Reporter with Silicon Hills News
San Antonio’s medical technology industry can spur innovation and lead to new jobs in the local economy.
The Texas Technology Development Center (T3DC) hopes to encourage that by focusing on research, entrepreneurship and investment.
“Of all things, innovation is the single greatest economic driver in any economy,” said T3DC President Randall Goldsmith during the organization’s second quarterly luncheon. “What we bring here today is an example of what we are doing in San Antonio to grow our economy.”
The invitation-only luncheon attracted 200 people to get an update on the latest medical technology in San Antonio.
At the event, Cory Hallem, executive director with the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship, explained how his organization helps students get real entrepreneurship experience and even start their own companies.
“It’s really adding on to that education side through experiences, research, and support,” said Hallem. “How do you put a process in place that helps unlock the inner entrepreneur in someone who hasn’t done it before?”
The center helps students unlock their potential in a number of ways. They have a Technology Entrepreneur Boot Camp twice a year that teaches students how to start a tech company in a single day. CITE also holds the biannual $100,000 Student Technology Venture Competition – the largest undergraduate competition in the country. Additionally, the center has a Graduate Certificate in Technology Entrepreneurship and Management program for students involved in research. The program trains Ph.D. students how to launch a tech company in concurrence with their technology research. UTSA actively pairs students who wish to produce a viable product prototype with faculty and mentors that can help them accomplish their goals.
According to Hallem, UTSA now has over 100 active companies created by students and faculty. In the last three years, UTSA student startups have raised of $1 million in startup funding. One of the student companies has even been offered a tryout for the ABC show Shark Tank.
The second presenter, Lapara Medical, was born in the CITE program and won CITE’s $100,000 Student Technology Venture Competition last November. The startup is developing a laparoscopic cooling device to solve a problem present in kidney transplants and kidney tumor removal – called a nephrectomy.
“This problem stems from partial nephrectomies, where they go in and remove the tumor while leaving the rest of the kidney functioning,” said CEO Duncan Hughes. “They have to clamp the artery to that kidney. Doing so cuts off oxygen flow to that kidney and effectively gives the surgeon 30 minutes to perform the surgery.”
After 30 minutes, the kidney starts to die due to lack of blood flow. If the surgery cannot be completed in this time – and 75 percent of such surgeries cannot – the surgeon must cut the patient open and actually place ice packs around the kidney to keep it alive.
Lapara Medical is developing a laparoscopic cooling system that can be inserted into the body through four small incisions. The device will cool the entire kidney to exactly 15 degrees Celsius, which guarantees the surgeon up to two hours and 30 minutes to complete the surgery without needing to open up the patient. This approach reduces the risk of infection and complications, and greatly reduces a patient’s pain and required hospital stay after the operation.
“We are able to go in and actually change how a surgery is done and really bring change to this market,” said Hughes.
The startup’s cooling device will also be used for kidney transplants and can be adapted to other organs as well. The startup plans to turn their focus on liver surgeries and transplants in the near future.
Lapara Medical is seeking $270,000 in seed round funding to finish developing their prototype and entering into the first phases of testing. Hughes predicts the company will be worth around $300 million within five to seven years of operation.
The final presenter was San Antonio startup Cardiovate. Created by UTSA biomedical engineering Ph.D. graduate Jordan Kaufmann, Cardiovate has created an intravascular tissue regeneration stent graph for aneurism repair.
Aneurysms are an abnormal widening of a blood vessel due weaknesses in the vessel’s wall. If the blood vessel bursts, severe hemorrhage can occur. Aneurysms are often treated by a surgical procedure which inserts a stent graph inside the artery to reinforce the walls and prevents the blood vessel from ballooning. As the patient ages, these graphs move or leak – requiring the patient to have additional surgeries or causing the patient harm if not detected.
“No one wants to have as second surgery, so we looked at this as a problem we could address,” said CTO and President Jordan Kaufmann. “There are currently no tissue repairing stint graphs on the market. At this point, we will be the first one to enter.”
The new stint graph Cardiovate has developed is microscopically engineered to grow into the cells of the artery and create a lasting tissue that will not move or leak. Over time, the graft material is actually absorbed by the body, leaving only the sealing tissue in the reinforced artery. Because the tissue is flexible and adapts to changes in the body, patients should not need additional surgeries.
Kaufmann created Cardiovate with the support of UTSA College of Engineering Dean Mauli Agrawal, and UT Health Science Center Division Chief Steven Bailey. Cardiovate won last year’s University of Texas Horizon Fund Student Investment Competition which came with a seed funding check for $50,000. Agrawal and Bailey have joined Coffman as founders and contributed another $10,000 to the startup.
Cardiovate is currently looking to raise $700,000 for their seed stage of funding and has recently moved to the UTSA incubator for more lab work. The startup plans to ultimately merge with or be acquired by leading competitors Medtronic or Cook Medical.