Medical technology

Abilitech gets funding boost for new device

Abilitech Medical, which won the grand prize in this year’s Minnesota Cup emerging entrepreneurs competition, has closed on a $7.4 million round of investor capital. It tops the $3.2 million in equity and debt the company received in separate placements since January 2017.

Chief Executive Angie Conley said the money will be used to obtain FDA clearance of its flagship product, support a clinical study of muscular dystrophy patients at the University of Minnesota and Gillette Children’s Hospital and fund commercialization.

Abilitech and founder Conley, who long has sought to develop a wearable device for those with restricted arm movement, earned $70,000 as the top prize winner and winner of the LifeScience/Health IT division of MN Cup.

The device would aid users, 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, in turn, empowers the wearer and lessens duties of family members, or reduces the need and cost of daily personal care attendants.

“We’re working with world-class institutions to provide an accessible device for everyone,” Conley said Tuesday. “In the first 12 months of commercialization we plan to sell into five different geographic areas and help as many people with upper arm weakness as we can.”

The “Abilitech Assist” fits onto the arm and requires only a small percentage of its power to be provided by the user to enable greater range of motion.

“We are excited to support Abilitech, given that it is the ‘winningest’ startup in Minnesota right now,” said CEO Cathy Connett of the Twin Cities-based Sofia Fund, which invests exclusively in companies led by women. “The company won the grand prize in the Minnesota Cup. Three weeks later, it took home the Minnesota High Tech Association’s Tekne award for med-tech.

“We’ve watched Abilitech … and witnessed its team cross a threshold in product development and efficacy that will make the Assist device a reality in the new year.”

In addition to the Sofia Fund, the equity capital was contributed by Bios Partners, DEFTA Partners, EFO Holdings and other investors.

“We have shrunk the size and weight of the prototype, and improved the human factors,” Conley said this fall.

Neal St. Anthony

medical marijuana

New state rules a boon for Vireo Health

Last week’s news that Minnesota’s health commissioner has authorized expansion of medical marijuana in the state to chronic pain and some eye conditions, can’t hurt Vireo Health, the multistate cannabis grower, processor, retailer and owner of Minnesota Medical Solutions.

In late November, publicly traded Vireo said it lost $13.7 million on revenue of $19.9 million during the first nine months of 2019. Most marijuana companies, including Vireo, have seen their valuations cut by up to two-thirds this year, as investors get over their initial giddiness and operators incur high startup and expansion costs.

Dr. Kyle Kingsley, a former emergency room physician, founded Vireo several years ago as an alternative to addictive opioids and other substances used by patients to combat pain. He said the company is slowing the pace of development and will finish this year with 13 dispensaries instead of 16 to 20, as originally envisioned.

“While we remain confident that our focus on the best of medicine, science and engineering to the cannabis industry will create compelling long-term value for all our stakeholders … we believe Vireo is in a unique position to emerge as a sector leader given the relative strength of our balance sheet. With virtually no debt, we control our destiny and our lean operations and disciplined approach to capital allocation provide us a clear path to profitability,” he said.

Neal St. Anthony


Basham will take top YWCA post in January

Michelle Basham, a veteran nonprofit executive, will take over as CEO of YWCA Minneapolis in January.

At age 19 in 1993, Basham founded Avenues for Homeless Youth, the first shelter of its kind in Minneapolis. Basham, who holds graduate degrees in law, business and public administration, comes to the YWCA from the Bridge for Youth, where she has served as executive director since 2016. Before that, she was CEO of YWCA Delaware and held management positions at Commonbond Communities, the affordable housing provider, and the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

“Throughout her career, Michelle has demonstrated a commitment to YWCA Minneapolis’ mission of eliminating racism and empowering women said Kate Berman, board chairwoman of YWCA Minneapolis.

Basham succeeds former CEO Luz María Frías.

Neal St. Anthony