NWEN “First Look” Forum Tells Story of Software Vs. Medical Startups: Online Travel Is the Winner

4/14/10Follow @gthuang

Variety was the theme of the Northwest Entrepreneur Network’s First Look Forum yesterday at the Arctic Club Hotel, a venerable establishment in downtown Seattle. There were a dozen startup companies with a wide array of ideas, each giving a five-minute pitch to an eclectic audience that included investors, entrepreneurship coaches, media, and sponsors. The startups were there to compete for a chance to win some cool prizes, and of course, score new investments. The “first look” aspect means none had presented previously to investors or venture capital groups—this is the brainchild of NWEN executive director Rebecca Lovell.

One interesting point: the initial group of companies represented much more than just software and tech. The bunch covered medical devices, techniques for combating everything from obesity to tooth decay to slow and messy colonoscopies, and applications across industries ranging from online travel to trucking to pet care. Only three of the 12 startups in the backyard of Microsoft were software companies.

But in the end, the five finalists—selected by audience voting—consisted of those three software startups plus two hardware/materials tech companies (though one of those has a biomedical application). Any of these certainly could make a promising business, but it’s also possible that the investors and other voters in the room were just more comfortable with tech than life sciences or medical companies. Or maybe it’s just that tech startups tend to require smaller amounts of startup capital that can lead to higher potential returns.

Here are my initial impressions and super-short summaries of what each of the 12 Northwest companies presented (plus more details on the finalists and winner below):

Biomoles
Developer of higher quality and purity techniques for doing DNA purification for automated DNA processing and life sciences applications.

Crux Medical Innovations
Producer of a special biopsy device that makes procedures like colonoscopies (done 20 million times a year in the U.S. to detect colon cancer) faster and more efficient.

Darwin’s Natural Pet Products
A six-year-old company that makes and delivers fresh, healthy frozen meals for cats and dogs; it has more than 1,500 customers, mostly in the Seattle area, and wants to go national.

DragGone Aerodynamics
Maker of add-ons to trucks that reduce fuel consumption by improving aerodynamics.

Empowering Engineering Technologies
Three-year-old company developing an elastic tendon-like medical device that helps people with gait disabilities walk; the orthopedic technology comes Cleveland Clinic and is currently being tested in patients. (This company is also presenting Wednesday at the inaugural meeting of Wings, the Northwest’s new medical device angel network, as Luke reported yesterday.)

HealthyLogics
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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • Ben Straughan

    Greg – thanks for the input, we appreciate your attending the event. I think you raise some valid points – some investors locally have a comfort with traditional tech companies outside the life science/medical device space: often a shorter time to liquidity, corresponding smaller investments, the lack of regulatory clearance. Today in particular most tech startups can get off the ground for relatively low costs.

    On the other hand, many of the medical device/health related companies have meaningful IP rights that can give them an edge over an internet/digital media company that makes the long term investment worthwhile. And many investors appreciate those facts.

    Not sure I’ve explained the results – all 3 software companies made the final grade – nor that we can. But we (NWEN) definitely sees interest in companies across a broad range of industries.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ghuang/ Gregory T. Huang

    Thanks, Ben. I think NWEN stands out as supporting a tremendous range of ideas, entrepreneurs, and companies. Like Xconomy, you are interested in innovation, not just Internet, mobile, or tech startups. Interesting IP issue—sounds like a theme to explore as we think about medical/healthcare vs. tech companies.

    Greg

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