Accelerate LI, Eyeing New Seed Fund, Debuts Ninth Grad: Envisagenics

Xconomy New York — 

It’ll be several years before we’ll know whether the efforts of Accelerate Long Island lead to successful, sustainable companies. But with the emergence of its latest graduate today, Envisagenics, Accelerate LI can now say it’s helped get nine startups hailing from Long Island’s research institutions off the ground.

Accelerate LI and its strategic partner, the Long Island Emerging Technologies Fund (backed by Long Island VC firms Topspin Fund and Jove Equity Partners), are investing $100,000 to seed Envisagenics, a company using a software-based approach to try to help pharma and biotech companies speed up drug discovery.

This is the typical starting investment for an Accelerate LI grad: the organization puts up $50,000 from a seed fund (which came from a grant from local government authorities), and that figure gets matched by the LIETF. The cash is meant to help get startups to the tables of venture capital investors for a bigger financing round. (LIETF’s portion of the investment is structured as a debt that converts to small equity stakes upon a follow-up investment; Accelerate LI’s portion must be repaid should its startups leave New York, go bankrupt, or go public.)

Envisagenics, for its part, says in a statement it aims to find a strategic investor for a Series A and hire “a few dozen” employees over the next year.

In total, Accelerate LI has now seeded nine life sciences and cleantech startups since unveiling the first group last June. Codagenix, a vaccine developer, was the first to get a Series A round earlier this year. The others are Goddard Labs, Green SulfCrete, Right Dose, PolyNova, Traverse Biosciences, SynchroPET, and most recently, Symbiotic Health.

Accelerate LI assistant executive director Stacey Sikes adds that while only Codagenix has a Series A so far—a $2 million round led by Topspin in May—several others are in negotiations for venture rounds. In total, these startups have raised some $3.8 million in total follow-on funding via grants, venture cash, and angel funding, Sikes says. Only Right Dose, which developed software that measures doses of radiation when people get CT scans, is generating revenue as of yet, she says. But Traverse also got a measure of validation from a biotech earlier this year when it cut a $250,000 research deal with Aranata Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: PETX) to develop a periodontal disease treatment for dogs (Traverse could get access to another $8.25 million in downstream payments if Aranata opts to license the drug, known as TRB-N0224).

New graduate Envisagenics was spun out of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, an institution on the North Shore of Long Island that’s been around more than 100 years and has been a home to a number of scientific pioneers—among them James Watson, one of the discoverers of DNA’s structure. The company was founded by two Cold Spring Harbor alumni: chief operating officer Maria Luisa Pineda, who got her doctorate at Cold Spring’s Watson School of Biological Sciences; and chief technology officer Martin Akerman, a post-doctoral fellow at the institution (Pineda and Akerman are pictured above). Bioinformatics experts from New York and Texas comprise its scientific advisory board: Adrian Krainer and Michael Schatz (Cold Spring Harbor); Yaniv Erlich (Columbia University and the New York Genome Center); and Michael Zhang (University of Texas at Dallas).

The startup is developing a cloud-based software program that helps researchers analyze and interpret genomic data, like changes in RNA that may be indicative of a disease. Envisagenics aims to work with biotechs and pharma companies to help with their drug discovery efforts—it says it has a beta customer in the industry in place, and that its software has been used in two collaborative studies in breast cancer and spinal muscular atrophy at Cold Spring Harbor. It’s currently located at an accelerator space called Launchpad Huntington.

Accelerate LI’s $500,000 seed fund, meanwhile, has room for one more $50,000 investment. It’ll soon reload, however. Sikes says that the firm recently received notice of a $1.5 million award from Empire State Development as part of its New York State Innovation Venture Capital Fund, and is currently discussing the details of an agreement with the state to manage those funds. That cash is going to be matched by a like-sized private investment.

“We fully expect to continue our seed fund efforts,” she says.

Accelerate LI is a broad collaboration launched in 2011 by several of Long Island’s research institutions, among them Cold Spring Harbor and Stony Brook University, as well as other participants invested in Long Island’s startup scene. The program helps seed startups, mentor entrepreneurs, and steer them forward.