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Speed Dating to Find Inventor - Investor Matches

INVOMatch is a new entrepreneurial event designed to help bring therapies to market

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May 3, 2012 | by Marla Paul

CHICAGO --- Northwestern University scientist David Klumpp, married for 21 years, wasn’t looking for new romantic love when he embarked on a recent speed-dating event. But he was hoping to find a match and tie the knot with a business investor.

Klumpp, an associate professor of urology at the Feinberg School of Medicine, was among the Northwestern inventors at INVOMatch 2012, a new entrepreneurial speed-dating event that matched them with potential investors to help bring the inventors’ therapies or technologies to market.

He and colleague Anthony Schaeffer, M.D., the chair of urology at Feinberg, had mastered the “elevator pitch” about their discovery: a novel probiotic treatment to cure urinary tract infections that had many advantages over current antibiotic therapies. Now Klumpp and Schaeffer, who had recently incorporated, needed funds to launch a clinical trial.

The event, inspired by social speed dating, was organized collaboratively by Northwestern’s Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO), Northwestern’s Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (NUCATS) and Forest City Science and Technology Group. INVO's goal is to bring research innovations to the public.

“Many of our talented faculty don’t have the time to develop their own companies and lack the business expertise to take their companies forward,” said Sonia Kim, INVO manager for marketing and industry partnerships, who coordinated the event with Jim Bray, assistant director of the Center for Translational Innovation at NUCATS. Jeff Coney, INVO director of economic development, helped recruit investors and entrepreneurs.

Bray, who wrote a computer program to optimize matchmaking for INVOMatch, said, “We are making it easier for faculty to move the ideas they have in their lab into a new venture. This is a great way to expose them to a lot of potential investors and entrepreneurs at once.”

In addition to matchmaking, Kim said the larger goals of the program were to equip inventors with the tools to interact with the business world and to heighten public awareness of Northwestern’s technological inventions.

For the first round of dates at INVOMatch, each inventor or inventor team met with 10 investors for 10 minutes each, swiftly selling their ideas and determining if the investor was a good match for their technology. Then the inventors and investors filled out scorecards rating and ranking each other.

The inventors rated the business entrepreneur’s startup and money-raising experience and their technology or disease knowledge. The investors rated the invention’s cutting- edge or novelty level and the inventor’s knowledge of the competitive landscape. They each also rated personal chemistry. Those who rated each other the most highly met again for a second date. Each participant had three 20-minute second dates to discuss their interests further.

The event was sponsored by Michael Rosen, senior vice president of new business development for the Science and Technology Group at Forest City Enterprises. Rosen, who helped train faculty members to participate, had previously run a similar program for Johns Hopkins University.

After the final round ended, Robert Zieserl, one of the potential investors and the chairman and CEO of Vital Sensors, Inc., a cardiovascular device company, said he identified several interesting Northwestern technologies. “One I want to track and possibly invest in is an innovative sensor technology that will add touch with feedback in robotic surgery,” he said. He also was intrigued by a novel system to integrate and deliver sensor and other patient data in the intensive-care unit and innovative gene therapy to treat atrial fibrillation.

Klumpp hadn’t yet made an investor match but did have a clearer understanding of the process. “It was a very exciting and worthwhile opportunity,” he said.

“What was illuminating to me was the number of parameters you have to meet for a successful match,” Klumpp added. “You have to find someone who is interested in your venture in its current stage of development and in your technology and who is familiar with your field. I thought people would look at the market size for our product and say this is a great idea and be ready to jump into it. You need to meet as many people as possible, just like dating in the real world.”