ApoGen receives $7 million investment for cancer therapy

Researcher in a lab

A University of Minnesota startup recently attracted a major investment to support continued development of drug therapies that make cancer treatments more effective.

ApoGen Biotechnologies Inc., launched in October 2014, announced last month that it had received $7 million from life science investment firm Accelerator Corporation to continue developing a new class of drugs that slows the evolution of cancer cells and to move these treatments toward clinical trials. ApoGen is based on discoveries by two U researchers: Reuben Harris, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics; and Daniel Harki, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicinal chemistry. John Santini Jr., Ph.D., is the company’s president and CEO.

Cancer therapies often become less effective over time as cancer cells become resistant to treatment. ApoGen’s drugs are designed to block a key enzyme that causes drug resistance, potentially making current and future treatments more effective. Continue reading

Two U startups named among “Best University Startups 2016”

Sun shining over city street

Two University of Minnesota startups received national recognition today for their potential to create jobs, advance technology and meet societal challenges in industry and the environment.

Innotronics and Minnepura, both launched by the U’s Venture Center, were named among the 35 “Best University Startups 2016” by the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer (NCET2), an association of university startup officers. The startups were chosen from a group of 200 submitted companies launched by universities across the U.S.

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New startups take on societal challenges in health, environment

When it comes to finding solutions to some of the largest challenges facing society today, research and innovation are some of the best tools available.

The University of Minnesota’s 10-year strategic plan, Driving Tomorrow, lays out the role that cutting-edge University research will play in addressing the grand challenges that face Minnesota, the U.S. and the world. The plan highlights how innovative research conducted by interdisciplinary teams can lead to new solutions that help society succeed in finding ways to feed the world sustainably, foster just and equitable communities and more.

The focus on the five Grand Challenges is growing throughout the University’s research endeavors, and its startup enterprise is no exception. Fiscal year 2016 saw another record number of startups launched, and several of these companies are working to implement promising new discoveries that connect to these priorities.

Below, Inquiry highlights two new startups that are further developing U research to create solutions in the Grand Challenges areas of advancing health through tailored solutions and assuring clean water and sustainable ecosystems.

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Venture Center launches record 17 startups in FY16

The University of Minnesota announced today that it launched a record 17 startup companies over the past year based on discoveries and inventions by its researchers.

Launching new companies is one of the primary ways the University turns cutting-edge research discoveries into commercial products that fuel the economy and contribute to the public good. The 17 startups include 14 in Minnesota, with 13 of them in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and one in Duluth.

The FY16 record follows a milestone accomplishment in early June, when the University’s Venture Center announced it had launched its 100th startup since its founding 10 years ago, with 82 percent of those companies still active. A part of the Office for Technology Commercialization, the Venture Center matches intellectual property resulting from university research with experienced CEOs to provide a platform for that research to reach the public.

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U launches 100th startup company to commercialize technology

The University of Minnesota announced today that it has launched 100 startup companies over the last 10 years based on technology developed through University research.

The 100 startups, which have been launched since the Venture Center was formed in 2006 as part of the Office for Technology Commercialization, mark a milestone in the University’s efforts to assist faculty and staff in forming new companies to commercialize their inventions. Launching new companies is one of the primary ways the University turns research discoveries into commercial products that fuel the economy and contribute to the public good.

“The University of Minnesota is committed to connecting our researchers to experienced entrepreneurs and to innovative programs, transforming extraordinary discoveries into the birth of 100 companies,” said University President Eric Kaler. “We are proud of our remarkable and ongoing contributions to Minnesota’s innovation culture and entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

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Startup contributes to growing statewide gene editing industry

The science of gene editing is exploding, propelled by transformational new technology and the diminishing cost of sequencing genomes. But there are limitations. Right now, it’s difficult for scientists to make more than a few genetic changes to a cell at once. In the future, however, scientists may need to be able to make hundreds of changes — and they will need a tool capable of doing so.

In much the same way faster computers can run more complex software, a University of Minnesota startup is developing a better gene editing “processor” to make more complex genome engineering techniques a reality. B-MoGen Biotechnologies Inc., launched in February by the Venture Center at the U’s Office for Technology Commercialization, develops and markets advanced gene editing products and services for academia and industry. B-MoGen is led by CEO Jeff Liter and U Medical School researchers Branden Moriarity, Ph.D., and David Largaespada, Ph.D.

B-MoGen’s tools are platform technologies, meaning they can be broadly applied across a wide variety of genetics-related research, from cancer and metabolic diseases to agriculture and livestock. The company focuses on lower cost, faster and safer methods for precisely delivering genes to targeted cells and altering cell’s existing genes. Continue reading

Seminar series: Launching startups around U research

Interested in expanding the impact of your research, but unsure how to make it happen?

An upcoming event series hosted by the University of Minnesota’s Venture Center will help researchers demystify the process of launching a startup company to bring their discoveries beyond the lab and into the marketplace. The Venture Center, part of the Office for Technology Commercialization, invites University faculty, staff, postdocs and grad students who are involved in research to attend these free events.

“Startups are a great way for University researchers to bring their inventions to life,” said Russ Straate, associate director of the Venture Center. “These seminars allow them to understand what their role is in launching a new company around their technology and give them the knowledge they need to help the whole process go smoothly.” Continue reading

Startup takes aim at invasive carp threat in Minnesota lakes

Carp Feeding

The common carp, an invasive species now prevalent in Minnesota, has been a destructive force in the state’s many lakes since it was first introduced about a hundred years ago.

Now, a University of Minnesota startup is bringing a new approach to bear in the fight against common carp. Carp Solutions, which launched in February, uses the results from U research conducted over the past decade to provide a comprehensive assessment of carp populations and recommend methods for how best to limit their populations in bodies of water across the state. The company is led by Przemyslaw Bajer, Ph.D., assistant professor of fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology with the U’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, who has been conducting carp research in Minnesota since 2006.

“After years of research into carp population dynamics, we now have new knowledge that can serve as a powerful tool for fighting this invasive species,” said Bajer, CEO of Carp Solutions. “Carp Solutions puts that knowledge to use to aid statewide efforts toward reducing the destructive effects of carp and restoring our lakes to their natural state.” Continue reading

Research leads to record 16 startups in FY15

Bright Ideas

Technology commercialization transforms the latest breakthroughs into everyday solutions that improve our health, environment and quality of life.

At the University of Minnesota, researchers are developing inventions that aim to tackle some of society’s greatest challenges. In fiscal 2015, the Venture Center at the U’s Office for Technology Commercialization formed a record 16 startup companies around these inventions, topping the previous record of 15 companies in 2014 and bringing the total number of startups launched to 84 since the Venture Center formed in 2006.

“It is exciting to see university research leave the lab and be applied on a larger scale to solve societal problems,” said Brian Herman, Ph.D., the U’s vice president for research. “By bringing these ideas to market, the U is helping to spur entrepreneurial activity and advance Minnesota’s economy, strengthening its competitiveness in key industries and creating the basis for new ones.” Continue reading

U alumni channel entrepreneurship experience into startup

empty to full

Before a small startup team overshot its Kickstarter goal by almost $600,000 and garnered widespread interest in their smart water bottle technology, they were University of Minnesota students honing their knack for entrepreneurship through mentorship opportunities and experiential learning.

Hidrate Inc., a Minneapolis-based startup led by CEO Nadya Nguyen, is now working toward releasing a high-tech water bottle that tracks the amount of water its users drink during the day and reminds them when it’s time to drink more. Nguyen and her team of fellow U of M alumni — Alexandra Feeken, Alexander Hambrock, Coleman Iverson and Daniel Worku — plan to launch their product at the end of the year. They have already generated buzz in publications like Wired, Fast Company and Business Insider and spurred more than 8,000 Kickstarter pledges. But in many ways, their entrepreneurial spirit began before Hidrate, during their undergraduate years at the U.

“We learned to get to the core of what the customer wants and understand how they find out about products,” Nguyen said. Continue reading

Startup Profile: Minnepura Technologies Inc.

Modern urban wastewater treatment plant

Minnepura Technologies Inc. uses bacteria-based biotechnology to purify water that has been contaminated by chemicals from industrial processes. The company is based on scientific discoveries by University of Minnesota researchers Alptekin Aksan, Ph.D., of the College of Science and Engineering and BioTechnology Institute, and Larry Wackett, Ph.D., of the College of Biological Sciences and also of the BioTechnology Institute.


Technology

The U of M-patented technology behind Minnepura uses small, sponge-like silica beads to trap certain types of bacteria in place. The beads, once placed in water, allow the bacteria to eat away potentially dangerous chemicals, naturally breaking these compounds down into harmless, environmentally friendly byproducts. And because the bacteria are contained within silica, scientists can ensure they stay alive and effective for months. Minnepura’s team identifies which bacteria are best suited for removing specific problematic chemicals in water, and then designs silica beads with the right type of bacteria inside to remove those contaminants. The company manufactures these beads for use in industrial and municipal water purification needs.


Potential impact

From industrial waste to agricultural runoff, there are numerous forms of chemical pollution that end up contaminating lakes, streams and groundwater, creating health risks for humans and animals alike. While there is a growing need to remove these chemicals, traditional methods are complex, costly and unsustainable, requiring condensed chemicals to be stored in a landfill as hazardous waste or pumped into injection wells deep inside the Earth. Minnepura’s silica beads provide a natural, low-cost alternative that can be custom-designed for specific chemicals from a wide range of industrial operations. The technology is also flexible enough to use in existing water treatment systems. Continue reading

Startup Profile: The Actives Factory

Autumn Birch Trees

The Actives Factory prepares the natural chemicals found in birch tree bark for use in environmentally friendly cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and more. The company is based on scientific discoveries by Pavel Krasutsky, director of the Chemical Extractives Laboratory at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute.


Technology

The birch tree has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to protect itself from harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses by producing natural chemicals. Studies show these compounds, found in the trees’ bark, kill bacteria and prevent the growth of viruses, making them ideal for use in many different personal care products, such as soaps, shampoos and body lotions. The Actives Factory uses patented technology invented at the U of M to extract beneficial chemicals from the bark on an industrial scale, which can then be sold wholesale to manufacturers.


Potential impact

Birch bark is a widely available byproduct left over from pulp and paper mills. Rather than discarding it through burning, the Actives Factory puts this resource to use, processing it into a form that can be used in a wide range of everyday cosmetic and hygiene products, as well as many pharmaceuticals that treat serious illnesses. With its natural ability to limit inflammation, bacterial infection and virus growth, birch bark is an effective ingredient in medicines and completely safe for human use. Continue reading