Two startups based on Purdue research receive $100,000 in funding

Published: January 20, 2016


EIF awards

Purdue chemistry professor David H. Thompson conducts laboratory research on compounds that could help people affected by Niemann-Pick Type C disease, which leads to an accumulation of cholesterol in the brain, liver and spleen. Thompson's startup, Jewell Laboratories LLC, and SPEAK MODalities have received $50,000 from the Emerging Innovations Fund. (Purdue Research Foundation photo) 
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The Emerging Innovations Fund, an evergreen fund created to accelerate the commercialization of Purdue's early-stage discoveries, has awarded funding to two startups based on Purdue University intellectual property.

Jewell Laboratories LLC and SPEAK MODalities have each received $50,000 from the fund. Both companies license their technologies through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization and are clients of Purdue Foundry, an entrepreneurship and commercialization hub located on the Purdue campus.

Jewell Laboratories, based on research by Purdue professor of chemistry David H. Thompson, has developed a family of compounds that could benefit people affected by Niemann-Pick Type C disease. The genetic disease leads to a dangerous accumulation of cholesterol in the brain, liver and spleen. Nancy L. Hathaway is the vice president and regulatory adviser.

"Our solutions promote the natural elimination of aberrantly stored cholesterol from the body," Thompson said. "Studies have shown the extension of lifespan by as much as 40 percent and the restoration of normal metabolic activity in patient-derived Niemann-Pick Type C cells by rebalancing cholesterol levels."

Hathaway said Jewell Laboratories will use the funding to conduct pre-clinical and clinical studies in conjunction with a pharmaceutical partner.

"We will focus on delivering pre-clinical results of our proprietary compounds as a companion therapy for a drug candidate that is currently in human clinical trials with Niemann-Pick Type C patients," she said.

SPEAK MODalities has commercialized technology to improve communication for children and families affected by severe, non-verbal autism. It is based on research by Oliver Wendt, Purdue assistant professor of speech, language and hearing sciences and educational studies. Michael Zentner is the company's CEO, Diana Hancock is COO.

"Our products include capabilities to assess a child's readiness for intervention, to increase their communication skills by providing an alternative voice, to engage them in early language learning, to facilitate their natural speech development, to enhance generalization skills and to expand their social circles as they learn," Wendt said.

Zentner said the company will use the funding to strengthen interest from third-party equity investors.

"First, we will demonstrate stronger market traction by showing a repeatable ability to sell to board-certified behavior analysts and speech-language therapists, and by forming channel partnerships in the Android market," he said. "Second, we will enhance the functionality of our SPEAKtogether! and SPEAKmore! offerings. SPEAKtogether! will allow parents, teachers, clinicians and physicians to have a common view of the child's learning progress. SPEAKmore! will be enhanced with an interface to allow clinicians to more easily build lessons."

Brooke Beier, assistant director of business development at Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization, said the startups selected for this round of awards established themselves as strong candidates for the funding because they focused on how their work could improve people's lives.

"Jewell Laboratories and SPEAK MODalities are focused on improving the lives of children with Niemann-Pick Type C disease and autism, respectively. The EIF investment will strengthen their ability to translate the research they initiated at Purdue into products that can extend the lifespan of children with NPC and improve the communication skills of those children with autism," she said. "The EIF board recognized the importance of helping these two companies bridge the gap between research and commercialization and felt the investment will create a value inflection point for them to accomplish their next milestones. This strongly reflects the philosophy of the Office of Technology Commercialization: to deliver Purdue innovations to the public."

Partial funding for the Emerging Innovation Fund comes from philanthropic, tax-deductible gifts. Information on contributing to the fund is available at https://securelb.imodules.com/s/1461/campaign/index.aspx?sid=1461&gid=1010&pgid=1754&cid=4045&bledit=1&dids=1751&appealcode=12562

The Emerging Innovations Fund is designed specifically to support new business ventures built on Purdue discoveries or located in the five-site Purdue Research Park network. The fund is designed to bridge the gap between the enterprise formation and third-party equity financing. Diligence reviews are conducted by teams composed of competitively selected graduate students and seniors in the Student Managed Venture Fund course offered through the Krannert School of Management in collaboration with Purdue Research Foundation officials.

"The Student Managed Venture Fund is an experiential learning course that involves a partnership between Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, Purdue Research Foundation and the Krannert School of Management," said Richard Cosier, the Leeds Professor and Krannert Dean Emeritus. "The students work with Purdue innovators and entrepreneurs who have submitted a proposal for funding and make investment recommendations to the EIF board."

Students participating in this year's Student Managed Venture Fund course were Nicholas DeNardo, Mitchell Griffin, Haejin Kim, Ravindran Rajesvaran, Dana Relation, David Rennard, Maria Rompf, Joel Stubbs and George Symons.

The Student Managed Venture Fund participants also conduct due diligence on startups applying for funding through the Elevate Purdue Foundry Fund Gold Awards, which is a venture fund to support Indiana-based entrepreneurial activities. The fund is a collaboration among the Purdue FoundryElevate Ventures and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.

"The students in the Student Managed Venture Fund course provide a very important service to these startups and for the selection committee by conducting thorough due diligence and recommendations," said John Hanak, director of venture capital and funding resources for the Purdue Foundry. "Conversely, the process also provides the Krannert students with a great learning opportunity that involves entrepreneurs and their startups."

About Jewell Laboratories LLC

Jewell Laboratories LLC is a Purdue life sciences startup company that is based on licensed IP from the Purdue Research Foundation. Jewell is focused on the development of targeted, long-acting cyclodextrin polymer materials for applications in Niemann-Pick Type C disease and other lysosomal storage disorders.

About SPEAK MODalities

SPEAK MODalities was formed in 2013 and obtained an exclusive license to the SPEAKall! and SPEAKmore! technologies from the Purdue Research Foundation. The first commercially supported version of SPEAKall! was released in January 2014. SPEAK MODalities has a mission to expand the reach of SPEAKall! and subsequent products that assist children with special needs to develop speech and language skills.

About the Emerging Innovations Fund

In 2008 Purdue Research Foundation and Purdue University introduced the Emerging Innovations Fund, an integrated approach to research innovation, development and commercialization. The Emerging Innovations Fund is a self-sustaining initiative that brings together ideas, management and money to accelerate the commercialization of early-stage technologies in the Purdue community. Purdue Research Foundation received the 2014 Incubator Network of the Year from the National Business Incubation Association for its work in entrepreneurship. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at foundry@prf.org 

Purdue Research Foundation contact: Cynthia Sequin, 765-588-3340, casequin@prf.org 

Sources: Richard Cosier, 765-494-4353, rcosier@purdue.edu

 Brooke Beier, 765-588-3464, blbeier@prf.org

 David H. Thompson, 765-414-1907, jewelllabs@comcast.net

 Michael Zentner, 765-427-6962, mzentner@speakmod.com