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ASU startups pitch Calif. investors during showcase event

June 18, 2013

Counterfeit goods will cost the world economy $1.5 trillion by 2015, according to a study by the International Chamber of Commerce, putting millions of legitimate jobs at risk and even threatening consumer safety.

Arizona State University engineering professor Michael Kozicki has developed a novel method for product authentication based on his work with dendrites, complex crystal structures that are both unique and rich in information.

“We put these dendritic structures into data tags on whatever we want to authenticate,” said Kozicki. “You, as a consumer, come along with your cell phone, read the tag and get a 'go/no-go' decision right in the palm of your hand.”

Kozicki was pitching the technology to a large group of investors assembled at First Look LA, an invitation-only investor showcase hosted by the Los Angeles Venture Association (LAVA) featuring technologies and startups from ASU and six Southern California research institutions, including Caltech, UCLA and USC.

In 2012, startup companies licensing ASU research received more than $55 million in venture funding and other financing. Overall, ASU-powered startups have attracted more than $360 million.

Last week, five ASU teams traveled to First Look LA to present to a crowd of 150 investors in hopes of adding to that total.

“As part of Dr. Michael Crow’s vision for a New American University that contributes to regional economic development, AzTE’s venture creation efforts are focused on Arizona,” said Charlie Lewis, vice president for venture development for Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE), ASU’s exclusive intellectual property management and technology transfer organization.

“When it comes to investors, however, we need to go to where the money is, which means continuing to build long-term, deep relationships with partner research institutions and venture capitalists in California.”

“Since 1984, LAVA has served as Southern California’s premier forum for entrepreneurs, investors and professional advisors,” said Leonard Lanzi, LAVA’s executive director. “Our mission is forging partnerships and we were pleased to add ASU to our roster of LA-based research institutions for the rebirth of First Look LA.”

Four other ASU teams presented at First Look LA, in addition to Kozicki.

HealthTell measures the body’s unique response (“immunosignature”) to a given disease, allowing for earlier and less invasive testing. Company founders are ASU professors Stephen Albert Johnston and Neal Woodbury, who lead the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Innovations in Medicine. In June 2012, ASU received a $30.7 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a diagnostic tool to protect military personnel against bioterrorism, utilizing technology being developed by HealthTell.

Last year, HealthTell earned $1.1 million in revenues. Currently, the company employs six full-time and four part-time employees from the diagnostic application and computer chip production sector. This summer, the company will begin operating a semi-automatic fabrication facility that will greatly speed production of the company’s diagnostic products.

Breezing, co-founded by ASU professors NJ Tao and Erica Forzani, is offering the world’s first portable device that can track an individual’s metabolism and use that information to provide diet and exercise recommendations for maintaining or reaching a healthy weight.

With Tao in China to monitor the factory producing the first batch of Breezing devices, Forzani came to Los Angeles to talk with investors.

“We were principally motivated by increasing healthcare costs,” said Forzani. “We think mobile health devices are a way to [meet] the increasing demand for prevention and management of chronic diseases.”

IMANIN is a startup launched by a joint ASU/Mayo Clinic research team that identifies individuals with cardiovascular disease, America’s number one killer, before they experience a life-threatening coronary event.

Using ultrasound to measure carotid intima-media thickness is a non-invasive way to assess future risk of cardiovascular events. However, the process is time-consuming and labor-intensive, which limits its usefulness in the clinical setting.

Sam Adams explained how IMANIN’s product solves this problem.

“The region of interest is identified by the user [during the scan] and then the border of the carotid artery is automatically selected by the product,” said Adams. An algorithm is used to compare the scan against a database of other patients to calculate the vascular age of the patient.

“This is a quick and easy way for a primary care doctor to calculate the patient’s risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Adams.

IMANIN has received $300,000 in funding from Mayo Clinic Ventures and participated in the initial class of the AZ Furnace program.

The final ASU presenter was Stuart Lindsay from the Biodesign Institute, who described his work on “recognition tunneling” for single molecule detection and whole protein sequencing.

“DNA sequence may predict, but it is proteins that convey current health status and response to treatment,” said Lindsay. “Proteomics is in the dark ages relative to genomics. There is no equivalent of PCR to boost tiny amounts of protein, and the serum concentrations of most biomarkers are too low for current methods. Our technology identifies single amino acid molecules, sugars and peptides using a solid-state electronic detector with no labeling.”

The common thread for much of ASU's work in these areas is real-world impact, explains Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president for ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development.

“This is a testimony to our staff and faculty’s commitment to working on use-inspired research towards solving grand societal challenges," said Panchanathan. “We are part of an innovation ecosystem with direct benefits to Arizona’s economy by exploring market opportunities within and outside of the state.”