Tucson tech: Phoenix-based BioAccel to offer seed funding for health-care innovations

2013-05-14T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:03:39Z Tucson tech: Phoenix-based BioAccel to offer seed funding for health-care innovationsDavid Wichner Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Reasoning that necessity is the mother of invention, a Phoenix-based group is offering up medical and health-care problems - and giving entrepreneurs statewide a chance at investment money for providing solutions.

And that could be a critical boost to bio companies in Tucson, a fertile ground for innovation that can go fallow for want of early-stage funding.

BioAccel, a nonprofit bioscience business-development group founded in 2009, recently announced the BioAccel Solutions Challenge, which offers a chance for startup companies to get $100,000 in seed investment funding.

BioAccel will soon issue a list of key health-care problems, or "needs," identified by industry practitioners and leaders, and challenge entrepreneurs to create innovative solutions.

The needs are expected to focus on improving patient care and health outcomes by using medical devices, molecular diagnostics and possibly health information technology.

Qualified applicants will receive a $50,000 investment from BioAccel if they succeed in receiving matching funds from investors during a competitive "Investment Day" event, tentatively planned for the fall.

With the matching funding, entrepreneurs will have $100,000 to prove their concepts and form companies, BioAccel CEO MaryAnn Guerra said.

And though BioAccel has focused its efforts mainly in the Valley of the Sun, the group is eager to get the rest of the state involved, she said.

"We're statewide, and now that we have a couple of years under our belt, we are trying to get into and work with the folks in Tucson on a more regular basis," said Guerra, who served as chief business officer for the Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) before co-founding BioAccel.

BioAccel is no stranger to Tucson, though, as it has supported two tech startups with origins in the Old Pueblo.

Kulira Technologies, which is commercializing a system that encases tissue samples in special gel for stabilization and analysis, is a member of BioInspire, BioAccel's medical-device business incubator in Peoria. The company is headed by CEO Xenia Kachur, a University of Arizona biomedical engineering graduate. Mark Banister, founder of Medipacs LLC, is the gel technology's inventor and Kulira's research and development director.

BioAccel also has supported Rx Vigil LLC, a Tucson company co-founded by Kevin Boesen, an assistant professor in the UA College of Pharmacy. The company has developed a system for medication management, using sophisticated software and customer-service call centers to prevent medication problems and improve patient care.

Local investor and economic-development activist Harry George said he welcomes the new source of potential seed funding.

George, a longtime venture capitalist and tech investor, noted that an "entrepreneurial blueprint" he co-authored for Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. last year found that boosting such funding is critical to launching tech startups.

George said that Tucson's Desert Angels, a group of affluent, qualified private-equity investors, has been the main source of local seed funding for several years. The state's few venture-capital funds, which typically invest millions of dollars in startups further along, currently are fully invested, he noted.

"Having another group willing to put in $50,000 is excellent," George said. "It's a fresh pair of eyes that's looked at a deal, and they want to put money in."

The UA's new technology-transfer agency, Tech Launch Arizona, also has identified the proof-of-concept stage as a key piece of the startup puzzle. In January, the agency awarded 19 UA faculty members proof-of-concept grants ranging from $10,000 to $40,000.

BioAccel isn't out to compete with the universities, but rather to complement their efforts, Guerra said.

"They've got so many areas they have to fund, not just bio," she said.

BioAccel plans to issue its needs list by the Fourth of July, and to hold its Investment Day event before Thanksgiving.

TO APPLY

Interested entrepreneurs can register on BioAccel's website, bioaccel.org, to receive updates on the needs release and funding event.

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@azstarnet.com or 573-4181.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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