the market, the team, deal terms, do I like the business? Based on those four criteria within an hour, I know.”

And of course there was some bubble talk.

Scott Kupor, partner and COO of Andreessen Horowitz, and Mark Suster, partner of Upfront Ventures, who spoke via Skype and Meerkat, both made cases with a series of charts. Suster made the points that there are 50 times more Internet users today than in 1995,  Internet speeds are 180 times faster and smartphone and social media adoption rates continue to soar, enabling companies that work to grow faster than anytime in human history. All of this has essentially created a new VC landscape, Suster said.

Kupor believes the market is still at healthy levels. For example, the 49 IPOs in 2014 that raised eyebrows? That has been the median the last 35 years. And companies are staying private longer; the companies going public are at $100 million in revenues, rather than $10 million like during the dotcom bubble.

That is one of the biggest sea changes in the last 24 months, he said -- companies are staying private longer so they are far more mature when they do go public. Another: mutual funds, hedge funds, private equity are coming into the venture market. He is also seeing more money coming into the enterprise side and into “full-stack startups” that control the entire customer experience, such as Airbnb and Lyft.

For now, Kupor doesn’t see a bubble.  “If we get a correction, I believe it will be a global market correction, not a tech event…. Tech is still, from an overall perspective, well valued.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg


Ben Wirz of the Knight Foundation interviews Kingdon, McKenna and Koretz.


March 19, 2015

Modernizing Medicine's $20M fundraising round includes IBM

To help bring Watson’s cognitive computing power to the mass market, IBM on Thursday announced an investment in Modernizing Medicine, a provider of cloud-based, specialty-specific electronic medical records  systems and other technologies that capture structured data, track outcomes and deliver clinical decision support.

The undisclosed investment, caps $20 million in Series D funding secured by Boca Raton-based Modernizing Medicine, raising its overall funding total to $49 million. The first $15 million in the latest round, which included Summit Partners and Pentland Group,  has already been announced. This is the latest direct investment that IBM has made through its $100 million fund to seed innovations using  Watson, the super computer that famously beat the humans on Jeopardy! Last year, IBM announced a $1 billion program to bring Watson into healthcare and other industries.

Modernizing Medicine created of the Electronic Medical Assistant, or EMA, a specialty-specific EMR system and provider of comprehensive specialty-specific billing, revenue and inventory management Solutions.  Over 5,000 healthcare providers in the U.S., including 30 percent of dermatologists, use Modernizing Medicine's platform.

 "Today's announcement is an exciting milestone in our journey to deliver specialty-specific solutions to healthcare providers, including an entirely new class of cognitive-infused patient care apps powered by Watson," said Daniel Cane, co-founder and CEO of Modernizing Medicine, in a news release, noting its partnership with IBM that began last spring.

Modernizing Medicine will use the funding to accelerate market expansion in eight medical specialties, as well as enhance its products.  This includes further development of schEMA, the company's mobile app accessed through EMA that leverages the cognitive computing power of Watson to give physicians rapid clinical decision support at the point of care. 

schEMA  does this by analyzing massive amounts of published, peer-reviewed medical data and healthcare research. “Watson gets incredibly good at conversational style questions and answers. So when our dermatologist asked about a certain treatment, ...Watson can say here is the answer and here’s the journal it came from and here’s the citations and with one touch on the iPad, it can all be cited in the patient’s record,” said Cane in an interview last year.

schEMA is in beta testing now and the company will be looking for other beta clients at the American Academy of Dermatology Annual Meeting this week, said Cane on Thursday. schEMA will be available for general availability to EMA Dermatology clients later this year, he added.

The fast-growing Modernizing Medicine, based at the Research Park at FAU, now has 258 employees  and plans to add about 100 new positions within the next 18 months, the company said.

"Modernizing Medicine is a great example of the breakthrough innovation we have seen from our partners who are building a new class of cognitive computing solutions powered by Watson," said Stephen Gold, vice president of IBM Watson.  "IBM's investment will help speed the introduction of their schEMA app and demonstrates how Watson can be used by medical professionals to improve how they practice evidence-based medicine."

See earlier in-depth Miami Herald profile of Modernizing Medicine  here and news story about its Watson partnership here.


Modernizing Medicine co-founders Dan Cane, right, and Dr. Michael Sherling in their Boca Raton offices.

March 12, 2015

AquaVault on Shark Tank: Will they bite Friday night? Find out now ...


The entrepreneurs behind AquaVault, a portable beach safe, will take the plunge on ABC’s Shark Tank on Friday.

During the show, entrepreneurs pitch their companies for potential funding to the celebrity investors: Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John and Kevin O'Leary. Will the Sharks tear apart the beach product or will they taste opportunity? The Shark Tank episode, which airs at 9 p.m., was taped months ago and the team is sworn to secrecy.

“The inception of this idea occurred while we were staying at one of the finest resorts in South Beach and had all of our valuables stolen from our lounge chairs while swimming in the pool,” said Avin Samtani, who developed the product with Jonathan Kinas and Robert Peck. The three left careers in finance and construction and have been selling the product they created since last spring. The small, hard locakable case can hold a wallet, keys, smartphone and other valuables and also can be locked onto the back of a beach chair, a bike or other places.

Samtani said the Aventura company has sold “thousands” of the safes to hotels and online, without giving specific sales numbers. Hotels such as Fontainbleau, Loews, Delano Miami, SNS, The James, Eden Roc and Ritz Carlton provide them free or rent them to guests. Online on theaquavault.com, the safes retail for $39.99 for consumers, but the founders believe the larger market opportunity is in sales to hotels.

UPDATE FROM SHARK TANK: AquaVault was asking for $75,000 for a 12 percent stake, but made a deal with Daymond John: $75,000 for 25 percent of the company. And, oh yes, AquaVault's website crashed briefly right after the appearance, according to members of the Twitterverse who were trying to take advantage of the Shark Tank special of 20 percent off.


March 03, 2015

Medina Capital leads $35 million round in New York company Booker

Medina Capital, the Miami private equity firm that invests in high-growth companies, led a $35 million Series C investment round in Booker, a full-service digital platform for service commerce, the companies announced Tuesday. The round of funding also includes a strategic investment by First Data and investment firms Jump Capital and Signal Peak Ventures, as well as early investors including Bain Capital Ventures, Revolution Ventures, TDF Ventures and Grotech Ventures.

"We firmly believe that the migration of offline service businesses to online service commerce platforms represents a huge market opportunity," said Adam Smith, partner at Medina Capital, who will join Booker’s board. "Booker is leading the way with an easy-to-use software-as-a-service solution that replaces legacy or offline systems."

Booker, based in New York, plans to use this funding to enhance its product offering to further drive revenue for its merchants and expand to more businesses.

Medina Capital, founded by tech entrepreneur and investor Manny Medina, invests in IT infrastructure companies in areas such as cloud computing, cybersecurity, big data, software-defined security and software-defined networking. Investments have included Hollywood-based cybersecurity firm Prolexic, which sold last year to Akamai, and Miami-based cybersecurity company Easy Solutions. Investments have included Hollywood-based cybersecurity firm Prolexic, which sold last year to Akamai, and Miami-based cybersecurity company Easy Solutions.


February 26, 2015

Women's specialty shoewear startup receives seed funding

Sensational Soles,  a Boca Raton startup online retailer of specialty women’s footwear,  closed on an early-stage financing round of  debt and equity totaling $635,000. The funding will be used to increase inventory and designs and enter new markets.

Sensational Soles was founded last June to meet the needs and growing demand for affordable, quality, women’s footwear in sizes 11 – 14, incorporating styles and construction methods designed to minimize the appearance of a larger foot while providing extraordinary support and comfort, said Sensational Soles CEO Lisa Taylor in a news release. The company has developed and created a proprietary line of custom footwear after spending the past year developing its designs and supply chain.  The company recently began offering its collection via its retail website at www.sensationalsoles.com.

Michael Stango, Regional Marketing Director with Lincoln Financial Group, will join the company’s Board of Managers, and Brian Wornow, formerly a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, will become an advisor to the company in conjunction with this financing. “With this new round of funding, Sensational Soles will be able to accelerate its rapid growth and have the capital needed to meet the company’s projected demand,” said Stango.


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 17, 2015

Hialeah-based Entopsis raises $800K seed round led by Krillion Ventures



By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Working out of a Starbucks in 2012, Obdulio Piloto saw an article about the Peter Thiel Foundation’s Breakout Labs seeking revolutionary ideas in technology to fund.

He and Ian Cheong, a friend he met while they were both obtaining their doctorates at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, thought they had one: a universal platform that would allow diagnosis for multiple diseases easily, cheaply and quickly. Many people in developing countries lack access to life-saving diagnostic tests because of their high cost and the countries’ lack of advanced medical infrastructure.

Piloto sent in that idea for a company called Entopsis.

About a month later, the Peter Thiel Foundation, set up by the founder of PayPal, called and said Breakout Labs believed the idea could be world changing and chose Entopsis for a $160,000 grant. Entopsis was one of only 16 startups around the country selected so far and the only one based in Florida.

“I said ‘you understand I work [out of] Starbucks. I don’t have a lab or a team,’ ” Piloto (pictured above) recalled telling Breakout Labs. “But they understood the science, the implications and where this could go. They said this is a grant to test out your crazy idea.”

Fast forward to today and Entopsis has a small team of PhD-level scientists working in a lab at the Hialeah Technology Center. The company has prototypes and it has begun testing its platform with partners in the areas of cancer and infectious diseases, said Piloto, Entopsis’s CEO,  who majored in microbiology at Cornell University, received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins, where he did his graduate thesis research on cancer immunotherapy, and did post-graduate work at Stanford.

To fund further development, Piloto closed an $800,000 seed round last week led by Miami-based Krillion Ventures. The round includes local investor group G3 Capital Partners, another Miami investor and a number of Hong Kong-based investors.

This is the third Miami-based investment for Krillion Ventures, launched last fall. The $50 million venture fund for early-stage tech companies has also funded Everypost and Videoo. Krillion also funded Cohealo, a health-tech startup that launched in South Florida but moved to Boston early last year.

“We are interested in investing in groundbreaking ways to reduce costs and increase efficiency for hospitals and healthcare professionals. Entopsis has the potential to do both. By employing nanoengineering to develop a universal diagnostic platform that can be used in a clinical setting, Entopsis can simultaneously evaluate small molecules, proteins and cells from any sample at a significantly lower cost and in less than an hour,” said Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures.

“It was a chance to participate at an early stage in a company with a technology that could really benefit all of us. If they’re right, we will have a good investment – but the company will have done something good for the health of people all over the world,” added Darius Nevin, partner with G3. “And Obdulio is the kind of leader you want to help succeed any way you can.”

Entopsis is developing an innovative molecular profiling platform that will allow easy and inexpensive diagnosis using NuTEC, a single device diagnosing many diseases rather than many individual tests in the hospital each diagnosing a single disease. This testing technology could 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, Piloto believes.

“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, in an interview in November. In addition to the funding, Breakout Labs has provided valuable mentorship and connections, said Piloto. “It’s opened a lot of doors,” he said.

Entopsis, in the research and development phase, is working with local hospitals that are collecting samples for Entopsis to beta test on its platform. It’s also partnering with a global diagnostics leader it can’t name yet and is in the process of forging a partnership with FIU’s engineering school. It’s testing with urine samples now, but in the future it plans to add blood and saliva and could perhaps test breath for a number of diseases. “We are keeping our options open,” Piloto said

“This is also a true Miami story that we believe will be replicated in the months and years to come,” said Krinzman. “Obdulio grew up in Hialeah, left to attend the best medical schools in the country and then returned to Hialeah to launch his company. We are excited to support him and his remarkable team.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Posted Feb. 17, 2015