The Silicon North Stars, started in 2014 by a Google executive who hails from Minnesota, send 16 Twin Cities eighth- and ninth-graders to Silicon Valley for a week to visit tech companies, work on a few projects and dream and scheme with mentors.

“We’ve expanded,” said Steve Grove of Google, a Northfield native. Grove, along with his wife, Mary, also a Google manager, raise the $75,000 annually from their own pocket and other supporters, including a $6,000 grass-roots fundraiser in late June at COCO, which is their collaborative workspace.

“We’re now running quarterly ‘Minnesota Meetups’ to engage our students with the Minnesota tech community … and through field trips to tech companies and start-ups. We’ve moved beyond just the [California] summer camp.”

Shalom Weatherspoon of Northeast Middle School and Jordan Dotson of Mississippi Academy attended the recent fundraiser and are excited about the Silicon Valley visit and exploring careers in technology?

COCO, Generation Next, and a number of local businesses support this worthy effort. The North Stars focus on traditionally underrepresented minority kids and girls who have an aptitude for technology fields.

ISurTec is latest company to outgrow UEL nest in St. Paul

Founder Patrick Guire, a scientist and industry veteran, heads a long-incubating company called ISurTec, which is about to become the latest to grow out of its space at 10-year-old University Enterprise Laboratories (UEL) in St. Paul. UEL is a 125,000-square-foot former distribution center that functions as a nest for early-stage life science companies.

ISurTec, around for about a decade, has grown to 14 employees and revenue of $1.4 million last year.

Guire, 79, was the founder in 1997 of the former Bio-Metric Systems, which evolved into publicly held SurModics. It modifies implantable medical devices with surface coatings that release drugs and improve their lubricity.

Guire and his team, including two sons who are scientists, have developed a line of sophisticated coatings that can be used in fabric design, in cell cultures, medical devices and electronics.

Guire, who has been distributing stock to the employees, plans to step away soon and hopes to see a profitable, employee-owned company of 25 or 30 that will generate new companies through future commercialization of promising technologies.

“That’s the goal,” said Guire, who left SurModics in 2004 to begin work on the new company. “We have highly qualified scientists who enjoy their work. I want to see them recognized and rewarded for their important work. They’ve not seen much but moderate salaries so far.

“Part of the plan is to prevent ownership to fall into a Wall Street-type mentality, through going public or [institutional ownership]. I saw that at SurModics, and I want to avoid that again.”

ISurTec’s leading product is ISurGlide, a coating for catheters and guide wires. It also produces a base, or “primer,” coat that allows chemical bonding to silicon rubber and high-density polyethylene, used with orthopedics.

“We have some new technologies for which there is a significant demand,” Guire said. “Our value is our ability to put durable, long-lasting surface modifications or other chemicals that have the desired properties for a medical device, and they are blood compatible.”

ISurTec’s decision to move out of UEL, which is at capacity, will make it the ninth company to “graduate” to larger quarters. Guire estimates that his new facilities, which will substantially expand manufacturing capabilities, will enable a fivefold increase in sales.

A key ISurTec customer is Harland Medical Systems. It provides advanced surface enhancement products, services and systems to medical-product manufacturers. Eden Prairie-based Harland Medical is another UEL graduate.


Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at