Abilitech Medical, a company nurtured for three years by MN Cup volunteer mentors and a founder who long has sought to develop a wearable device that empowers a person with a condition that restricts arm movement, is the winner of the 2019 MN Cup.
Led by founder and CEO Angie Conley, St. Paul-based Abilitech, was awarded the $50,000 grand prize Monday night, in addition to $30,000 for winning the LifeScience/Health IT division and a $25,000 prize for top female-led team awarded by the Carlson Family Foundation.
Resonant Cavity, makers of the Voloco app and winner of the high tech division, won second place and $25,000.
"When I entered the MN Cup in 2016, it was to explore how to build and fund a company that would provide a solution to nearly a million patients in the U.S. who live with neuromuscular weakness or injury in their arms," said Conley, 52, a former Medtronic product manager and consultant. She also ran a nonprofit, "Magic Arms," which worked on such early-stage devices for children.
"In a few short months under the MN Cup umbrella, I built a business plan, a pitch and video that enabled me to raise $2.3 million to fund and start our company" Conley said. "The past three years, we have been nurtured by wonderful mentors that have supported our growth."
Conley, who has a staff of four and about 20 contractors from engineering to marketing, said in an interview Tuesday that Abilitech will start a 75-patient study early next year at Gillette Children's Healthcare and the University of Minnesota hospital.
"We're bringing a solution to market," Conley said. "We shrunk the size and weight of the prototype, and improved the human factors."
The idea is to provide assistance to patients, most of whom are in a wheelchair with conditions such as muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis, so that they can eat, drink and perform other basic self-care tasks, and even perform work at a computer or otherwise. That also lessens duties of family members, or reduces the need and cost of daily personal care attendants.
The growing demand for personal-care attendants outstrips supply. And caring for the disabled in homes or nursing facilities accounts for about 40% of government-funded Medicaid spending on low-income people, Conley said.
Abilitech plans to fund operations into its first year of sales through $10 million it has raised, mostly from venture-capital firms.
This year's MN Cup division winners include:
Education & training — Homi; Energy/clean tech — NovoClade; Food/ag — Sanos Nutrition; General — Voyager Campervans; High tech — Resonant Cavity (Voloco); Impact ventures — We Sparkle; LifeScience/Health IT — Abilitech; Student — ParkPoolr; Youth — See Your Dream.
Since the competition's founding in 2005, finalists have raised more than $500 million in capital to support their work and employment.
MN Cup, part of Twin Cities Startup Week, has been aided by 350-plus volunteers and more than 75 business partners and sponsors.
"The purpose of our competition is to connect early-stage businesses with the education, mentorship and connections to improve their concepts and increase their chances for success," said Jessica Berg, director of MN Cup.
Lead sponsors of the 2019 MN Cup competition include the Cleveland Family Endowment, the Bush Foundation, ECMC Group, the Carlson Family Foundation, Wells Fargo, the University of Minnesota, General Mills, 3M, Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest, UnitedHealthGroup, and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
MN Cup is a free resource for Minnesota entrepreneurs who are supported through events, educational programming and MN Cup.
It was founded by entrepreneurs Scott Litman and Dan Mallin and organized by the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the Carlson School of Management.
More information: www.mncup.org.