Advancing Innovation. RTP Incubator Partners with Innovalyst

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First Flight Venture Center (FFVC), a technology incubator and Innovalyst, a life sciences consulting firm committed to catalyzing innovation, today announced an innovative partnership to provide strategic and technical support to life science entrepreneurs in Research Triangle Park. Innovalyst’s ICaN (Intellectual Capital Network) will provide fit for purpose teams of industrial experts to FFVC’s life science and medical device companies.

“This foundational partnership between FFVC and Innovalyst represents a powerful pledge on behalf of FFVC to the life science community in the Research Triangle Park. We are committed to expand our life science focus and have augmented our wet labs by more than 50 percent in the last 18 months.” Explained Dr. Andrew Schwab, President, First Flight Venture Center.

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Revisiting IBM’s Smarter Planet

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Two years ago, Craig Nygard presented IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative to the Park at the inaugural Innovation@rtp.  On March 9, 2011, in celebration of Innovation@rtp’s two-year anniversary, Dianne Fodell, IBM Program Director for Global University Programs, returned on behalf of IBM to provide an update on the Smart Planet initiative.

Amidst celebratory cupcakes and gifts of t-shirts to the attendees, Dianne provided a fascinating look at how IBM is working with governments and businesses around the world to make the planet “smarter.”  But what does that mean?  Well, for IBM, it means working with world systems, including both natural and engineered systems, to infuse “intelligence” into processes that make our world work.

Examples of this include:

  • Smart supply chains – helping companies ship smarter with innovative tracking systems which can help to reduce empty cargo holds, prevent food spoilage, and protect food quality;
  • Smart Energy – building intelligence into utilities to lower costs for customers and creating a smart grid that includes intelligent appliances to efficiently use power;
  • Smart Traffic – working with large cities to create solutions to traffic congestion, improve traffic flow, and thereby reducing vehicle emissions and improving vehicle (and human) efficiency;
  • Smart Water – using sensors in water systems to monitor marine and plant life, learn how humans use and treat water, and make inferences about trends in water quality, all in an effort to keep water clean.

One of the examples I found particularly fascinating included placing sensors in the shells of mussels in Galway Bay, Ireland.  Because mussels function as quick indicators of water quality, quickly closing themselves up in response to pollutants, determining when and where mussels are closing, can help water quality managers know when and where water quality problems may be arising.  Collecting and analyzing this data can help pinpoint pollutant sources and trends and lead to corrective action and a cleaner Galway Bay.

Bringing the Smarter Planet initiative to fruition is certainly a challenging effort.  There are ever changing skill requirements and needs for data; however the most important aspect of smarter systems is the actionable insights that data can reveal.  So along with data, a Smarter Planet relies on statistical analysis to feed these intelligent processes (so much so, that Dianne urged everyone to encourage their kids to major in math).

I think one of Dianne’s final points really summarized what Smarter Planet is about:  “Everything is becoming instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent.”  And with IBM and other like-minded companies calling RTP home, I certainly think we’ll begin to see these types of connections and interfaces improving the way we live right here in the Triangle.

For more information on the Smarter Planet initiative, visit www.ibm.com/smarterplanet.  For more information on the Innovation@rtp lecture series, visit www.innovationinrtp.com.

RTP firm Aerie Pharmaceuticals raises $30 million

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Ever cringe when you have your eye examined and the doctor puffs air at your eye? It makes my eye twitch just thinking about it. That puff of air tests for glaucoma symptoms. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of visual disability and blindness in the world. It wasn’t until my mom was diagnosed with glaucoma that I took notice.

Aerie Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Duke University spinoff developing a treatment for glaucoma, has raised $30 million in a series B round of venture-capital financing.  With R&D operations located in Alexandria Innovation Center, one of the The Research Triangle Park’s five incubators, Aerie Pharmaceuticals is a biotechnology company focused on the discovery and development of medical innovations in ophthalmology.

Clarus Ventures and Sofinnova Ventures co-led the round, with participation from Osage University Partners, and existing investors Alta Partners and TPG Biotech.

Aerie expects to use proceeds from this financing to fund continued development of Aerie’s broad product portfolio in glaucoma and advance the company’s lead product, AR-12286, a first-in-class selective Rho-kinase inhibitor, into Phase 3 trials by the end of 2011.

“We are excited about the potential for Aerie’s compounds to offer multiple, improved and differentiated treatment options for millions of patients suffering from this widespread, degenerative disease,” said Tom van Haarlem, MD, President and CEO of Aerie.

The company is also pursuing several other pipeline programs also aimed at glaucoma therapy.

“Despite the fact that glaucoma is a progressive disease, there has not been a drug with a new mechanism of action approved in the glaucoma field since the mid-nineties,” said Dr. Anand Mehra of Sofinnova. “Patients often need several drugs to control their disease, and physicians have limited options with these older mechanisms. We believe that AR-12286′s new MOA, strong efficacy, excellent tolerability, and once daily dosing can provide real value to patients at risk of losing their vision.”

RTP is proud to be home to incubators such as Alexandria Innovation Center that provide the wet lab space that allows R&D start-ups such as Aerie to thrive.  We are even more proud that Aerie Pharmaceuticals is a home grown company, spun out of Duke University, that RTP helped to nuture in order to commercialize its medical innovations.  What a great success story that proves that RTP truly is, “the future of great ideas.”

RTP featured on CNBC Squawk Box

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Rick Weddle featured on CNBC Squawkbox

What a great morning. Usually I’m running on a treadmill watching Carl Quintanilla on CNBC’s Squawk Box. But this morning, I joined our President and CEO, Rick Weddle at the studio for a live interview with Carl.

As part of this week’s Opportunity USA series, Rick was invited to speak to the current state of the NC economy, job growth and prospects, and how the RTP play a role in driving the region/state’s economic growth.

“I can’t think of too many people who have a better view about where innovation and R&D is headed in this country,” said Carl upon introducing Rick.

With RTP as the region’s connective tissue in bringing together world-class businesses, academia, public agencies and a skilled and diverse talent pool, Rick expanded on the following key areas to cultivate growth:

  • Pursue start-up activity to cultivate job growth. “”…driven by how fast we can fund and commercialize IP out of our universities & larger companies.”
  • Re-examine our assumptions on manufacturing and R&D as it relates to globalization. “…RTP and economic developers across the country are seeing a push to get R&D closer to production. Companies have been moving their major investments where the growth markets are and we must intervene in the process and hang on to the high-end manufacturing that we have, if we’re going to keep the R&D.”
  • Education is the most important thing for high-end economic development. “…we must also look at education from a workforce preparedness lens.”

Great interview Rick. And thanks CNBC for the opportunity to showcase RTP and the Research Triangle Region as a great place to do business.

View the segment with Rick Weddle on CNBC Squawkbox >>

Pre-incubating Ideas in RTP

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A new organization has been created in the Research Triangle Region to help entrepreneurs in the “ideation” phase of starting a company. RTP Idea Lab held their first session in an installment of periodic meetings at the RTP Headquarters this morning.

“Everyone has an idea about doing something big,” says chairman and co-founder Anthony Edwards. “We’ve created an opportunity for anyone to take their idea and work with experienced and successful entrepreneurs to get feedback and advice for how to take that idea and turn it into a reality.”

The RTP Idea Lab seeks to bring together creative, entrepreneurial individuals to share thoughts and ideas and to be a catalyst for start-up companies which create jobs that increase prosperity for RTP and the region.

The session at the RTP Headquarters this morning highlighted a keynote presentation by Bill Sarine, founder of EntreDot, which focuses on mentoring and coaching early-stage companies. Following Sarine’s program, attendees broke into four “brainstorming” groups where entrepreneurs presented their innovations to the groups, who in turn delivered feedback and fine-tuned aspects of their ideas. Through this process, Edwards says “ideas are refined to fit the constraints of reality, where challenges and limitations are identified.”

This morning’s session will be followed by another meeting on March 30 at the RTP Headquarters. The program will be open to creative, entrepreneurial minded individuals. Stay tuned to the RTP Idea Lab website for more details coming soon.

Fostering innovation in RTP

The Research Triangle Park (RTP) is a hub for technology-based companies, offering a thriving networking environment, proximity to research universities and a culture of creativity. Increasingly, the large companies anchoring RTP are looking to enter partnerships with smaller, innovative start-ups and to benefit from their intellectual property and discoveries.

Over the years, the Park’s incubator and accelerator facilities have been the start-up locations to over 250 companies, with more than 120 of these still flourishing as independent entities in the region. Entrepreneurship and innovation continue to expand in RTP where over 50% of our current companies employ less than 10 people.

Calling All Triangle Entrepreneurs!

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Do you have an idea that could turn into the next Facebook, Sham Wow or Snuggie? Do you want expert help shaping your idea and finding out how viable it might be? Come join us for our next RTP Idea Lab meeting on January 26th at 8:00 AM at RTP Headquarters at 12 Davis Drive. Space is limited to the first 100, so go online to register and submit ideas at www.rtpidealab.org to request participation.

During the event, you will have the opportunity to present your idea to a group of experienced and successful entrepreneurs and get feedback and advice that can help turn your idea into reality.



Our format is:

8:00-8:30 AM – Registration, Introductions, Breakfast
8:30-8:45 AM – Speaker
8:45 -10:00 AM – Public Brainstorming Session
10:00 -10:30 AM – Networking

Whether you have an idea to share, expertise to offer or are just curious, participation is encouraged so please RSVP at www.rtpidealab.org. We hope to see you on the 26th.

For more information contact us at info@rtpidealab.org.

Innovation@RTP: The East Coast Hub for Gaming

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Gaming is not just about playing games, but about applications being applied to everyday life.

Dan Amerson, VP of Engineering at Activate3D

Dan Amerson VP of Activate 3D spoke to the crowd at RTP’s December installment of the Innovation series Wednesday. Dan is Vice President of Engineering at Activate3D where he’s leading development on revolutionary technology for performance capture and animation synthesis. This technology, Intelligent Character Motion, allows users to interact with virtual worlds in previously unseen ways.

From Activate3D’s website:

Based on new research from one of Georgia Tech’s star professors, Activate3D’s Intelligent Character Motion (ICM) technology offers visionary game developers the tools they need to create truly remarkable motion control games.

Based on a patent-pending set of algorithms for translating player motion, ICM ascertains what a player is attempting to do in the virtual world and generates accurate real-time animation that retains the unique characteristics of the player’s movement.

Activate3D's Integrated Character Motion (ICM) cycle

A panel of experts also discussed topics ranging from the Big Picture of Gaming, the Art of Making a Game, Serious Gaming, and the Technology Behind Gaming.

Gaming is quickly becoming one of Research Triangle Park’s fastest growing industries, and we’re thrilled to have Amerson and co. join us!

For more information and details on upcoming programs:

http://www.innovationinrtp.com/

The Research Triangle: America’s Smartest City

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The Daily Beast has announced their annual “America’s Smartest Cities” ranking and the Research Triangle Region came out on top for the best talent concentration in the U.S., according to this year’s report.

“Raleigh-Durham has just about every intangible useful in attracting and developing a smart populace: It’s a university hub, including three of the nation’s elite schools (Duke, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University), and those schools led to one of the nation’s great technology incubators (Research Triangle)”.

This is a huge testament for the talent and knowledge assets across our region and proves that RTP companies have a step up recruiting and hiring the best and the brightest. Read more here.

We’re Freezing Your Assets Off Here

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Eric Hallman, PhD, and Doug Baker of Kryosphere, Inc. came to the RTP Headquarters Wednesday to give an overview of their company and its success at the June installment of the Innovation@rtp speaker series. Kryosphere is the only independent commercial biorepository in the Southeast. Hallman, the company’s CEO, and Baker, the company’s president, co-founded Kryosphere in 2007. Essentially, Kyrosphere stores important biomaterial samples for labs and research centers in a failsafe freezer factory to insure their preservation. It weathered its infancy during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and since then has grown into a shining example for the biomaterial management/organization (BMO) industry, passing the 2 million sample milestone last October.

A Chilling Lesson of Loss: “It was with the realization that in this area there are over ten thousand -80° storage freezers that contain biological samples. And hearing horror stories that almost every week someone was losing valuable research assets because of freezer failure, we realized there was a need for a place like a bank* that could store this stuff safely and maintain scientific assets,” Hallman said. Let’s do some quick math, here. With the amount of biosamples one freezer can hold — at an average of $10 per sample — the content value of the Triangle Region’s biofreezers alone is estimated at $4 billion. One power failure, short circuit, or human error could cost years of research and testing budget.

*The Kryosphere facility is often referred to as a ‘biobank’ – much like a data repository – but providing freezers instead of servers. The pair, however, was quick to point out that what they do is not to be confused with Hollywood cryogenic freezing ‘science’ in films like “The Shining” and “Austin Powers”.

Experiencing their formative first years during such a tumultuous economic backdrop, the founders of Kryosphere had an “educational sell” to convince consumers that this start-up wasn’t just another flash in the pan, Hallman said. Even after the market was beginning to show signs of recovery, people were reluctant to outsource what traditionally hadn’t been outsourced before. “We had to assure people we knew what we were doing,” Hallman said. The sell was slow, but it worked. Now their demand is rapidly exceeding their supply.

Baker and Hallman chose RTP because “it’s the crown jewel of biotech”. North Carolina is the third largest state in the country in terms of biotechnology-based development. Hallman and his partners have lived in the area for over 20 years, maintain good connections with the universities (for which they store many samples), and share a love for the community; in his spare time, Hallman plays jazz trumpet and is a founding member of the Triangle Jazz Orchestra and the Jazztones sextet.

In the future, Kryosphere is looking to expand their brand out of RTP. From the beginning, they have recognized that the BMO secret is in proximity to its clientele. They have identified several biotech hot spots around the Southeast with the goal of building the “mothership” facility in RTP, then opening up satellites all over the East Coast: Atlanta, Richmond, Winston-Salem and the Triad, Charleston, and many places in Florida. From there, they can pivot west and hit Birmingham, Knoxville, and Louisiana. And as if a national presence isn’t enough, Kryosphere is soon to announce partnerships in Europe and India.

“Instead of building one centralized facility and try to bring in samples from all over,” Hallman said. “we see ourselves as kind of the FedEx-Kinko’s of the biorepository business—we’re putting a biorepository around the corner from where the major research is.”

Both Hallman and Baker have backgrounds in entrepreneurship. Prior to Kryosphere, Baker was the president and Chief Operating Officer of HumanCentric Technologies, a product development and design services firm, where he led the company through strong growth and operations revitalization. He was also president at Constella Clinical Informatics and COO and Rho, Inc., both emerging growth contract research organizations. Hallman had founded SARCO, one of the first companies to commercialize combinatorial chemistry technology. He guided the company from launch to a $7.8 M acquisition in less than two years.

-Ross Maloney

Catch the entire innovation@rtp program on our YouTube channel.