Inventia Life Science cements its US presence by opening its first US office and facility at The Innovation Space™ in Wilmington, Delaware

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 18, 2022

Inventia Life Science cements its US presence by opening its first US office and facility at The Innovation Space™ in Wilmington, Delaware

(Wilmington, DE) – Inventia Life Science, an Australian based biotechnology company, is pleased to announce the launch of its first US office and facility at The Innovation Space™, located at the Experimental Station in Wilmington, Delaware. The Innovation Space™ will service Inventia with premium, supported lab and office space with unparalleled access to business building services and growth partners.

Inventia specializes in building systems capable of creating realistic 3D human tissues for drug and therapy research applications. The 3D cell culture platform, RASTRUM™ has many diverse biomedical applications. For example, it can be of enormous benefit to the pharmaceutical industry, by allowing new drugs to be tested in a 3D cellular environment and eliminated if necessary, long before they reach the stage of clinical trials.

One of the biggest challenges in drug discovery is that over 90% of drugs that look good in the lab fail in humans. By reducing the risk of drugs failing once they enter human clinical trials, pharmaceutical companies can save hundreds of millions of dollars to the total cost of bringing a successful drug to market. Similarly, researchers can now work at scale with cell models that mimic the human body almost exactly and produce research results that are more accurate and predictive than before.

Headquartered in Sydney, Australia, the new space will enable Inventia to closely support its customers based in North America as well as attract a highly skilled workforce. Inventia hired its first US employee, Dr. Dwayne Dexter as Director of Sales and Operations in the US, last year ahead of its USD $25million Series B fundraise. The funds have subsequently facilitated the launch of RASTRUM™ to the U.S. market.

Dr. Dwayne Dexter, Director of US Sales and Operations commented, “Inventia’s unique 3D cell culture technology is the most advanced and precise 3D bioprinting of its kind in the world. Subsequently, we have seen a strong international demand from leading research institutes and top 10 global pharmaceutical companies for RASTRUM™ – four of which use RASTRUM™ for their drug discovery programs.”

“We were initially attracted to The Innovation Space™ because Delaware has a strong reputation for attracting engineers, chemists and other talented workers due to the DuPont Company and nearby world-leading universities. Furthermore, the State of Delaware and the Mid-Atlantic region has a rich life sciences ecosystem including many of the world’s largest life science companies.”

“The Innovation Space™ welcomes Inventia as a new growth client and we are already working collectively with the Inventia team to rapidly accelerate their global growth,” said William Provine, Ph.D, CEO of The Innovation Space™.  “The Innovation Space™ is fully equipped with the facilities, expertise and networks to bolster the international capabilities of Inventia in order to enable them to build the value of their company and exceed customer expectations.”

About Inventia Life Science

At Inventia, we’re creating some of the most powerful tools for advanced biomedical discovery today. We build printers and formulate bioinks that together allow human cells to be printed in three-dimensional structures and help forward-thinking pioneers in the fields of cancer research, drug discovery and medicine to create human tissue for research and therapy purposes. Our RASTRUM™ platform creates 3D cell cultures which imitate real human tissue in terms of its structure and behaviour across a range of disease states. The physiological complexity of these cell cultures provides an environment in which world-class research and discovery can occur, right in the researcher’s own lab. Inventia Life Science Pty Ltd was the vision of Dr. Julio Ribeiro and founded by him with Dr. Aidan O’Mahony, Dr. Cameron Ferris and Peter Arthur in 2013 and is headquartered in Sydney, Australia.

About The Innovation Space (www.innovationspace.org):

The Innovation Space ™ is a not-for-profit innovation ecosystem and is a virtual and physical home for leading science entrepreneurs.  The Innovation Space™ works to “transform science and technology startups into industry leading companies.” Located on the historic Experimental Station campus in Wilmington, Delaware, The Innovation Space™ is comprised of 130,000 ft2 of state of the art lab and office space with access to cutting edge equipment alongside a suite of entrepreneurship programs and opportunities supporting startup growth. Register for more information and updates to learn more about all The Innovation Space™ programs and funding opportunities. 

Inventia Media contact

Elle Kress
media@inventia.life
+61 490 472 947

Innovation Space media contact

Meredith Montalto
meredith@ceislermedia.com
610-322-1703

Innovation Space Welcomes New Start-Ups to Science & Tech Accelerator Program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 19, 2022

Innovation Space Welcomes New Start-Ups to Science & Tech Accelerator Program

Science Inc.™ fall cohort includes companies specializing in cell & gene therapy, medical technology and clean energy 

(Wilmington, DE) – The Innovation Space ™ has accepted 10 companies for the Fall 2022 Science Inc. Accelerator Program, a virtual, cohort-based accelerator for early-stage startups in the sciences.  With the support of expert coaches (Entrepreneurs-in-Residence), Science Inc. ™ participants will work toward major milestones in order to ramp up their businesses quickly and successfully.

The four-month program includes weekly business curriculum and meetings, as well as coaching and training. Eligible startups also have an opportunity to apply for up to an additional $200k in support through the First Fund™ investment program.

Science Inc.™ gives companies access to industry and investment experts who can advise them on decision-making in the critical early stages of their development. Through those connections with experts and their cohort, participants cultivate a network of potential funders and collaborators.  

“We are thrilled to welcome our current cohort of Science Inc.™ participants, eager to support their developing business, and excited to see what they manifest as a result of this accelerant,” said Innovation Space ™ founder and CEO Bill Provine. “For companies in the startup phase, the expertise and experience of our network of advisors can make a tremendous difference in how quickly they are ready to launch and how successful they are at bringing their ideas and inventions to market.”

Companies participating in the fall 2022 cohort include the following:

  • Ally Power Inc. is a hydrogen and electric gas station company with zero-emission and carbon-negative solutions for both infrastructure and vehicles.
  • ARDAN Pharma is developing a first-in-class immunotherapy that aims to address the problem of therapeutic resistance in cancer patients by using a small molecule that enhances anti-tumoral responses while targeting the malignant cell.
  • Atlas FermenTech is a specialty ingredients company developing sustainable technologies to produce products by fermentation. 
  • Flow Medical is setting the new standard of care for interventional pulmonary embolism treatment and improving patient safety by enabling personalized, precision medicine with its data-driven catheter. 
  • NKILT Therapeutics is a new cell therapy biotech developing a novel approach of engineering Natural Killer (NK) cells with their unique Chimeric ILT-Receptor (CIR) binding technology to directly target leukemias and solid tumors.
  • Neuronity is developing first-in-class gene therapy to cure Parkinson’s disease and protect against age-related neurological disorders by restoring healthy immune responses.
  • Novaurum Bioscience has developed AuPEC (Augmented Protection and Enhancement Coatings), a novel coating technology of a nanocomposite of cells and noble metal nanoparticles. This technology seeks to address the growing problem of hospital-acquired infections, specifically around implantable devices.
  • OncoXome is an oncology therapeutic startup focused on inducing cancer cell death and preventing cancer resistance in advanced lung, colorectal and pancreatic cancer cases — the biggest challenge  facing  oncology today.
  • Quantum Copper is innovating solutions to prevent the incidence of fire in lithium batteries by limiting thermal runaway inside the cell using patented fire-retardant polymer solutions. 
  • Score Pharma leverages the power of small molecule pharmacology to develop improved potency versions of existing therapeutic monoclonal antibodies through its operationally simple CoreX™ technology platform. 

To date and including the current cohort, Science Inc.™ has enrolled 37 startup participants from 12 states and four countries, including the U.S. 

“Participation in Science Inc.™ has opened doors for my company and taken us from an idea to a working prototype,” said program alumnus Dr. Jalaal Hayes, Founder, Elyte Energy. “The authenticity of the business lessons and hands-on mentorship have helped me acquire at least 20% of our seed funding goal so far.”

The Science Inc.™ Accelerator program accepts companies twice per year, in the fall and spring. The selective program receives applications from across the United States and beyond, with special consideration given to startups who are located or interested in locating within the Mid-Atlantic region. 

Eligible industries include: Aerospace, Agriculture, Biotechnology, Chemicals and Chemical Products, Diagnostics, Clean Technology , Electronics/Instrumentation, Food and Beverage, Healthcare Services, Industrial/Energy, Marine, Medical Devices and Equipment, Nanotechnology, Oil and Gas, Renewables/Renewable Energy, Semiconductors, Telecommunications, Therapeutics, and Transportation. 

Science Inc.™ is among a suite of Innovation Space programs funded by a $1.5 million U.S. Department of Commerce grant,which is designed to build regional economies by supporting the growth of technology-oriented startups.

About The Innovation Space:

The Innovation Space ™ is a nonprofit incubator for hard science ventures, launched through a partnership between the State of Delaware, DuPont, and the University of Delaware. The organization works to “transform science and technology start-ups into industry leading companies.” Located on the historic DuPont Experimental Station Campus, the 130,000 square foot innovation ecosystem offers state of the art lab and office space with access to cutting edge equipment alongside a suite of entrepreneurship programs and opportunities supporting startup growth. Register for more information and updates about all Innovation Space™ programs and funding opportunities. 

###

Contact: Meredith Montalto  

610-322-1703  

meredith@ceislermedia.com 

The Innovation Space™ Expands Lab and Office Space Available to Startups

The Innovation Space™, an ecosystem with funding, resources, and programs tailored to accelerate and scale science-based startups, announced today that 50,000 ft2 of Class A laboratory and office space will be available in April 2022. This space, located in The Innovation Space’s Wilmington, Delaware headquarter building is comprised of 33 laboratories, 76 offices, and a network of shared conference rooms, collaboration spaces and amenities. Residential clients also gain access to the Experimental Station, a secure, 24/7 supported, innovation campus with a cafeteria, fitness center, exercise classes, and critical infrastructure support resources.

“Whether you are just starting out your journey as a science entrepreneur or are have recently raised a multi-million-dollar round of investment, you will find supportive programs and capabilities across The Innovation Space that will enable you to move your startup forward more aggressively”Tweet this

The lab and office footprint aims to enable biotechnology, chemistry, and material science startups as they grow and attain key milestones for expanded facilities. The space available in April 2022 is currently occupied by a large biotechnology client and supports both the advancement of their research and development of their business. Upon this client’s graduation from The Innovation Space in early 2022, the space will be made available to the next generation of startups and scaling companies.

“We are very pleased to be able to intensify our commitment to the growth of science-based startup companies and drive economic growth,” said Bill Provine, CEO of The Innovation Space. “This space would be a perfect fit for biotech or chemistry-based companies and can support multiple smaller growth companies or be a great home for a rapidly scaling larger company.”

“The Innovation Space has been a critical partner for Prelude Therapeutics in support of our rapid growth,” said Kris Vaddi, CEO of Prelude Therapeutics. “We continue to gain value from their entrepreneur-first business focus and flexible engagement strategies which have provided us with the framework to expand our company with them from 5 employees in 2017 to over 100 employees today,” said Vaddi.

“Whether you are just starting out your journey as a science entrepreneur or are have recently raised a multi-million-dollar round of investment, you will find supportive programs and capabilities across The Innovation Space that will enable you to move your startup forward more aggressively,” said Provine. “We are an entrepreneur-first organization and have both physical assets such as leveraged scientific equipment and world-class laboratory capabilities in addition to our supportive suite of business building programs. These programs include our First Fund™ where we provide investment, our Science INC™ cohort-based accelerator where we work intensely over a four month program with early startups on their business models and connect them with partners and investors, and our Spark Factory™ mentoring program where we provide access to and advice from seasoned functional experts and business leaders.”

About The Innovation Space™:

The Innovation Space is a multi-dimensional, non-profit entrepreneurial support organization and an ecosystem where entrepreneurs, scientists, business leaders, community members, investors, and service providers in the advanced materials, industrial and agriculture biotechnology, chemical ingredients, renewable energy, nutrition, therapeutics, diagnostics, and healthcare fields can build business concepts together and accelerate the path to commercialization of each startup. The Innovation Space was formed from a public-private partnership between the State of Delaware, DuPont, and the University of Delaware. The Innovation Space™ is also known as Delaware Innovation Space™ and the Home for Science Entrepreneurs™.

Learn more: innovationspace.orghttps://bit.ly/TheInnovationSpace; and www.firstfund.org.

Meet the Startups Accepted into Science Inc.’s Second Cohort

Delaware Innovation Space first launched Science, Inc. in February 2021 with a cohort of 10 companies, including Elyte EnergyLectrolyst and Carbon Reform. A newly announced second cohort will include nine up-and-coming startups in industries including green tech, medtech, robotics and space technology.

The startups will get four months of weekly programming, mentoring and coaching. Science Inc. also offers a $50,000 investment option, distributed as a convertible note, from the Innovation Space and its First Fund.

“Each [is] focused on a high-impact target market and enabled by powerful science,” said Bill Provine, CEO of the Innovation Space, in a statement. “These companies have the potential for exponential growth and significant impact on everyday life. Our role at The Innovation Space and the goal of our Science Inc. program is to unlock and unleash this potential.

Here are the nine startups, with bios provided by the Innovation Space:

  • 4th Phase Water Technologies, led by Chunhong LiChuck Holder and Cathy Woyarowski, develops ultralightweight, durable, polymer-free, and highly conductive CNT sheets for various applications under challenging conditions.
  • Ballydel Technologies, led by Brendan DeLacy, focuses on developing novel materials and technologies to provide solutions for a variety of applications in the defense, energy, pharma, and consumer goods sectors.
  • Hx Innovations, Inc., led by Nicole and Von Homer, is developing a predictive movement analytics device to test neuromuscular performance within footwear.
  • Integrated Infrastructure, led by Bob McGurk, is developing robotic mining, construction, and processing equipment for space and terrestrial applications.
  • InveriTek, led by Eva-Maria Collins, provides rapid chemical screening in freshwater planarians.
  • MindTech, led by Tulio Albuquerque, José Jeová Siebra Moreira Neto and Augusto Darwin Lima, is developing the world’s first painless anesthesia device.
  • NEVAP, led by Benjamin Wang, is a medical device company that develops medical devices that improve outcomes for patients on mechanical ventilation.
  • Resonant Orbital, led by Laurel Anne RybackAustin SennotCharles SharpMaurice Aguiler and Gerald Giarmo, is developing flexible and cost-effective vehicles that drive uniquely capable launch and interplanetary transport systems.
  • Sironix Renewables, led by Christoph Krumm and Sabrina Conrad, is developing safer, eco-friendly ingredients for cleaning and personal care products.

Will Cruz, entrepreneur-in-residence at The Innovation Space, said the program is unique in that it places emphasis on the founder and not just the investment.

“This is accomplished by meeting the founder where they are at today, and allowing them the ability to leverage the expertise, experience, and wisdom of an Entrepreneur-in-Residence,” he said, referencing his role as founder mentor. “This framework delivers the value needed to accelerate the process of allowing founders to take their startups to the next level of growth.”

The fall cohort’s Demo Day is expected to be held in December.

Wilmington startup Lectrolyst transforms carbon dioxide into brand new resources

For a very long time, humans created high levels of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels for energy, without realizing the future environmental impacts.

Well, now we know, and other forms of non-fossil-fuel forms of energy production, from wind to solar to hydrogen, are increasingly being used.

Still, we’re a long way from a world where we don’t contribute to high levels of environmental carbon dioxide —  so what if we could take that carbon dioxide and convert it into something useful instead of letting it go out in the atmosphere?

It’s a viable technology, and Wilmington-based startup Lectrolyst is aiming to convert emission into everything, potentially, from ingredients in medicine to fuel.

The company was founded by Dr. Greg Hutchings and Dr. Feng Jiao in 2018. Hutchings originally planned to follow an academic career after graduating with a Ph.D. from the University of Delaware, where he first worked with Jiao, but a conversation with his former colleague changed that trajectory.

“I went to work at Yale University, doing post-doctoral work, still wanting to work on these grand challenges we have in our society, but on the academic track,” he told Technical.ly. “And then one day I was talking with Feng about a couple of things that he had been working on more recently and both of us saw a real clear business opportunity for what we eventually transformed into Lectrolyst.”

So Hutchings returned to Delaware, taking advantage of a postdoctoral fellowship program at UD’s Horn Entrepreneurship.

What the company does is “transform carbon emissions that no one wants into chemicals and fuels that we all need,” he said. Here’s the technical explainer:

“We focus in on an area in the fine chemical space where we can take advantage of some unique capabilities of our system, ” he said, which is “a tandem electro-chemical reactor where we do a two-step process of transforming carbon dioxide. That second step is very key for us because that’s where a lot of our idea lies. It’s also where we’re able to make not just those really high compounds like fuel, but things for the fine chemistry industry, like ingredients for pharmaceuticals and all sorts of different end products.”

Why focus on converting carbon dioxide rather than on eliminating the manmade production of it? Hutchings says some amount of CO2 production is inevitable, so his company is taking a different approach.

“There’s a lot of talk about ‘we should just stop using fossil fuels and start using wind energy and everything else,’” he said. “There are certain sectors like the chemical industry that, just the nature of what you’re producing, there is no way to avoid generating carbon dioxide at some point. And we know that we shouldn’t just emit that into the atmosphere, so an option for us is to capture it right at the point source and do something with it. I really focus on carbon utilization, turning it into another resource. Give it a new life.”

Since the Lectrolyst technology is electrically driven, he said, it links in with all of those modern electrical generation sources like wind and solar.

The company is currently working on further research and prototyping, supported by funding from the Department of Energy.

“One of the nice parts is that we already had a prototype when we founded the company,” Hutchings said. “It was something that was developed as part of research at the University of Delaware. But it was small — a little tiny one centimeter square thing that just demonstrated it can work. We took that data, formed the company, licensed the IP from the university and did further prototyping. Ultimately, as we talk to customers, what they really want to see, especially the larger chemical manufacturers, is demonstrated capability showing that we know exactly what the device is going to do and that it can scale easily.”

Another source of support has been the Delaware Innovation Space, where the startup was a participant in the most recent Science Inc. cohort.

“It was very helpful getting that mentorship and also to be around other founders,” Hutchings said. “It’s very easy to get lost in your own work.”

Looking forward, Hutchings said that they plan to take in customers in the fine chemical industry in the next couple of years while he and Jiao expand their team.

“Within that timeframe, we’re looking to continue to grow into compounds that are produced at larger and larger volume, but also lower and lower margin as we get better and better at doing it,” he said. “I ultimately think of it as like a server farm — racks and racks of computers, each one is doing something completely different from one another, and they can quickly switch back and forth. That’s the same general idea of what we want to accomplish with Lectrolyst.”

While it may seem like competition must be getting fierce in the environmental tech industry, Hutchings said there is no lack of green energy projects to tackle.

“There are other companies working in the green space and none of us are competing with each other at all, at least none of the ones from Science Inc., but also in the broader industry” he said. “There’s a huge need to address these problems on a grand scale and we need as many solutions coming to market as possible, because for every single thing that you look to decarbonize there needs to be some entrepreneur willing to put in the effort of development to decarbonize it.”

More than a few of those companies, he predicts, will be located in Delaware.

“Delaware has a huge, rich history with the traditional chemical industry, with companies like DuPont and Gore,” he said. “I see this as the development of the chemical industry 2.0. I think Delaware has the potential to become a really big hub for this kind of development and become the central area doing this kind of chemical development on the East Coast.”

Delaware Innovation Space is adding 50K square feet of lab space in Wilmington

Big news for bioscience startups in need of lab space: Delaware Innovation Space is expanding.

The space, formed from a public-private partnership between the State of DelawareDuPont and the University of Delaware in 2017, will add another 50,000 square feet of Class A laboratory and office space available starting in April 2022.

It adds to an existing 100,000 square feet of multi-use lab space at DuPont’s Experimental Station campus in Wilmington. The forthcoming space is currently occupied by a large biotechnology client that will graduate from the space in early 2022, according to a press statement.

“We are very pleased to be able to intensify our commitment to the growth of science-based startup companies and drive economic growth,” said Bill Provine, CEO of the Innovation Space. “This space would be a perfect fit for biotech or chemistry-based companies and can support multiple smaller growth companies or be a great home for a rapidly scaling larger company.”

Some of the startups that have labs at the Innovation Space include VersogenCarbon Reform and Prelude Therapeutics, which raised $60 million in VC funding in Q2 2019.

“The Innovation Space has been a critical partner for Prelude Therapeutics in support of our rapid growth,” said Kris Vaddi, CEO of Prelude Therapeutics. “We continue to gain value from their entrepreneur-first business focus and flexible engagement strategies which have provided us with the framework to expand our company with them from five employees in 2017 to over 100 employees today.”

In addition to lab space, the Innovation Space offers funding and business support for the companies based there. That includes its First Fund investment program, four-month Science Inc. accelerator and Spark Factory mentoring program.

Delaware Innovation Space’s Science Inc. accelerator readies for cohort #2

A local accelerator is hosting one last info session for founders before its app window closes.

In February 2021, the Delaware Innovation Space launched the first cohort of its Science Inc. virtual accelerator, a free, five-month program for early-stage STEM startups. That cohort helped 10 companies, including Carbon ReformSAS Nanotechnologies and Startup302 winner Elyte Energy, clarify their business strategies and prepare for fundraising, whether through grants or VC funding, culminating in a Demo Day pitch event.

“It’s an accelerator for early-stage startups who have completed some of the initial market research and customer discovery and are ready to jump in to putting those critical business building blocks in place as they move toward fundraising,” said Hattie Duplechain, program manager for the Innovation Space. The program so far has been entirely online, but “ultimately it will be hybrid, primarily online with some in-person functions for our companies to take advantage of.”

The second, more streamlined three-month cohort, which will run from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30, is currently accepting applications through July 16, and a free information session will be held on July 13 for STEM entrepreneurs interested in applying to this or future cohorts. Eligible startups can work in an array of science-based industries, including advanced materials, biotechnology, chemical intermediates, diagnostics, healthcare, nutrition, renewable energy and therapeutics.

Founders are expected to commit 30 hours per month to the accelerator, which includes weekly coaching workshops and pitch preparation. As of this June, accepted startups are also eligible to apply for up to $50,000 in cash and resources through the Innovation Space’s First Fund program.

To apply for the fall cohort or register for the July 13 information session, visit the program page on innovationspace.org.

Delaware Innovation Space’s startup accelerator now includes a $50K investment option

The Science Inc. accelerator at the Delaware Innovation Space launched its first cohort in February, offering science-based startups five months of weekly programming, mentoring, and coaching.

This week, the program expanded to include an investment option for accepted companies. All Science Inc. companies are invited to apply for $50,000 in investment from the Innovation Space and its First Fund. Funds will be distributed as a convertible note with two components: $25,000 in cash and $25,000 to support the startup’s participation in the accelerator program.

The new investment option was announced on Science Inc.’s Demo Day, when the 10 startups in the inaugural cohort presented an early look to investors, as well as strategic partners.

The startups in the first cohort were Carbon ReformElyte Energy, Clean Valley Bio-filtration TechnologiesExtrave Bioscience, Clean Valley Bio-filtration TechnologiesHARTLONLectrolystMCET TechnologiesSAS Nanotechnologies and Breatheasy.

The cohort startups each participated in weekly sessions, coaching and pitch prep. Bill Provine, CEO of the Delaware Innovation Space, noted in a statement that the accelerator is tailored to each startup’s needs to help them “refine routes to market, early targets, and milestones to provide the highest probability of early success.”

“The most important asset for an early-stage startup is its people, and joining Science Inc. was like adding four rockstar exited founders to our team in one day,” said Dalton Signor, CEO and founder of smoking cessation therapeutic Breatheasy. “They’ve exposed us to new funding sources and commercialization strategies that have been instrumental to our company’s progress.”

Applications for the fall 2021 cohort are currently open through July 16. Startups must work in the science sector, including healthcare, biotech, green energy and agtech, and have a preliminary business plan.

The Delaware Innovation Space is based within the DuPont Experimental Station in Wilmington.

NiKang Therapeutics closes a $200M Series C

The latest local biotech biz to make a big growth move, following Prelude Therapeutics’ $50 million Series C in summer 2020? NiKang Therapeutics, a clinical-stage company developing innovative cancer treatments, raised $200 million in a Series C announced at the end of May.

Based at the Delaware Innovation Space and cofounded by President and CEO Zhenhai Gao, Ph.D., in 2017, NiKang was incubated by the Chinese venture capital and private equity firm CBC Group. In 2020, the startup also raised $50 million in a Series B round.

The small molecule oncology medicines it develops target patients with unmet medical needs.

The round was led by Cormorant Asset ManagementHBM Healthcare Investments and Octagon Capital Advisors with participation from a syndicate of funds, including new investors EcoR1 CapitalPerceptive AdvisorsWellington ManagementAlly Bridge Group and Pavilion Capital. All existing investors including CBC GroupRTW InvestmentsLPLilly Asia VenturesMatrix Partners China and Casdin Capital participated in the financing.

In connection with the financing, Bing Yao, Ph.D., former CEO and chairman of the recently acquired Maryland company Viela Bio, and Ting Jia, Ph.D., founder, and chief investment officer of Octagon Capital Advisors, will join NiKang’s board of directors.

“We are thrilled to have such an outstanding group of investors as our shareholders,” Gao said in a statement. “Their support of our vision allows us to build the world’s leading precision oncology company. We are now well-positioned to rapidly advance our pipeline into clinic including our differentiated HIF-2 alpha inhibitor, and to bring our company to the next level of growth.”

NiKang currently has job openings for a senior clinical data manager and research investigators.

These women founders are innovating the STEM space in Delaware

In an informal poll conducted by Technical.ly, we found that many women founders in Delaware have struggled to be taken seriously in industries ranging from hospitality to marketing. It shows up in the data, too: Only 2.8% of venture capital went to companies with all-women founding teams in 2019 — and the pandemic made the percentage drop to 2.3%, undoing pre-pandemic gains.

The science and technology fields bring their own challenges for women, but founders in Delaware are sustaining and leading some innovative teams within them, even with the additional hardships of COVID-19 over the past year. Technical.ly talked to three women leading STEM startups, all of which are based at Wilmington’s Delaware Innovation Space (DIS), about how their companies are growing, how they’re funded, and how they’re supporting new generations of girls to enter the competitive but sometimes world-changing STEM fields.

Joanne Norris, a third-year Ph.D. candidate at University of Delaware, launched Carbon Reform with business partner Nick Martin last February. The startup, which is not affiliated with UD, is developing a modular carbon capture device for commercial buildings that will remove indoor carbon buildup that results when many people are in an indoor space breathing the same air, even if it’s ventilated. At certain levels, that Co2 buildup can lead to symptoms like headaches, tiredness and lack of productivity, Norris said.

Carbon Reform is designing polymer mesh-based retrofit systems for existing HVAC systems that physically remove the excess CO2, turning it into solid calcium carbonate, or old-fashioned chalk.

“You can use it for soaps, and a lot of different things,” said Norris. “The good thing about it is it’s basically a transporter for CO2, so if you wanted to use the CO2 itself down the line, you can. You can free it up and make it into a fuel or a chemical.”

As a startup still in its first year, Carbon Reform launched with the help of a friends-and-family funding round, and the team is planning an angel investment raise this summer.

“We haven’t done our full proof of concept yet, but all of the chemistry has been tested a lot,” said Norris. “There are certain formulations that are proprietary. We’re starting to develop the mechanics of the system, we’ve built virtual models, and we have a couple of organizations committed to helping us do the pilot testing when we’re ready.”

Norris didn’t necessarily set out to be a scientist. A professional artist since the age of 16, she attended undergraduate school at Hofstra University with majors in economics and sustainability and a minor in fine arts. As only the second student to declare sustainability as a major, she wound up taking several pre-med courses. That was followed by a masters at Columbia University in climate and society, during which time she took a non-required environmental engineering course, where she first learned about carbon capture.

“I got into the Ph.D. program at UD studying material science because I was wondering if it would help me do what I’m doing now — convert CO2,” Norris said. “And it does. I ended up studying polymers; my Ph.D. work is actually biodegradable polymer systems.”

Future plans for Carbon Reform include a workforce development program that employs formerly incarcerated people.

Mary Larkin, Ph.D., is CEO and co-founder of Gaskiya Diagnostics, which began in its current iteration in July 2019. The company makes rapid diagnostic tests for aquatic diseases in order to reduce losses of shrimp, mollusks, and other farmed fish.

If you feel like you’ve heard the name recently (and you’re not in the aquaculture field), it could be because Larkin recently participated in the Startup 302 pitch competition and came away with $35,000 in grant money from the Delaware Division of Small Business and FMC.

In August, Gaskiya also received the DIS First Fund investment that moved the lab portion of the company to the DIS from Baltimore.

“We’ve had two equity partners: First Fund and the HATCH Blue International Sustainable Aquaculture Accelerator program,” Larkin said. Gaskiya has also received funding through the National I-CORPS program, a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and a Maryland Industrial Partnerships grant, “which is a partnership between startups and university researchers.”

The low-cost, paper-based diagnostic tests — think: pregnancy tests — reduce the need for expensive diagnostic equipment and aim to lead to faster treatments and bigger harvests. The tests are still in the development stage.

“It’s all about getting that complete, validated prototype for an aquaculture target,” Larkin said. “The technology has actually been proven out in human diagnostics, but our company’s focus is on applying that to aquaculture and eventually more broadly in agriculture. Getting that prototype is really going to open up opportunities for our next big scale-up, so we’re bringing in some private investment so that we can really expand our pace of development and the expansion of the products that we offer.”

Debora Flanagan Massouda, Ph.D., one of the founders of Delaware Polymers R&D, came into the startup world from different direction. A longtime employee of DuPont, she left the chemicals company when it got rid of its central research department in 2016.

“We all got together and we started a nonprofit with visions of doing grant-funded research and STEM education,” Massouda said. “We had several lists of things to do that would qualify [the org] as a nonprofit, but then some of us wanted to do contract R&D and that didn’t count as nonprofit, so the nonprofit started this for-profit business.”

Delaware Polymers doesn’t have a physical product. Instead, “I like to say we’re inventors for hire,” Massouda said.

DuPont, and the connections made through the company, have helped the startup, beginning with a retainer to help it get started. It also received a grant from The Longwood Foundation. The company was also one of the first to work out of DIS, which itself is a partnership between DuPont, UD and state government.

“When we first left DuPont, we had biologists and mechanical engineers, but it turned out that our skillset in polymer science is what really we’ve been able to sell.”

With no product, SBIR grants have been more difficult to get, so its team relies on paid consulting work for funding. The company’s biggest selling point, as the name implies, is polymers.

“When we first left DuPont, we had biologists and mechanical engineers, but it turned out that our skillset in polymer science is what really we’ve been able to sell,” Massouda said. “I have a Ph.D. in chemical engineering but became a material scientist over the years. We’ve been able to stay busy now for four-and-a-half years. It’s looking like a viable business.”

It helps that polymers are often used in R&D for sustainable solutions, which are on many CEOs’ minds — “polymer science is having a comeback with the demand for everything recyclable and [biodegradable] and biosourced,” she said. Clients have hired Delaware Polymers to find solutions when creating things like films, adhesives, barrier coatings for food packaging and even recycled railroad ties.

Running the business hasn’t been without its challenges.

“I’ve hired about 28 people over the past four years, almost all of them part-timers,” she said. “I say that our biggest obstacle is that I can only hire people who don’t need to work, because I have these project that are three months or six months long, so I’m not going to be able to hire someone just out of school, but someone who is semi-retired and can work on a project basis, or interns.”

Still, Massouda said, it’s been sustainable.

“We keep going, even through the pandemic,” she said. “Our biggest client really appreciated that we could come in to work — they’re in San Francisco, they were not allowed to go into their labs at all. We were collaborating with them [while] they were at home, we were in the lab. It’s been tight over the last year, but on the other hand, some of the work has kept going because of the pandemic.”

The number of women in STEM careers in the United States has increased overall from 8% to 27% over the last 50 years or so. Still, there’s work to be done before parity is reached.

Proposed solutions range from an early emphasis on tech education for girls, to increased mentorship for women looking to enter (and stay in) the field, to more supportive workplaces for women in general. What do these founders think can be done?

Larkin called for more programming that targets women as potential entrepreneurs.

“When I was a graduate student, I was part of an entrepreneurship program for science graduate students and they definitely made an attempt to make sure they were reaching everybody who was interested in that program,” she said. “Women in certain fields are already underrepresented in science and entrepreneurship, so I think that, specifically in science entrepreneurship, there needs to be a concerted effort and more programs at universities that are attracting [women] and making sure that they’re offered a seat at the table.”

And Delaware Polymers’ cofounder said it’s partly a branding challenge.

“It does have to start at the universities, or even before the universities,” said Massouda, who mentors a high school robotics team. “I think that making science appealing to girls is important. Somehow there’s this idea that science is nerdy, it’s not feminine. I’ve heard girls say, ‘I want to work with people’ — well, you work with people in science. I think somehow that gets missed, and the creative aspects of it get missed. You create things in science.”