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ASU startups present to investors at LA showcase


Entrepreneurs and investors connect between sessions at First Look LA.

Entrepreneurs and investors connect between sessions at First Look LA.
Photo by: Charlie Lewis, AzTE

July 15, 2015

Six ASU-linked startups recently presented at First Look LA, a 250-attendee investor showcase hosted by the Los Angeles Venture Association (LAVA), which also featured technologies and startups from six Southern California research institutions and the University of Hawai’i.

Startups launched by university researchers, as a group, have been a very valuable source of venture returns over the past 20 years, according to keynote speaker Bob Adelson, managing partner of Osage University Partners. 

“We have closely studied the history of university startups and believe that the risk-adjusted returns to investors who invest in university spin-outs compare very favorably to venture as a whole,” Adelson said. “University technology transfer activities generate truly disruptive technologies that boost our economy, create jobs and amply reward investors.”

David Birchfield of SMALLab Learning was one of the presenters from Arizona State University. SMALLab is an “embodied learning environment” where students can learn by physically moving within a space. Think of it as a tablet-based learning game, except the student is in the tablet, not just touching the surface.

Birchfield developed the technology behind SMALLab while in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering at ASU, before moving to LA to be closer to the film industry and software engineers that have spent decades refining the motion-capture technology powering SMALLab. The company recently crossed the million-dollar revenue threshold.

“Presenting at First Look LA is an incredible way to get in front of a large number of investors at once,” Birchfield said. “It’s a smart, experienced audience that asks the right questions and wants to know more once the stage time is over. It’s a great event and we very much appreciate the invitation by AzTE to be a part of it.”

Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE) is ASU’s technology transfer organization, working to move high-impact technologies from the lab to the marketplace. AzTE operates an office out of the ASU California Center in Santa Monica to help build linkages between the Arizona and Southern California innovation ecosystems, including connecting ASU inventors with California-based investors.

“This is ASU’s third time participating in First Look LA and the event just keeps expanding and improving,” said Charlie Lewis, AzTE’s vice president for venture development. “This year, we added an investor/entrepreneur reception the evening before, sponsored by ASU, to provide another opportunity for our startups to connect with the local venture community.”

Neolight is a medical device startup that develops phototherapy beds to cure jaundice in pre-term and full term babies. The team built its device after winning a grant from the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative in 2014, seeking to significantly reduce fatalities caused by neonatal jaundice in developing economies.

“ASU provides so many great opportunities to support its faculty and student entrepreneurs,” said Vivek Kopparthi, Neolight co-founder and CEO. “First Look gave us a direct link to investors and it was a nice bonus that Children’s Hospital Los Angeles was also taking part in the event, so we got to make a good connection on that front as well.”

“We are incredibly proud of the inventive faculty and students at ASU who are launching companies that enhance people’s health, well-being and quality of life,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president for Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU. “Programs such as Edson, AzTE and Startup Mill reflect ASU’s commitment to supporting entrepreneurs at the university and in the community.”

Other presenting ASU companies included:

EndoVantage – Startup co-launched by ASU professor David Frakes and Brian Chong, M.D., Division of Neuroradiology, Mayo Clinic. The EndoVantage Interventional Suite is a groundbreaking software platform that simulates the deployment of endovascular devices to predict post-treatment blood flow.

GFS Technology – Mobile security technologies based on work of ASU computer scientist Gail-Joon Ahn. Ahn is a professor in the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering.

Neurodiagnostix – An early-stage ASU spinout focused on the diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases and founded by Michael Sierks, professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport & Energy.

RubyRide – An ASU Accelerator company with a monthly membership-based “car replacement service” that offers unlimited rides within zones of the Phoenix metropolitan area.

The event also included presentations by University of Hawai’i startups KinetiCor and Jun Innovations. In June, an AzTE team traveled to Hawaii to meet with their counterparts in the technology transfer office to discuss areas of collaboration and joint technology marketing.

To date, more than 75 companies have launched based on ASU innovations, attracting more than $500 million in funding from venture capital firms and other investors – $76 million just in fiscal year 2015. ASU start-ups now employ more than 350 people in Arizona alone.

AzTE and OKED recently partnered to launch Startup Mill, which will provide Arizona-based entrepreneurs the same acceleration services available to ASU students, faculty and post-doctoral researchers.

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