U of M sees record number of startups

Twelve of the record 16 startups of 2015 fall under life sciences.

Raj Chaduvula

rajA record 16 startups were created this year based on University of Minnesota-sponsored research. 
Over the last few years, a large number of life science companies have sprung from school research, in part due to the medical business environment in Minneapolis. Experts predict Minneapolis will continue to foster life science technology and companies, but a further increase in new startups isn’t expected.
Twelve of the record 16 startups to come from University funded research are related to biology, pharmaceuticals, psychology and neuroscience research and medical 
devices.  
Russ Straate, associate director of the Venture Center, said there hasn’t been a noticeable trend in new life science companies sponsored by the University, but the school has historically placed an emphasis on biomedical and pharmaceutical research. 
Straate said since Medtronic was founded in 1949, the Twin Cities has been a hub for medical technology, pointing to other medical  companies like Boston Scientific and St. Jude Medical, which were founded after Medtronic.
Large companies, especially pharmaceutical drug companies, reduce their research and development once their products start to profit, Straate said. As a result, they look towards research institutions like the University for new technology and methods, Straate said.
But some small startup companies do preliminary medical, ethical and safety research, and the University sometimes provides the resources to do early research, he said.
Straate said there is a “growing intensity” for startups to take part in the early stages of research and development. 
Dan Knights, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and an advisor with Flora Therapeutics, said the company focuses on developing drugs based on microbiomes, which are bacteria found in the gut. These drugs would be used for clinical 
trials, diseases and 
infections.
Knights said there might be a rising trend in life science startups although it isn’t strong. He said it’s probably due to medical research at the University and within the biotech community.
Dr. Brian Van Ness, president of Target Genomics, a 2015 University startup that focuses on guiding doctors and medical insurance companies on the use of genomics in clinical care, said while there may not be a rise in life science startups at the University, there is a rise in the use of genomics across the nation because it’s cheaper to get an entire genome sequence now. It costs $2000 to get an entire sequence; in the past, it would sometimes cost millions of dollars, he said.
“The [University] is a strong center for research to look at tech and its application to health care,” said Van Ness, a genetics, cell biology and development professor.