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Md.-based startups sweep finals at national competition

LifeSprout won the 2017 Association of University Technology Managers business plan competition. LifeSprout co-founders, from left, Russell Martin, Hai-Quan Mao, Justin Sacks and Sashank Reddy. (LifeSprout submitted photo)

Johns Hopkins-based LifeSprout won the 2017 Association of University Technology Managers business plan competition. LifeSprout co-founders, from left, Russell Martin, Hai-Quan Mao, Justin Sacks and Sashank Reddy. (LifeSprout submitted photo)

Maryland startups made waves on a national stage this week, with all four finalists at the Association of University Technology Managers business plan competition coming from the state. Three of the companies came from Johns Hopkins, with the fourth from the University of Maryland. All four have been funded by the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO) through its Maryland Innovation Initiative.

LifeSprout won the $10,000 top prize at the AUTM Pitch and Play competition, which took place at the organization’s annual meeting in Hollywood, Florida. Using nanofibers, the company makes a nonsurgical, soft-tissue replacement alternative for cancer and trauma patients as well as patients who have soft-tissue loss from aging.

Normal replacement means taking soft tissue from another part of the body during an invasive surgery, said Sashank Reddy, one of the company’s co-founders.

The replacement product was created by co-founder Hai-Quan Mao.

In addition to TEDCO, LifeSprout has received support from the Abell Foundation as it expands beyond the pre-clinical process and begins manufacturing the replacement tissue for clinical trials.

LifeSprout, along with finalists Pathovax and Multisensor Diagnostic, was developed at Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures incubator. Gripboost, the fourth finalist, came through the University of Maryland’s tech transfer program.

The four finalists were selected out of more than 50 applicants nationwide as part of a blind panel process.

Their success showed the value of the community resources available to startups, Reddy said especially TEDCO and Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures.

“I think it’s a testament to both of those organizations” he said. “I think it’s very dynamic. It’s a great support structure.”

Jennifer Hamamker, director of the Maryland Innovation Initiative for TEDCO, said the results show the resources the state can offer for startups.

“When you have universities, funders and the entrepreneurial community all rowing in the same direction, great things can happen,” she said. “I think it’s exciting for the region, for Maryland.”

Brian Stansky, director of Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ FastForward accelerator, agreed the results show the process is working at Hopkins and across the state.

“It’s surprising and it’s encouraging,” he said. “I think TEDCO has done a great job. They’re providing funding, but also saying there’s a bar you’ve got to meet.”

While Hammaker acknowledged the state still has ways to go to catch regions such as Boston or Silicon Valley, Maryland’s strong universities, investment from the state and access to federal facilities will continue to attract startups.

“There’s a lot of folks who can’t just drive down the road to meet with the National Institute of Health,” she said.

Stansky agreed.

“When someone sees someone else be successful, there’s an ‘If they can do it, I can do it,’” he said. “You’re thickening the soup in which things can come together and grow.”

But Reddy, who completed his medical coursework at Harvard, said he thinks the area has caught up to Boston.

“In a very short period of time, I think they’ve caught up and perhaps done even better,” he said.


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