Elucent Medical’s device for improving breast cancer treatment might not hit the market for two years, but the idea and the team behind it showed enough promise to capture the grand prize in this year’s Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.
Elucent beat out 12 other finalists in the annual competition run by the Wisconsin Technology Council, which culminated in a live pitch event at the Tech Council’s two-day Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in the state capital of Madison. Elucent also took first place in the competition’s life sciences category. The other winners in each category were:
—Information technology: Milwaukee-based Organic Research Corp., which is developing software to help pathologists identify fatty deposits in the liver that aren’t caused by alcohol consumption. This condition typically shows no symptoms, but severe cases can cause liver failure.
This year, the council received 292 contest applications from startups around the state. Finalists were vying for a piece of the more than $100,000 in cash and in-kind services pledged by the contest’s sponsors.
Madison-based Elucent is developing a wireless marker and detection system for breast cancer treatment that is intended to eliminate the need for traditional “hook wire” procedures, which involve placing a wire in the breast at the spot of the tumor so the surgeon knows which tissue to remove. Elucent’s system would use a biocompatible breast “tag”—a spherical object less than 2 millimeters wide—that would be implanted in the breast at the time of a biopsy. A doctor would then use a wand device that would sense the tag and provide real-time monitoring of the tumor, said co-founder Laura King. Both the tag and wand would be made by Elucent, she said.
Elucent’s system will be cheaper than the hook wire procedure, while also helping identify a tumor’s margins during the removal surgery—something the invasive hook wire technology doesn’t accomplish, the company says. That means Elucent’s system could ensure more accurate cancer removal.
“We believe it will be able to reduce the rate of re-treatment or readmission,” King said during her pitch Tuesday to a room of more than 100 observers and judges at the Alliant Energy Center.
The marker would be removed during surgery, or could safely remain in the patient’s body if the tumor turns out to be benign and no surgery is required, King said after the contest’s results were announced today.
Elucent’s co-founders are bootstrapping the company and aren’t currently raising outside investment, King said in an interview. The plan is to file for FDA approval of the device in 2015 and ramp up sales in 2016.
King is a former GE Healthcare exec who later was the founding CEO of NeuWave Medical, a Madison-based surgical device maker that she helped raise $33 million in venture capital. Elucent’s team includes NeuWave co-founders Dan van der Weide, Fred Lee, and Chris Brace, as well as Lee Wilke, director of the University of Wisconsin Health Breast Center and a surgery professor, and Elizabeth Burnside, a University of Wisconsin radiology professor and vice chair of research.
King said winning the contest is recognition of Elucent’s opportunity to deliver a product that helps patients, lowers healthcare costs, creates jobs, and boosts the startup ecosystem in Wisconsin.
Since the contest began a decade ago, past finalists have collectively raised $160 million in angel and venture capital, grants, and venture debt, the Tech Council said. In a 2012 survey, 77 percent of contest finalists said they were still in business.