Big things can come from small investments
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The Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse recently handed out grants ranging from $130,000 to $250,000 to three local companies -- seemingly meager amounts when compared with the millions promising biotech firms often get, including more than $6 million raised from private investors by North Side-based biotech firm Cohera Medical Inc.
But such smaller investments are equally important to growing the region's biotech industry, advocates say. The smaller investments often come from economic development groups that aid companies in that critical stage of demonstrating to customers and investors that a maiden or next-generation product is worthwhile and, more importantly, worth additional funding.
"It's very difficult for investors to invest in a concept," said Catherine Mott, a local private investor who also heads Blue Tree Capital Partners, a group of private investors.
In the case of the three recent Greenhouse awards, 2-year-old Respironics spinoff Starr Life Sciences -- which is based in Hampton and makes tools for research labs and universities to monitor small animals such as mice and rats used in lab research -- will use the $150,000 to more quickly launch new products, said Michael Matesic, chief executive officer of the Idea Foundry, which also assists young firms.
And North Side-based Clear Count Medical Solutions will use its $250,000 check to help get regulatory approval early next year for the 3-year-old firm's main product, which is used to track surgical tools and reduce medical errors, said co-founder Gautam Gandhi.
The third firm receiving funds is by no means new, though it is trying to ready a new product.
O'Hara-based Neuro Kinetics, which had been around more than 20 years and makes devices that help diagnose diseases, will use its $130,000 to try and win over ophthalmologists for its latest iteration, a new tool designed to help them quickly detect diabetes-induced eye disease.
The Greenhouse's goal in awarding smaller grants -- the average is about $100,000 -- is to push firms further along the development chain, said Chief Operating Officer John Manzetti.
But Mr. Manzetti, who will take over as acting chief executive officer in December while the Greenhouse continues a search to replace outgoing CEO Doros Platika, would like to increase the average amount of grants a bit because "$100,000 in the marketplace doesn't go very far," he said.
Since the beginning of the year, the greenhouse has spent $2 million funding 15 local firms, and its three latest investments push the amount the group has poured into Pittsburgh's upstart life sciences firms to nearly $5 million since late 2002, Mr. Manzetti said.
First Published October 31, 2006 12:00 am