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Quality of Arkansas Startups Improving, VC Says at UAMS BioVentures Event - Innovate Arkansas

Quality of Arkansas Startups Improving, VC Says at UAMS BioVentures Event

By Mark Carter, 10/7/2011 11:25:58 AM

Access to capital continues to elude technology-based startups in small, rural states like Arkansas. While that may affect quantity, one venture capitalist in Little Rock for the fifth BioVentures Private Equity Roundtable thinks the quality of the state's biomedical startup ventures is improving.

"The quantity may not be as high, but the quality is higher pound for pound than in other states," said Christopher Rand of Tristar Ventures in Nashville, Tenn.

BioVentures is the business incubator that works to commercialize University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences research. Every 18 months, it brings in regional and national investors to view presentations from its portfolio companies and others.

The fifth installment began Thursday at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and is scheduled to run through lunch on Friday. Twenty-three Arkansas startups were represented and presented to roughly 30 VCs representing nine states including Arkansas.

All participating firms represent biomedical ventures of some kind, and products pitched at the roundtable ranged from an innovative sports drink called RedoX that uses hydrogen as an antioxidant, to La Petite Roche, a comprehensive measurement system for the assessment of infant lung function. Firms asked for investment rounds ranging from $200,000 to $6 million.

(More: Details from each of the presentations will be posted next week in the INOV8 blog at InnovateArkansas.org.)

Rand, a Searcy native who previously worked with the technology transfer office at Vanderbilt, said he was making his 10th trip to Arkansas in the last two years and his first to the BioVentures roundtable. His most recent visits to Arkansas have been in response to what he called clinical innovations spawned from research at the UAMS Northwest campus in Fayetteville.

"There's definitely a vibe of activity going on up there," he said.

Rand noted that an event similar to the BioVentures roundtable doesn't exist in Nashville.

Many of the presenting companies are client firms of Innovate Arkansas, the public-private joint venture that nurtures high-tech startups in Arkansas. IA advisor Mike Smith said the roundtable represents a golden opportunity for these startups. Exposure leads to conversations which could lead to funding deals, he said.

"With no true venture-capital firms located in Arkansas, the UAMS roundtable has been an important networking event for venture firms from the region to get exposure to the best-emerging life-science and health-care companies in the state," he said.

Darrell Amy is president of Conway's Vastech, the exclusive North American distributor of Young at Heart cardiovascular screening technology. Its innovative CardioID kiosks are located throughout Conway.  

Before making his  pitch Friday morning, he called the BioVentures roundtable significant for companies like his.

"Stuff like this is huge in moving the state forward," he said. "We have such great resources here - a great standard of living and quality of life - but one thing we don't have is capital. This gives us an opportunity."

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