SOUTH BEND — A collection of local economic leaders announced last week an effort to attract, develop and nurture 200 new high-potential startups in the South Bend-Elkhart region by 2025.
That’s 25 a year, or just over two each month, for eight straight years.
Developing a startup with high potential is about taking an idea from academia or elsewhere, and turning it into a service, good or product that serves a national or international market. Different from a traditional small business, a “high-potential startup” is designed to grow fast and go big.
It’s risky and difficult, but by taking advancements discovered by researchers and academics and developing products to sell to global markets, startups can quickly balloon into massive regional success stories.
Gary Neidig, president of Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies in Plymouth, chairs the startup committee as part of the Regional Economic Development Strategy, which was unveiled by local leaders last Wednesday in Mishawaka.
“We’ve got people with ideas that need to be enabled,” Neidig said last week. “There’s an enormous amount of talent in our area.”
One of those startups is AgenDx Biosciences, which is located in a one room lab on the third floor of Notre Dame’s IDEA Center. There its team is working to develop a device that would significantly improve the odds of surviving pancreatic cancer by detecting it early and assessing the impact of chemotherapy treatment.
Last week, nonprofit venture capital organization Elevate Ventures, along with other venture capital groups, announced $1.525 million in new funding for AgenDx. Gavin Ferlic, entrepreneur-in-residence for Elevate Ventures in North Central Indiana, said the startup has the potential to change lives.
“They’re working on a solution to provide diagnosis while the cancer is still treatable,” Ferlic said. “That could ultimately impact so many lives, which is really incredible.”
This year in the United States, the American Cancer Society estimates 55,440 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer while another 44,330 people will die from it. The overall chance of survival is around 5 percent, as the cancer doesn’t display recognizable symptoms and often isn’t detected until late stage.
Combining biomolecular engineering research from Notre Dame’s Dr. Hseuh-Chia Chang and Dr. Satyajyoti Senapati, along with biological research from Dr. Sharon Stack and Dr. Reginald Hill, the device in development by AgenDx will analyze blood and determine whether biomarkers in a patient’s DNA indicate the presence of pancreatic cancer.
The startup’s inception came during the 2014 McCloskey Business Plan Competition, when founder Ben Miller and his team NanDio won a $25,000 grand prize for their proposed oral cancer detection test. Since then, Miller formed AgenDx, hired Kevin Connors as company CEO and filled out a team of part-time executives.
Jörg Schreiber, an IUPUI professor with a PhD in Biophysics, works as the VP of Research and Development for AgenDx. He said giving doctors the ability to administer a quick and affordable test to detect the cancer in its early stages and could completely change the outcome for patients with the lethal disease. The device could allow doctors to test patients annually and track the concentration of biomarkers.
“Like we have with our blood count, cholesterol, we see base lines. That’s the same thing we would do with these biomarkers,” Schreiber said. “If they develop pancreatic cancer, the biomarkers will go up in concentration. Then that can tell the doctor and patient to go deeper into diagnostics and start chemotherapy early.”
Three full-time development engineer are working to complete AgenDx’s prototype, and the influx of additional cash will help them begin testing samples in the next few months.