Nonprofit Aims to Boost Early-Stage Healthcare Startups in Milwaukee

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a $200,000 grant and office space in B2C’s headquarters in the Innovation Accelerator building on UW-Milwaukee’s Innovation Campus in Wauwatosa, west of Milwaukee. The winning services company will get $42,000 and office space. The runner-up in the product category will receive $28,000, and the second-place service startup will get $10,000, according to B2C’s website.

B2C plans to secure a new $280,000 pot annually, half from public funds and the other half from private donations. Sem says one option could be to designate a new theme each year, seeking startups that aim to treat a certain disease or medical condition that matches a priority for the organizations that donated to the B2C fund, such as leukemia or Alzheimer’s.

Obviously those grants are chump change for most new healthcare ventures, particularly pharmaceuticals, but Sem says the more important value B2C brings is the business training and intellectual property expertise, as well as connections to investors. (The investors on the panel aren’t expected to put money into B2C startups, but they could do so, or at least connect the entrepreneurs with more VCs, he adds.)

It’s getting more difficult for biotech startups to raise venture capital, says Sem, who co-founded Triad Therapeutics in San Diego and helped it raise two rounds of funding totaling $42 million.

“That much money, you’re not going to raise nowadays in this environment, so you have to find a way to build drug development companies, sort of bootstrap them,” Sem says.

B2C is the latest effort by Milwaukee-area institutions to boost the commercialization of local medical research. The nonprofit is partly a byproduct of a consortium of eight higher education institutions and medical centers, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute of Southeast Wisconsin. Other recent initiatives include UW-Milwaukee’s partnership with Medical College of Wisconsin to build healthcare-related mobile apps and the appointment of former GE Healthcare executive Bill Clarke as Medical College of Wisconsin’s director of research commercialization.

“The momentum has slowly been building,” Sem says.

He attributes it to a convergence of several broad factors, including a downsizing of Big Pharma, which he says means the industry is increasingly looking to small biotech companies for innovation. The federal government has recognized this, Sem says, and NIH is starting to fund not only basic research, but also drug discovery.

“They too are…trying to solve this problem. Where are the new medicines going to come from?” Sem says.

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