Three walk away winners from Big Launch Challenge
BY VICKY M. CRUZ
The 2015 entrepreneurial Big Launch Challenge presented by The Launch Place and First Flight Venture Center awarded $30,000 in funding to not two but three businesses.
Six competitors, narrowed down from a pool of 37 companies out of nine states, presented 20 minute pitches followed by a 10-minute questioning period Tuesday afternoon at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research. They were judged by board members of The Launch Place’s seed fund advisory board.
With judges’ scoring and voting so close, Tom & Jenny’s Candy and Velosal Medical Inc. were tied for second place in the competition. The second place slot allows up to $10,000, but each company received $7,500. Velosal Medical also received one hour of complimentary business consultation services from the Launch Place.
The first place winner of $15,000 was Camras Vision. The medical device created by Dr. Lucinda Camras and Roberto Alfaro is an innovative treatment for stopping advanced glaucoma progression. A small, plastic shunt is inserted into the eye that relieves the pressure and pain of the disease that still has no determined cause or cure.
Ray Krauss, Camras CEO, has supported five other start-ups and is enthusiastic about the skills of the co-founders. The company has accrued $591,000 in federal and state funding for the five- to 10-year implant that features a replaceable portion. Another round of fundraising in the amount of $500,000 is reaching its completion point, too.
The current treatments are drugs, laser procedures or incisional and shunt or tube therapy. The target market of more than 67 million patients with glaucoma will be reduced to about 2 million who are in the advanced stages. Yet Krauss foresees the product becoming applicable for less serious cases in the future.
The First Flight Venture company originally considered veterinary applications but soon saw the human need. Next year Camras Vision will start human trials in Chili and the Dominican Republic.
Hopefully within two years the device will win regulatory approval, concluding the business venture at around a $20 million cost. Krauss told judges he expected around a $180 million buyout.
Velosal Medical presented a video laryngoscope — a device that allows the throat to be examined — that is affordable, compact, portable and disposable with a long shelf life. Overall the company develops innovative medical devices for critical care and emergency medicine.
Their target market is the fire and rescue sector with revenues expected by next year. CEO and President Ron Stanton plans to launch the product regionally by then. A clinical trial has not been conducted.
The company representatives received a lot of questioning from the judges, particularly regarding the interest of hospitals. The vulnerability of cost versus interest for hospitals was emphasized. It was recommended that the company do more to research the market.
Tom and Jenny’s Candy is a sweet manufacturing company devoted to naturally-sweetened, cavity-preventing and diabetic-friendly candies. Created by dentist Dr. Jenny Citineni in response to the frustration of patients, the company already has made sales online and through local retailers.
With 29 million suffering from diabetes and 100 million afflicted with obesity, the candy is sweetened with a birchwood sugar derivative and no artificial additive. It has a neutral pH value and reduces cavity-causing bacteria with a speedy melt quality. The candy has a low glycemic index.
“We taste tested it with over 100 blind tests with young adults and mothers. We found they told us they preferred our candy 60 percent of the time over sugared caramel,” Citineni stated.
Already picked up by Whole Foods with three caramel flavors, Tom and Jenny’s Candy will branch into chocolates in 2016 and gummy candies in 2018. In 18 months, the company plans to get its products on the shelves of companies like Kroger, EarthFare, Wegman’s and Harris Teeter.
Not only are the online, natural grocery and specialty or eatery markets ideal for the company, endorsement and trial markets are being targeted. The $3 million market is not exclusively made up of dentists but also endocrinologists, dieticians and pediatricians.
The company found Danville highly appealing as a potential location. For one, the founders see the Dan River Region as an ideal testing ground with its diverse population. The labor base and entrepreneurial environment are positive factors for Tom and Jenny’s Candy, as well.
The three winners were in good company with the three other finalists in the advanced manufacturing, information technology, medical devices, software development or green energy competition. GO Leaf presented a low cost and energy efficient means of producing multipurpose graphene. Indexus Biomedical LLC developed a multi-functioning blood analyzer. SeaChange Technologies presented a sustainable solution for water purification and desalination.
Angle investor Troy Krauss moderated the pitch competition after providing a brief talk on his entrepreneurial history. After years of resistance and studying for a law degree, Krauss joined his family’s meat business, which was a fifth generation supplier to giants like Nestle and ConAgra Foods.
In his time at the lead, Krauss escorted the company into a niche market of meat snacks and beef jerky. In 2003, he purchased a multimillion dollar facility in Martinsville’s Patriot Centre with about 100 jobs. Two years later he sold the company now known as Monogram Foods.
He told the crowd of aspiring entrepreneurs that interest isn’t necessary to enter a start-up. Since the company’s sale, Krauss has devoted time and money to entrepreneurial investment. He told attendees that portfolio diversification is crucial — a lesson he learned after losing his investment in a one-sided bid.