Big Ideas: TCIP grants give small businesses the opportunity to hit it big
The Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) recently announced a list of 25 startup companies, whittled down from a much larger group of applicants, as the beneficiaries of its most recent funding competition. These companies, which were selected after a peer review, were awarded a total of $2.5 million in grant money from the state of Utah as part of GOED’s Technology Commercialization and Innovation Program (TCIP). The program awards grants to small businesses and university teams to accelerate the commercialization of innovative technologies.
The TCIP grants help companies secure funding at a critical early point in their lifecycle, resulting in long-term success and economic development in Utah.
“Grant monies are used to help very early-stage companies put down roots in Utah and become the next wave of great companies,” says Tom Wadsworth, TCIP fund manager. “It’s reassuring to see that entrepreneurship continues to be as diverse as our economy.”
To qualify for the grant, companies must be a small business or a university team that has generated no more than $500,000 in revenue from the proposed new technology. The team also cannot have raised more than $3 million in total prior funding from other sources.
According to Wadsworth, TCIP was initially designed to help foster spin-out companies from university research. The legislature has since recognized great technology and intellectual property does not just come from universities, but also from companies and entrepreneurs. “There are many talented individuals and businesses developing new technologies and products in their garages that are really innovative,” says Wadsworth.
This year, the application process was the most competitive in recent history, with 168 applicants requesting more than $16 million—although there was only $2.5 million available. Applicants were vetted by a volunteer panel of industry experts and then scored and ranked. The highest scoring applicants then participated in a second level of vetting, which included a Shark Tank-style 10-minute presentation in front of panelists, who then ranked the presentations and recommended 25 companies to receive the grants.
GOED has contracted a local accelerator company to provide customized mentorship and training to grant recipients, who can also receive free mentoring from the GOED business team consultants.
According to Wadsworth, the legislature recognizes funding is not the only thing that helps companies succeed, but that business training and mentorship is critical to the success of early stage companies. “The personalized mentorship and training aspect of the program is, many times, just as beneficial to the success of the grant recipients as the funding,” adds Wadsworth.
Many diverse startups applied for the grant this year—companies with varied products and solutions from medical devices to clean energy, biotechnology and IT. Among the 25 chosen are nView medical, Homie, Inc. and Mommi.
Bringing image guidance technology to the operating room
nView medical’s innovative technology aims to increase surgical accuracy in minimally invasive procedures, without interfering with surgical workflow. Its flagship technology, insta3D, will allow surgeons to achieve greater accuracy than with conventional imaging.
Cristian Atria, founder of nView medical, likens the company’s technology to GPS technology. “Just as GPS technology guides drivers safely to their location, insta3D technology can help surgeons perform their procedure more accurately,” he says.
nView medical identified spinal fusion surgery as its entry point into the marketplace and is looking to expand its platform technology into other areas such as oncology, orthopedics and general surgery.
The competitive advantage Atria sees for his company’s technology is that it is easy to use in the operating room and provides continuous real-time 3D imaging to the surgeon. “The surgeon can see exactly what they are doing and easily make adjustments resulting in the best possible outcome for the patient,” Atria says.
Atria and his team have embarked on an ambitious path to develop a new medical imaging system from the ground up—and that requires significant funding. The TCIP monies will be used to bridge the gap between the idea funding they received from the National Science Foundation and private funding, according to Atria.
The TCIP grant allows nView medical to move its technology from prototype status to clinical research and then measure the benefits in the operating room. “From there our plan is to prepare for regulatory approvals, proceed with commercialization, then seek funding for further launch and ultimately introduce our technology into the marketplace in 2018,” says Atria.
Buying or selling your home without the commission fees
When Matt Thorne, co-founder and president of Homie, found out his neighbor was thinking about selling her house, he knocked on her door and suggested they do the transaction without using a real estate agent. They were both surprised how simple the transaction was. Thorne recognized there was a need for a software tool to help people through the process of buying and selling a home. He bounced the idea off some friends, and one year later they are co-founders of Homie, a peer-to-peer real estate marketplace where buyers, builders and sellers can meet and conduct business without a middleman.
“By combining revolutionary software and shared economies, Homie helps make finding, buying or selling a home easier and less expensive. We want to enable the DIY-er with the software tools and market data they need to confidently buy or sell their own home,” Thorne says.
For home sellers, Homie helps its users create a customized “For Sale” advertisement for their home on all major real estate websites and apps such as Homie.com, KSL, Zillow and Trulia. Homie also provides social media advertising exposure, legal assistance, professional real estate photography and a host of others services for a small monthly advertising fee. Homie provides tour scheduling and legal contract assistance for home buyers at no cost. In five months, Homie has facilitated the buying or selling of more than 70 homes.
Thorne says TCIP is an excellent way to not only get additional funding resources for Homie, but also a great way to meet other entrepreneurs. “There is a community aspect to the TCIP where we have the opportunity to work collaboratively with other grant recipients, and we are excited for that opportunity,” he says.
Thorne applied for the grant because he knew his business model would be disruptive to the standard way real estate transactions are done. “We wanted to be the first to market and best to market, but we also knew that we needed to make friends with the right people that could help us through any regulatory or legislative challenges,” he says.
Homie plans to use the grant money to cover the salaries of its software developers and to enhance its marketing efforts. “We will use the money to get our product in front of more people and get plenty of eyes looking at our customers’ homes,” Thorne says.
3-in-1 vitamin supplement
When Erin Schurtz found out she was pregnant, she knew it was important to get educated on prenatal wellness and proper nutrition. As she did her research, she realized there was a need for a prenatal supplement that would give her and her baby all the essential vitamins and minerals. So Schurtz created Mommi, a 3-in-1 daily supplement that contains 15 grams of whey protein, 100 percent of the daily recommended prenatal vitamins and 200 mg of DHA in a powder form.
Mommi can be incorporated into an expectant mother’s diet by making smoothies; mixing it with milk, juice or water; or by mixing with fruit or yogurt.
“Many prenatal vitamins and DHA supplements are large and difficult to swallow and can make many women nauseous. Mommi provides an alternative that is easier to take, is better quality, and helps ease an upset stomach,” says Schurtz.
Shurtz applied for a TCIP grant because she needed a new manufacturing partner. “We were able to find new partners fairly quickly, but getting back up to speed has had its challenges, the first of which has been working capital,” Schurtz says. The company also needed additional funding resources to spend on marketing Mommi to its niche demographic to and grow sales and revenue.
The TCIP grant will enable Schurtz to add team members and promote her product. “I have big plans for our future and those include an increased presence on social media and contracting with Mommi bloggers to promote our product,” she adds.