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HardTech Labs and Immunology Institute Form Startup Accelerator

Xconomy San Diego — 

The La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology has established a joint venture with San Diego’s HardTech Labs to operate an accelerator program for startups developing next-generation technologies in human health and well being.

Derek Footer, who founded HardTech Labs almost two years ago to help early stage tech companies gain access to low-cost manufacturers in nearby Tijuana, says the healthtech accelerator will be based at the institute, which is providing space for as many as 15 startups. He hopes to enroll the first six companies in four months.

As part of the effort, the program known as HTL Life will provide as much as $250,000 in seed funding to each company admitted to the accelerator. “We’re responsible for raising the money, and we’re doing it in conjunction with [the institute],” Footer says. He hopes to ultimately raise as much as $40 million for the fund.

The institute, known informally as LJI, is in the UC San Diego Science Research Park, near UC San Diego’s Moores Cancer Center. The accelerator program will include access to institute offices and laboratory space as well as educational services and networking events.

“As a basis for doing a health and wellness accelerator, it makes sense to have the La Jolla Institute as a partner,” Footer tells me. Research at the institute is dedicated to improving human health through studies of the immune system. LJI usually gets about $51 million in annual funding, mostly through federal grants from the National Institutes of Health and from the Japanese pharmaceutical company Kyowa Hakko Kirin.

While much of the scientific research at LJI is focused on autoimmune diseases like Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes, and developing drugs and vaccines, the joint venture will be more focused on developing new diagnostics and sensors, and in finding new ways to promote health, fitness, and beauty.

Derek Footer

Derek Footer

As part of their three-year agreement for the joint venture, Footer says HTL Labs will help to commercialize six proprietary technologies developed at LJI. A separate company will focus on advancing such health and wellness technologies.

“The technologies are more geared towards diagnostic applications relating to health and wellness than therapeutics, says Patrick Ho, LJI’s chief business officer. “That said, the latter is not precluded per se; however, the diagnostic applications are the intended current focus.”

Monitoring the activity of the immune system would enable people to make more-informed decisions about their lifestyle, according to a joint statement issued today.

Footer adds, “One of the things [LJI] thinks is really cool, and that we like as well, is that there will be interaction between the researchers at LJI and the entrepreneurs. The more we thought about it, the more we thought that cross-pollination is really important for both of us.”

For Footer, the LJI deal also represents a significant change in strategy from the mission he first laid out for HardTech Labs as an accelerator that would help tech entrepreneurs take advantage of the low costs and rapid product development cycle offered by manufacturers in Baja California. Negotiating licensing agreements proved to be harder than expected, and raising a venture fund was taking longer than expected, he says.