A Rochester company that developed a device that reduces the size of eyedrops won the grand prize of the Minnesota Cup on Monday night, beating nearly 2,000 other companies that entered what has become the largest statewide competition for startups in Minnesota.
Led by a Mayo Clinic medical student, Nanodropper Inc. won the $50,000 grand prize, in addition to $25,000 for winning its division. Nanodropper won the student division, making it the first entry from that category to win the competition, now in its 17th year.
The MN Cup is a public-private partnership that is run though the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. Division winners in nine categories each received $25,000.
A panel of judges favored Nanodropper over finalists that included CoraVie Medical, a company whose blood pressure monitoring device was created to support millions suffering from hypertension, and Canomiks, a product validation company that uses genomics, bioinformatics and artificial intelligence to measure the bio efficacy of ingredients used in nutrition products.
Nanodropper has developed a device that reduces droplets by 60%, allowing for more accurate doses and saving people money.
CoraVie Medical won a special $25,000 prize from the Carlson Family Foundation, and like Canomiks, received an extra $10,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Telo, the runner-up in the student category, received over $35,000 in special prizes to fund its version of a rollator walker.
The number of entries for this year's competition — 1,987 — was a record high, Jessica Berg, MN Cup director, said.
"Whether it's challenging economic times or challenging social times, that often spurs innovation," Berg said, referring to record-high entries. "We had a lot of cool and innovative business ideas coming out of the number of challenges that we're facing in our community. That, combined with the fact that people maybe had a little more flexibility in their schedules and could be thinking about and imagining opportunities, that's my best guess."
Allisa Song, the chief executive of Nanodropper, led the creation of the company in 2017 while working as a researcher and lab manager at the University of Washington in Seattle. She was driven to create an eye droplet solution after reading an article that stated drug companies were purposefully making eye drops too big, which forced consumers to constantly restock and buy more of their products.
The company moved its headquarters from Seattle to Rochester following Song's enrollment at the Mayo Clinic medical school. The company officially launched its adapter, which is an FDA-listed, Class I medical device, in June 2020 and has more than 200 clinical partner locations across the country, including seven in Minnesota.
Song said the Nanodropper can save a person up to $2,500 in annual costs for eye medication prescriptions.
With the prize money, Nanodropper will increase marketing of its product, develop a smartphone app and online calendar interface that would help people remember when to apply their eye medication, Mackenzie Andrews, the company's chief commercialization officer, said. The money will also help add additional employees and fund a new version of the adaptor, she said.
For those less tech savvy, the calendar can be printed from Nanodropper's website and manually filled in, Andrews said.
"A lot of people just forget, especially these elderly folks that have three or four different drops they're taking," she said.