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Chicago-made medical gel wins Innovation Showcase pitch contest

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The Midwest’s latest business software, renewable-energy systems and pharmaceutical developments crammed the Innovation Showcase on Thursday in Indianapolis.

What most impressed judges was a skin gel.

Chicago-based Cearna Aesthetics Inc. took the top prize in the annual technology expo’s pitch competition. It received a prize package worth $128,000, including a $52,000 debt investment from Elevate Ventures, VisionTech Partners and HALO Investors Group.

The Innovation Showcase was created by Venture Club of Indiana in 2009, and entrepreneurship group Verge and investment firm VisionTech Partners have joined in as organizers.

Launched in 2013, Cearna produces OccuMend, a skin gel that prevents bruising after cosmetic injections. The company has sold 20,000 units to dermatologists and plastic surgeons, said founder Dr. Josephine Polich.

Polich, a chiropractor, came up with the idea because she always had to prescribe anti-bruising pills.

“I couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a topical [treatment] of the same potency,” she said. “Through a series of things I didn’t understand, which made me do things differently than everyone else, it allowed me to figure out a formula to make high-potency gels.”

The company, which has two full-time employees, had $84,000 in revenue in 2013, its first year in business. Of the 20,000 units sold, one has been returned, Polich said.

The $52,000 investment will primarily fund marketing as the company ramps up its sales. The remaining value of the prize was in business services the company will receive pro-bono.

Oscar Moralez, managing director of Indiana investment group VisionTech (formerly StepStone Partners) and one of the showcase’s investor-judges, credited Cearna with thinking through its business strategy. It has found an ideal product price, and understands the stringent regulatory process it faces and the risks that come with it.

“They spoke from a position of, ‘We’re the experts. We know what we’re doing. This is why we know it works,’” Moralez said.

Cearna was among about 70 companies at Thursday’s showcase at the Dallara Indycar Factory in Speedway, designed to give firms a platform to feature innovations and to connect with potential investors.

Close to 850 people attended the event, which first began in 2009, said John Wechsler, one of the event’s organizers.

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