Student Startups Cardiovate and Invictus Tackle Big Medtech Markets

5/14/13Follow @tanseyverse

[Corrected 5/14/2013, 5:20 pm. See below.] Months before she received her PhD degree last spring, Jordan Kaufmann co-founded her own company. Her first office was a shed in her backyard, but her plan was to outdo big medical device companies like Minneapolis, MN-based Medtronic (NYSE: MDT) by making one of their products obsolete.

Kaufmann’s company, Cardiovate in San Antonio, TX, has since moved to an incubator space and hopes to close on $100,000 in seed funding soon. At 29, Kaufmann is Cardiovate’s chief technology officer, and she has moved out of her backyard shed. [Note: An earlier version of this paragraph erroneously said that Cardiovate was based in Austin, TX. We regret the error.]

“It’s great, I love it,” she says of her new executive role, which may have come a bit sooner than it does for most CTO’s. “I’m probably on the younger side.”

Kaufmann’s leap from toiling graduate student to biomedical company principal owes a lot to programs set up by the University of Texas to spur students to become technology entrepreneurs. In May 2012 Kaufmann, who earned a PhD in biomedical engineering from UT San Antonio, was the first winner of the University of Texas Horizon Fund Student Investment Competition. That inaugural prize in the now-annual competition was $50,000 in seed money to launch Cardiovate.

Back when she began her graduate studies, Kaufmann also had the support of two faculty advisors who encouraged her to choose a PhD project that would address the real-world shortcomings of medical devices currently on the market. Kaufmann decided to revamp the small fabric grafts, often reinforced with metal stents, that are used to treat aortic aneurysms. These aneurysms are potentially dangerous bulges at weakened spots in the walls of the aorta—the large artery that carries blood from the heart down through the chest and abdomen. If an aneurysm tears under the pressure of pumping blood, the result could be fatal internal bleeding.

Kaufmann concluded that the polyester or Teflon grafts used to repair aortic aneurysms haven’t changed significantly since the early 1990’s.

“They’re still kind of stuck in the first-generation mentality,” she says. “They haven’t really evolved.”

Rather than using inert fabric for the graft, Kaufmann thought, why not create a tube of scaffolding material that would become colonized by the patient’s own cells, rebuilding a living section of the aortic wall?

“Let’s have something that heals itself,” she says.

This kind of tissue engineering approach has already moved into the startup mainstream. Waltham, MA-based Histogenics uses a scaffolding of collagen to coax the development of stem cells into … Next Page »

Bernadette Tansey is a freelance journalist based in Berkeley, CA. Follow @tanseyverse

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