Tech showcase crowns unlikely winner in pitch contest

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

App developers, social network creators and dot-com services crammed the interior of the Dallara IndyCar Factory on Thursday in Speedway.

But it was a drug developer—a capital-intensive business notorious for scaring off investors—that pulled the most interest from would-be financiers, even though its product is still in pre-clinic development.

Emphymab Biotech, with a treatment for emphysema developed by a group of Indiana University medical professors, received the top prize at the Innovation Showcase's pitch competition.

“I’m shocked because the event is pretty tech-heavy, and we’re a life-sciences, a drug company,” said Joe Trebley, business manager for the seed-stage firm.

The company won a suite of business services worth $60,000 as part of an investor-judged, 60-second pitch competition in which investors voted for the most promising venture out of 60 participating startup companies.

More significantly, Emphymab and other winners will have guaranteed meetings with investment firms, said John Wechsler, a board member for Venture Club, which co-hosted the expo with entrepreneurship organization Verge.

Trebley acknowledged that Emphymab, incorporated in late 2011, will need a lot of money to cover its steep R&D costs.

It will take $250,000 to $1 million in seed money just to finish the product, while other equally young businesses at Thursday’s showcase were looking for half as much, if not less.

“Yeah, the capital expenditures are huge, but there’s still big returns in drugs,” Trebley said.

The startup resulted from research by Dr. Irina Petrache, Dr. Matthias Clauss and Dr. Brian Johnstone. Emphymab says it uses antibodies to slow down or halt emphysema, rather than mask its symptoms, like current medications do.

The company projects a $12.6 billion market by 2017 for treating emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

It helps to win over investors by mentioning Emphymab has already pulled in $1.3 million in research grants, Trebley said.

“Our main competition is an oxygen tank,” he said.

Ryan Pfenninger, a venture partner for Elevate Ventures in Indianapolis, was not put off by pharmaceutical companies’ high development costs. He said he intended to set up a meeting with Emphymab.

Pfenninger also was intrigued by Revive Electronics LLC, which won in the startup subcategory of the pitch competition.

Joel Trusty and Reuben Zielinski developed a countertop device that repairs water-damaged electronics in minutes after Trusty’s wife sent her phone for a ride in a laundry machine.

Trusty improvised a way to use heat and vacuum suction to fix the phone, which led him and Zielinski to realize they had a lucrative prospect, considering the number of phones and other devices that break down from water infiltration. So they began tinkering and came up with the devices they presented Thursday.

They brought on Trusty’s cousin, Micah Trusty, to steer business development and find an investor or another partner to help scale up production of the devices. The company is looking for $2 million to ramp up manufacturing and penetrate a mobile-phone market that technology research firm Gartner estimated at 1.75 billion units in 2012.

“If even 1 percent of those break, 1 percent of a few billion is a big number,” Zielinski said. Revive's product also works on other devices like laptops and tablets, Zielinski said.

The Innovation Showcase grew this year to an estimated 700 attendees, which was enough to bump the event to the Dallara venue from its previous home of Developer Town, south of Broad Ripple.

In addition to the pitch contest, the Showcase included panel discussions and dozens of exhibitions. But the real draw was the opportunity to network with venture capitalists, angel investors, business executives and entrepreneurs.

About 50 of the visitors were investors, Wechsler said.

Pfenninger, of Elevate, which has close ties to the Indiana Economic Development Corp., said the investment prospects appear to be improving since he  started attending the expo in 2011.

“The first year I came to this, I found one company. The next year, maybe two or three,” he said. “This year, I found seven.”


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. I never thought I'd see the day when a Republican Mayor would lead the charge in attempting to raise every tax we have to pay. Now it's income taxes and property taxes that Ballard wants to increase. And to pay for a pre-K program? Many studies have shown that pre-K offer no long-term educational benefits whatsoever. And Ballard is pitching it as a way of fighting crime? Who is he kidding? It's about government provided day care. It's a shame that we elected a Republican who has turned out to be a huge big spending, big taxing, big borrowing liberal Democrat.

  2. Why do we blame the unions? They did not create the 11 different school districts that are the root of the problem.

  3. I was just watching an AOW race from cleveland in 1997...in addition to the 65K for the race, there were more people in boats watching that race from the lake than were IndyCar fans watching the 2014 IndyCar season finale in the Fontana grandstands. Just sayin...That's some resurgence modern IndyCar has going. Almost profitable, nobody in the grandstands and TV ratings dropping 61% at some tracks in the series. Business model..."CRAZY" as said by a NASCAR track general manager. Yup, this thing is purring like a cat! Sponsors...send them your cash, pronto!!! LOL, not a chance.

  4. I'm sure Indiana is paradise for the wealthy and affluent, but what about the rest of us? Over the last 40 years, conservatives and the business elite have run this country (and state)into the ground. The pendulum will swing back as more moderate voters get tired of Reaganomics and regressive social policies. Add to that the wave of minority voters coming up in the next 10 to 15 years and things will get better. unfortunately we have to suffer through 10 more years of gerrymandered districts and dispropionate representation.

  5. Funny thing....rich people telling poor people how bad the other rich people are wanting to cut benefits/school etc and that they should vote for those rich people that just did it. Just saying..............