Ping Yeh, the leader of the disease-testing company that just won the Minnesota Cup, is a mechanical engineer who decided to shift to health products from electronics after a bout with cancer.
“We are just thankful to be part of this entrepreneurial community,” Yeh said Friday, a day after his firm, Stemonix, took the grand prize in the state’s biggest business competition.
The company is improving production, growth and manufacture of human heart and brain cells for drug toxicity and efficacy testing. It already is selling the results to several unspecified pharmaceutical companies, Yeh said.
The graduate of the University of California, San Diego said he started Stemonix in 2014, after recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma that was diagnosed in 2012. After receiving a “maximum-toxicity” treatment that cured his cancer, Yeh learned the only way to test for heart damage as a result of the treatment was after, not before the treatment. That prompted him to use his knowledge of nanotechnology to start Stemonix.
“We sell human ‘minibrains’ and human heart tissue, samples and human stem cells that are derived from skin or blood or teeth,” he said. “I want to help cure the toughest diseases of our society. Our technology, in addition to being helpful to drug companies, eventually will help physicians understand the disease and optimal treatments.”
Yeh, who earned an MBA from the University of Minnesota, leads a team of 18 employees and consultants at downtown Minneapolis-based Stemonix. He said the company previously has raised about $5 million in equity, mostly from individual “angel” investors in Minnesota, North Dakota and San Diego. He declined to name drug-company customers or discuss financial projections of fledgling Stemonix.
In August, Stemonix and seven other division winners won $30,000 apiece in seed capital, as the monthslong Minnesota Cup competition progressed to Thursday night’s presentation by the eight finalists.
“Over the past 12 years more than 11,000 aspiring entrepreneurs … have participated in this competition, and gone on to raise more than $225 million to foster innovation and job creation in Minnesota,” said Melissa Kjolsing, executive director of Minnesota Cup. The finalists were:
• Activated Research Co., in energy/clean tech/water category;
• SelfEco Garden in food/ag/beverage;
• Berd Spokes in general
• Vugo in high-tech;
• Stemonix in life science/health IT;
• Asiya in social entrepreneurship;
• Minnealloy Magnetics in student;
• ExpressionMed in youth.
In addition to the grand prize, the Carlson Family Foundation awarded $25,000 to Asiya, the top female-led business.
Meda, the economic-development counselor that nurtures minority-owned businesses, also gave $10,000 to Asiya, as the minority entrepreneur with the most innovative business concept.
A record 1,500 entrepreneurs participated in the Minnesota Cup competition, which this year introduced a youth division for budding entrepreneurs 18 and younger.
A record 38 percent of entries were from female-led teams. More information: mncup.org.