MicroOptx has received regulatory approval to begin its first U.S. human eye test with its breakthrough Brown Glaucoma Implant, which has stopped vision loss in animals.
The Maple Grove company on Monday night was named the grand-prize winner of this year’s Minnesota Cup awards after winning the life science/health IT division.
The prize culminates several months of competition among several hundred entrants in the growing statewide entrepreneurial contest. Second place went to Autonomous Tractor Corp., a company that wants to convert tractors to electric engines.
The awards are a keystone event of Twin Cities Startup Week, a 150-event celebration of fledgling businesses, innovators, makers, artists and hackers.
MicroOptx’s implant is named after its inventor, Dr. J. David Brown, former chief of ophthalmology at the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs and an experienced glaucoma surgeon. The implant can halt the progression of glaucoma, a disease of the optic nerve and the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness. The implant worked on animals by reducing pressure on the optic nerve and redirecting fluid to the eye surface.
CEO Chris Pulling said in an interview before the company won the Cup that MicroOptx has raised about $7.5 million since its inception in 2015 and within several weeks will begin its human trials in the U.S. and Germany. He hopes the product will be commercially available by 2020 or 2021.
Pulling founded the company with Brown, Roy Martin and finance partner Keith Bares.
The company won $30,000 as the life science/health IT division winner in August. As the grand-prize winner, MicroOptx claimed an additional $50,000 in seed capital and a number of professional services and other benefits to help build its business.
The second-place finisher was Autonomous Tractor Corp. of St. Michael, was winner in the food and agriculture division.
The company started by veteran entrepreneur Terry Anderson seeks to be the “Tesla for tractors” by converting diesel engine-powered tractors to electric vehicles that cost less to operate.
Each division winner (except the 18-and-under youth division) received $30,000 to invest in its business idea. Division runners-up receive $5,000.
In all, $450,000 plus free advisory services were awarded to the entrepreneurial contest’s finalists and others that qualified for special awards.
The six other MN Cup finalists in competition for the grand prize were: Sironix Renewables of Ramsey County in the energy-clean tech category; Z Flow Pro of Dakota County in female-led business; Starting 11 of Hennepin County in the high-tech division; UnderRecruited Preps of Blue Earth County in minority-led business; and Green Garden Bakery of Hennepin County in the youth-led category.
“As we wrap up our 13th year, we’re marveling at how many thousands of Minnesotan entrepreneurs have passed through our program and discovering new ways to extend the opportunities of entrepreneurship to fresh faces,” said Melissa Kjolsing Lynch, executive director of the MN Cup.
More than 13,000 Minnesotans have participated in MN Cup since it began in 2005.
MN Cup officials said finalists have gone on to raise more than $230 million in capital to support development of their businesses, add employees and strike business partnerships and distribution agreements.
The 80 teams that made it to the semifinalist stage spent the summer meeting with business mentors to perfect business plans and learn how to pitch their ideas to a larger audience. Some divisions offered semifinalists the opportunity to pitch to actual investors and startup accelerators.
The MN Cup competition is the biggest statewide entrepreneurial sweepstakes competition in the U.S., according to its organizers.
The existing event is one of several that joined forces with Startup Week, which is in its fourth year.
“We are a platform where businesses, nonprofits and passionate individuals host events and we help coordinate and funnel those events and coordinate the promotion,” said Nels Pederson, the week’s co-founder. “We took our events and put them all in the same week and turn it into a time where Minnesota can show up and celebrate innovation in a fun way.”
Pederson said Startup Week has grown from 15 events in the first year to 150 this year, showcasing about 500 different business and social entrepreneurs along the way.
Events are spread out across the metro area, giving attendees an opportunity to explore buildings, spaces and neighborhoods of the Twin Cities. The events range from a look at the Minnesota Cup finalists, to drone racing to exploring food as an economic tool for social justice.