Founders from Tech, Health Tech, Life Sciences, and Other Fields Attended Spring 2023 Founders & Funders
One entrepreneur came to the NJ Founders & Funders spring gathering to raise money to complete the development of a wearable jetpack that could assist in search-and-rescue missions.
Another wanted to make the first wearable health sensor for salivary diagnostics, saying that saliva is the new blood when it comes to health markers.
Still another was developing novel biologics to tackle even the most severe mucosal infections in immunodeficient patients.
All told, 33 startups and 26 angel investors and VCs who have invested in Garden State companies travelled last month to the College of New Jersey campus, in Ewing, for the day-long event.
The NJ Founders & Funders event is organized by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) to facilitate introductions between innovative emerging New Jersey companies and sophisticated angel and institutional investors.
“I think everybody in this room should walk away with something that’s going to benefit them and help them grow either their fund or their business,” said Kathleen Coviello, chief economic transformation officer at the NJEDA.
“We’re working on all pieces of the innovation economy, in supporting entrepreneurs and supporting the investors, which is why this event is so important to us because it brings that community together,” she said.
Grace Warner, a product officer with the NJEDA’s Venture Programs team, noted that 300 meetings were scheduled for the day. That meant a dozen 10-minute rounds for VCs and startups, plus a 30-minute break for lunch.
“During the session, you will have a few minutes for the entrepreneurs to introduce your company and pitch it to the investors,” Warner said. “I asked that everybody please allow a little bit of time for the investors to ask some questions.”
Daniel Weinstein, cofounder and CEO of Lura Health (Newark), said that “the Founders & Funders event is a great way to meet local investors. I still need to follow up with our contacts from the event. ”
Lura Health is developing the first wearable health sensor for salivary diagnostics. The sensor has the potential to noninvasively monitor critical health markers, providing patients with information on chronic health conditions more easily, as well as pain-free methods to manage their health.
He first developed an idea for an in-mouth sensor as a way to automatically track nutrition intake.
He shared the idea with Saam Bozorg, a dental student, and Noah Hill, a computer engineer, at an entrepreneurial event at Tufts University.
The three continued working on the project, then pivoted to medical monitoring, and formed Lura Health in 2016. The company now has four employees and six consultants.
The trio has raised more than $2.5 million, with $1.3 million coming from dilutive investors, including Princeton-based SOSV. Approximately $1.3 million is from grants, including Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase I and II grants from the National Science Foundation.
The founder of Lactiga, based in North Brunswick, was also on hand to strike up a conversation.
Viraj Mane, cofounder and chief science officer, said the venture-backed biotherapeutics and medical device company develops novel biologics to treat and prevent infections, with a focus on improving the quality of life for patients with primary immunodeficiency diseases.
“We are unlocking the full therapeutic value of human milk to create the next generation of anti-infectives that can battle even the world’s most dangerous pathogens,” he said.
Mane continued, “I was inspired by my parenthood journey, and seeing frozen breast milk pouches in our freezer and wondering if the milk antibodies could serve a medical purpose for immunodeficient patients.” He noted that he became partners with Rikin Mehta [a biotech entrepreneur] in 2019.
Lactiga employs its two cofounders and one project manager, “and is developing patented biologics to prevent and treat mucosal infections to protect the airways of patients with rare immunodeficiencies,” Mane said. “Our biologics will prevent the life-threatening respiratory infections that afflict patients with rare immunodeficiencies like common variable immunodeficiency, or CVID.”
Lactiga has spent about $1 million on research and development, intellectual property and manufacturing. It raised $1.7 million through investments and research grants, with investors accounting for $1.2 million, Mane said. “The Founders & Funders event allowed us to meet a curated set of investors, and we formed a great connection with one of them,” he added.
Meanwhile, entrepreneurs David Castley, John Snee, Jeffrey Klein and Guanhao Wu, among others, talked to investors, moved on and talked to more investors, as if they were speed dating.
Castley noted that his startup, RAEV Mobility (Harrison Town), wants better, cleaner inner-city travel, and is offering affordable and convenient transportation systems. He wants to deploy a fleet of low-speed electric vehicles that can be shared among users within cities and densely populated communities.
“Using the RAEV app, users can easily locate the nearest available vehicle, unlock it with a QR code, drive themselves to a designated parking spot near their destination, and leave the vehicle for the next user,” he said.
That will eliminate the need for a full-size vehicle, a driver, and gasoline. And RAEV significantly reduces the cost of ride-sharing, while providing a 95 percent lower carbon footprint than personal vehicles, Ubers, and public buses, Castley said.
“With RAEV, everyone can join the growing green revolution and contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable future,” he added.
Meanwhile, Snee said, “I got an idea for a ride share app called “ULimo” in 2017. It allows users to book one-way trips starting at $10 per person by selecting to share the ride with others, instead of being forced to pay $1,000 for a five-hour rental from a limo company,” he said.
Snee said that his startup is active in 20 markets and has generated $115,598 in revenue. The Robbinsville-based company is currently raising $500,000 to expand into six additional markets, according to Snee and the startup’s website. ULimo has 24 interns and seven partners, and spent about $10,000 initially to start operations.
If you would rather ride something on two wheels, Klein’s company, Airnoggin, has something you are going to want to wear — an inflatable helmet that includes air lobes and soft pads. It also fits on the heads of skateboarders, in-line skaters, kayakers, surfers and rafters.
Klein, who’s based in Paterson, came up with the idea in 2016, while his son was using a Citi Bike. He was not wearing a helmet, and neither were 82 percent of all bikers. That’s because they had nowhere to put the hard-shell headgear.
Now they do. It deflates and can fit into a shirt pocket.
Guanhao Wu, cofounder and CEO of Exovolar Industries Corp., an air mobility systems developer in Union City, said that his company has developed a way to fly solo and hands free.
The wearable jetpack fits on your body like an exoskeleton and requires little training.
Wu noted that the jetpack can be used to handle cargo transportation issues and even to conduct search-and-rescue missions, among other tasks.
He cofounded Exovolar after completing his master’s degree at Stevens Institute of Technology in 2019. The company now has three full-time and two part-time employees.
“Our vision is to reach a future where people fly everywhere. It is inevitable, in our opinion. We built a wearable personal air-mobility system that allows a person to fly as easily as riding a Segway.”
Wu raised $350,000, with $300,000 of it coming from investors. Attending the event “further integrated us into the New Jersey innovation ecosystem,” he told us.
Investors like Stephen Dyer, who represented JumpStart New Jersey Angel Network (New Brunswick), were also busy all day.
Dyer, who has been the chairperson of JumpStart NJ since 2013, established SRD Capital Management (Westfield) as his investing entity in September 2006, after 22 years on Wall Street, including 18 years at UBS Financial Services and its predecessor, PaineWebber. SRD Capital Management pursues investment opportunities in technology-based startups, mainly through opportunities Dyer sees through JumpStart.
“The JumpStart group currently has 37 members, primarily investing in technology companies raising their first round of capital from a third party. We meet monthly for approximately three hours and typically have three companies pitch. Those members who are interested in a company that has pitched would form a diligence team to explore further. We invest as individuals, so members only invest in opportunities that they like,” he said.
“I am here to find New Jersey-based deal-flow for our monthly meetings. New Jersey Founders & Funders is a great resource that allows us to see many New Jersey-based startups in several hours,” he added. “I thought the quality of the companies at Founders & Funders was very encouraging. JumpStart will likely look to bring several in to pitch at one of our monthly meetings over the coming months.
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