MC10 Banks $10M, Wends Its Way Into Digital Health, Consumer Tech

You know all those incremental, also-ran tech startups going after the same opportunities in social media, mobile apps, or what have you? This is not one of them.

MC10, based in Cambridge, MA, is trying to commercialize some very big ideas around so-called “conformal electronics” that can bend and stretch around surfaces such as the human body. And now the four-year-old startup has $10 million more in the bank, thanks to new strategic investments from medical device giant Medtronic and an unnamed consumer health firm, plus previous investors including North Bridge Venture Partners, Braemar Energy Ventures, and Terawatt Ventures.

All told, the company has raised $33 million in equity funding (plus several million in grants)—and it might need every penny. MC10’s ambition is to get its brand of “stretchable silicon” into all manner of consumer products, digital health applications, and medical devices. That means things like wearable sensors and systems that could do anything from monitoring body temperature and hydration to analyzing sleep patterns.

The science and technology, based on research by co-founders George Whitesides at Harvard and John Rogers at the University of Illinois, involves high-performance silicon circuits that are combined with springy connections and bendable polymers. Down the road, the technology might also enable things like flexible and portable solar cells, new kinds of optical sensors, and even brain-machine interfaces.

But right now the main focus is on commercial applications. “It’s important for the company to graduate from hopes and dreams to [having] paying customers and shipping product,” says Dave Icke, MC10’s chief executive (pictured above). “There’s a rite of passage.”

Icke, who was previously with Advanced Electron Beams and Teradyne, is seeing some progress in that direction. In October, MC10 revealed its first commercial product, a sports-impact sensor developed in partnership with Reebok. The device, which is slated for release early next year, fits in a thin mesh skullcap and is designed to measure head-impact forces in contact sports, starting with hockey.

The company also has been developing a new type of band-aid-like sticker (see left) that can be worn comfortably on the skin to monitor sweat loss, skin characteristics, ultraviolet light, body temperature, and respiration rate. The sticker, or “biostamp,” conforms to the skin’s surface (wrinkles and all) and can send data to a smartphone using near field communication. You could imagine that everyone from sports apparel companies to sports drink makers, from cosmetics firms to baby-monitor makers, might potentially be interested. “We’re going forward with product collaborations,” Icke says, so look for new roll-outs with partners in the coming year.

Why bring in the new investors at this time? “The idea of taking strategic dollars now is to accelerate the time to market for projects we’re doing with these guys,” Icke says. “Having broad corporate support within these companies opens opportunities faster.” (Medtronic already had been working with MC10 on various projects, including developing a new type of balloon catheter to assist with heart procedures.)

MC10 could end up riding a big wave of digital health applications, as everyone and their brother seems to be trying to figure out … Next Page »

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