Grants, investments boost SUNY Poly CNSE start-up
A concept that started with human eye cells on a scaffold fabricated at SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (SUNY Poly CNSE) is climbing steadily toward its commercial debut. Glauconix, Inc., a contract research services firm headquartered at SUNY Poly CNSE in Albany, has attracted $575,000 worth of grants and investments since its founding. Now, it’s negotiating its first contracts with customers.
“Glauconix is one of our major successes,” says Pradeep Haldar, interim dean of SUNY Poly CNSE, and vice president of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Clean Energy Programs.
Karen Torrejon, chief executive officer of Glauconix, was inspired to start the company while working as a doctoral candidate in the lab of Susan Sharfstein, associate professor of nanobiosciences at SUNY Poly CNSE. Sharfstein and two colleagues used a nanoscale scaffold to culture a duplicate of a filter-like tissue in the eye, called the trabecular meshwork, that has a role in the disease glaucoma. Researchers can use this tissue to test possible glaucoma drugs.
Sharfstein’s work was awarded a $50,000 investment from SUNY’s Technology Accelerator Fund to develop a commercial prototype of this model.
Inspired by the success of the prototype that TAF enabled, Torrejon decided to launch a start-up to commercialize the technology. She joined a class in entrepreneurship, run by Haldar’s organization. That class teaches researchers to transform their work into viable businesses, helping them to define their value proposition, write a business plan and learn to make presentations to potential collaborators and customers. “Finally, as a capstone experience, they participate in the New York Business Plan Competition, which we host here at SUNY Poly CNSE,” Haldar says.
In the class, Torrejon met SUNY Poly CNSE undergraduate Rajan Kumar, master’s degree candidate Feryan Ahmed and Colby Creedon, who holds a law degree and MBA from SUNY Albany. The four soon founded Glauconix, entered the business plan competition and took the $100,000 grand prize.
Kumar has since left Glauconix to work on a doctoral degree in California. Ahmed is chief business development officer at Glauconix, and Creedon is the company’s chief operating officer.
The business plan positions Glauconix as a contract research organization. “Pharmaceutical and biotech companies will provide us with compounds they want to test and tell us what tests they would like us to perform,” Torrejon explains. Glauconix will start with tests of potential glaucoma treatments, using its bioengineered trabecular meshwork. “But based on that niche, we might also move into other areas,” she says.
The competition award included $50,000 in cash, which helped Glauconix buy equipment for its new lab at SUNY Poly CNSE’s Nanotech Complex. The other $50,000 consisted of in-kind services. “We were able to work with experts in the legal and business development areas, who helped shape what Glauconix is trying to do,” Torrejon says.
This year, Glauconix gained two more major votes of confidence—a $225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Technology Transfer program and $250,000 from the investment group Eastern New York Angels (ENYA).
ENYA provides early-stage support to start-ups in Tech Valley, an 11-county region surrounding Albany. “We generally look for companies that we think have some kind of game-changing technology,” says Richard Frederick, the ENYA member who led the group that evaluated Glauconix before making the investment. He has since joined the board of the start-up.
ENYA’s investors learned about Glauconix through the Business Plan Competition and through contacts in the community, Frederick says. One of the company’s great attractions is the potential to use its technology platform—the process for growing the trabecular meshwork—to create other kinds of tissue, to be used in tests involving other body organs, he says.
The company’s principals also inspire confidence. “Karen and her team have demonstrated that they have the desire to bring things to the next level,” Frederick says. “She’s hard working, and she has individuals on the team with experience in this market.”
Along with the cash investments, ENYA’s members provide mentoring to the startups they back. “We’re able to tap the knowledge of more than 30 people with many different kinds of experience and expertise,” Torrejon says. “They’re really rooting for our company and our technology.”
Now that its lab is up and running, Glauconix is working out contracts with its first few customers. “Having companies interested in our services this early in our venture is promising and important for validating our business model,” Torrejon says.
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