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November 14, 2019 | Tom Ballard

Knoxville well-represented at yesterday’s LSTCON in Nashville

The Knoxville region was well-represented in several ways at yesterday’s annual conference of Life Science Tennessee (LST).

Officially known as LSTCON, this year’s event drew a record pre-registration of more than 155 individuals who were treated to a robust program, a venture forum, and a significant announcement from the association that promotes the life science sector in the state.

Two of the four companies participating in the Venture Forum, sponsored by the Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis law firm, came from Knoxville. They were EDP Biotech Corporation that is focused on early detection of colorectal cancer with its ColoPlexTM technology and Winter Innovations LLC that is commercializing the EasyWhipTM device for orthopedic surgeries. Both have been spotlighted numerous times on

Unfortunately for the local community, neither of the Knoxville companies captured the $5,000 prize offered by Waller. The winner was VenoStent, a Nashville-based start-up developing the SelfWrap device to improve the quality and length of life for the more than two million dialysis patients globally. The fourth competitor was Diatech Diabetes Technologies Inc., headquartered in Memphis and developing a patent-pending smart infusion set that monitors and alerts insulin-dependent patients when their insulin pump malfunctions.

Judges for this year’s Venture Forum were David Adair of Solas Biotech, Brian Laden of Appello Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Ray Tabibiazar of 526 Ventures.

During LSTCON, we had a chance to chat with Eric Mayer, EDP Biotech’s Chief Executive Officer, who told us he was pleased with the contacts he made at last week’s Southeast Bio Investor & Partnering Forum. The company is in the midst of raising $5 million in capital, and EDP Biotech was the only Tennessee company included among the 17 invited to pitch at the SE Bio event.

Around the Venture Forum, the winners of the three LST Academic Alliance-sponsored events were introduced and had a brief opportunity to explain their ideas. The winner of last week’s “Scipreneur Challenge” in Knoxville – Nate Brady of LEAPh – had the opportunity to share with attendees his idea of converting sunlight to electricity for biohybrid solar devices.

LST also announced a commitment to better align, but not merge its activities with BioTN, an organization focused on promoting more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) educational preparation across the state. The LST Board of Directors meets later this morning to finalize details of the arrangement.

LSTCON involves concurrent workshops and general sessions. In one of the former, Steven Ripp of 490 BioTech Inc. helped lead a panel focused on successfully securing Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants from federal agencies.

Ripp and Jim Stefansic, a former Director of Commercialization for Launch Tennessee and now Development Director at Cumberland Emerging Technologies, shared their insights and experiences in securing funding from one or more of the many programs offered under the National Institutes of Health (NIH) umbrella. In 490 Biotech’s case, Ripp said 490 Biotech had secured most of its awards through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, while Stefansic said his success in the past has come from the National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Aging.

“For the first time ever, NIH SBIR funding is more than $1 billion,” Stefansic said. In addition, the federal agency’s STTR funding totals $141 million. They shared a pie chart showing how the pot is divided with Ripp offering some sage advice.

“Go where you ought to go, not where the big parts of the pie are,” he said. “The amount of this pie going to the State of Tennessee is horrible,” attributing that to the fact that there are not enough applications from the Volunteer State.

Stefansic turned that reality into a potential positive. “Your proposal is going to be judged on its merit,” he told the attendees. That said and all things being equal, a Tennessee application might win because of the underrepresentation of Tennessee recipients.

Speaking of the federal programs, newly elected Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton mentioned the fact that the state matching program, managed by Launch Tennessee and increased to $3 million this year, needs to be shifted from non-recurring to recurring funds. That was clearly music to the ears of those who can use the more flexible state dollars for activities not permitted under federal guidelines.

We’ll have more coverage of LSTCON, including an insightful keynote address and an update on a new study about the industry in Tennessee, in Monday’s edition of

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