Spring fever musings from the world of science startups

In my first post, I made a mild dig at my former hometown (Silicon Valley) for perhaps becoming a bit soft(ware) and distant from the science and tech base it started from. That’s not the whole story, of course, and in any event the home of Apple and Google (great software companies that ended up doing their own great hardware) doesn’t need my help to philosophize on this topic.

Their own late Bill Campbell, mentor to the leaders of both tech giants, when asked about this in a January interview with Randy Komisar, made the interesting observation (from 4:00-7:00 approx.) that money in the bank from quicker (3-5 year) return/lower risk investments leads to more appetite for harder problems (including in science and health) and longer payout (5-8 years) investments.

And the Plug and Play winners are

So it was encouraging to me that the most recent top-rated Y-Combinator Plug and Play Demo Day companies out of 150 pitching were all in science and technology innovation (as opposed to “he Uber of X”, etc. ), as Silicon Valley Business Journal’s Cromwell Schubarth reports:

The Sunnyvale incubator has VIP judges vote for the best pitches they hear at its Startup Camp Expos and here are the three they liked best on Thursday. First was Koniku, a Newark-based company that is developing new chip architecture by using neurons. Second was Omniscience, a Palo Alto Big Data startup I profiled last year in The Pitch. Third was Qidni Labs, a San Francisco and Ontario-based company working on implantable renal replacement therapy.

And yes, science companies can raise money in Oregon

Last month, Inpria raised a new round well north of $8M, adding both Air Liquide (leading the round) and TOK as new investors. Solid progress on the improbably complex EUV exposure tools has led to increasing visibility for Inpria and the advantages of its novel photo-imageable materials chemistry.

And last week, AbSci announced its $5.1M series A financing, led by Phoenix Venture Partners of Silicon Valley. AbSci’s SoluPro™ E. coli protein expression system promises lower costs for biologic drugs that cannot be manufactured by chemical processes. This is an exciting development for a Portland-nurtured biotech company that also won last year’s OEN Game Changer award – by audience vote.

Making the most of the great indoors

Most people wouldn’t think it brilliant of me and 75 fellow science geeks to spend the most glorious Saturday, April 16 in Oregon history at an indoor event, but I am glad I did. The Portland section of the American Chemical Society hosted its first Oregon Science Startup Forum and it was terrific. Hats off to event chair Jim Tung, who can be found at Lacamas Labs as a research chemist during the week.

Hemai Parthasarathy, Scientific Director of the Thiel Foundation’s BreakoutLabs gave a keynote talk on how BOL funds breakthrough platform technologies to the tune of up to $350K at 8-10 early stage companies each year across the U.S. It’s a fabulous program, and a model I dream to emulate.

Highlighted Oregon companies (and entrepreneurs) included DesignMedix (Sandy Shotwell), Oregon BrewLab (Dana Garves of Eugene), Valliscor (Rich Carter of Corvallis), Curadite (scoop: Dennis McNannay’s new company) and Gamma Therapeutics (David Farrell). Great companies, great people, please take a look.

Also visiting from San Francisco was Ethan Perlstein of Perlstein Lab. Ethan is an example of an important trend: postdoctoral scholars trained to become academics, except most of them won’t. These highly skilled people are an unprecedented potential entrepreneur source. Ethan’s story was interesting – he initiated key opinion leader conversations on Twitter to discover a market for his Harvard PhD research. The result is a company that accelerates drug discovery for 5000+ orphan diseases.

Upcoming events

If you’re sorry you missed the Science Startup Forum, it’s not too late to enjoy two upcoming semiconductor industry (still Oregon’s largest and highest wage sector) events:

April 26 SEMI (Semiconductor Equipment and Materials Institute) Breakfast ForumThe Age of Automotive Electronics, held at Intel’s Ronler Acres facility. Automotive electronics (including for electric vehicles) alternates with Internet of Things as the hot topic for the $336B global semiconductor industry. SEMI’s Silicon Forest chapter is one of its most active.

May 5-6 Critical Materials Conference at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Hillsboro. The last two days of the annual Critical Materials Council meeting (for fab managers around the world) are open to the public. This year’s theme is “Critical Materials for Device Driven Scaling”. Most of the periodic table ends up in your electronics, so if you’re curious how the elements are used and where they come from, this meeting is for you.

Skip Rung is a senior high-technology research and development (R&D) executive with over 25 years of engineering and management experience in complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) process technology, integrated circuit design and packaging, MEMS, microfluidics, and inkjet printing. Skip currently serves as President and Executive Director of ONAMI.