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VOL. 7 | NO. 22 | Saturday, May 24, 2014

Grants Prove Bioworks is Delivering Good Results

By Don Wade

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James Mullen of Blood Monitoring Solutions has his product vetted at a recent ZeroTo510 meeting, an initiative of Memphis Bioworks.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

One grant is good. Two grants are better.

In 2012, Memphis Bioworks received a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Workforce Developmental and Job Training Program (EWDJT). The $300,000 grant issued provided training for 110 persons, 65 of whom already have been placed in full-time jobs.

“It’s great to get one grant from an agency,” said Bioworks Foundation president Steve Bares. “To get a second grant, you actually have to deliver. I’m pleased they saw Memphis as a good investment.”

Enough so that when earlier this month the EPA issued 18 grants, each for $200,000, Memphis Bioworks again was on the list. The latest grant will provide training for 75 students and the goal is for 64 to complete the training, said Ann Terry, Bioworks’ project manager for the environmental training program.

“It’ll be a more competitive process,” Terry said.

Not that the first grant didn’t inspire a competitive process, because it did. Terry said they had 789 candidates at the start, 399 began the in-take process and then 110 went through training. The aim of the grants is to help unemployed, underemployed (including veterans), minority and mainly low-income persons acquire the necessary skills for full-time jobs in the environmental field.

Of those 110 students who received training through the 2012 grant, 77 (or 70 percent) were male; 33 or (30 percent) were female; 87 (or 79 percent) were a minority; 18 (or about 16 percent were veterans); and five (or almost 5 percent) were ex-offenders.

“Obviously, the ideal scenario is to have as diverse a population of students as we have in the community,” Bares said. “Part of what we did with grant one is learn how to promote and attract students in the first place.”

Before prospective students could even receive an application, Terry said, they were required to attend an informational meeting.

“We kind of gave them a day-in-the-life for this type of training,” Terry said. “That was a weeding-out process for people who knew they were not a match.”

Anyone with less than an associate’s degree, Terry said, had to demonstrate basic math and reading skills to proceed. Applicants also had to submit to a drug screening before being accepted for training.

Although there will be some tweaks in the program, training in hazardous waste operations and emergency response will remain as core courses. Among classes being added: wastewater treatment – “that’s a growth area nationally,” Terry said – and a first-aid course.

The Memphis Bioworks Foundation “Clean & Green” training program is designed to provide support for the city of Memphis Clean and Green Initiative. Community and business partners assisting with the training program include: Workforce Investment Network; Ensafe; Everblue; city of Memphis; Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation; Shelby County Extension; Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division; EnviroRem Inc.; city of Memphis Public Works; American Red Cross; Siemens Building Technologies; and other Clean & Green private contractors.

“We’re working with employers who know exactly what they’re looking for,” Bares said.

The latest EWDJT grant comes at a time when the Greater Memphis Chamber will open its EPIcenter effort – short for Memphis Entrepreneurship Powered Innovation Center – with a goal of creating 1,000 entrepreneurs and 50 new companies locally in the next decade.

Bares and Bioworks are taking the lead in the EPIcenter effort; Bioworks also is launching a capital campaign. Bioworks had much success with its Innova venture capital effort, which, since 2009, has helped form 60 companies and manage $53 million in equity investments.

The project is supported by the chamber’s Chairman’s Circle of more than 100 business leaders who are putting up funding to hire EPIcenter staff and create a business accelerator specifically for logistics.

And then there are the four entrepreneurial teams that have been accepted into the ZeroTo510 medical device accelerator and have just started a 12-week program at the Memphis Bioworks Business Incubator. The 2014 participants are:

Blood Monitoring Solutions: Led by a recent Vanderbilt University graduate, this team has created a tracking system device that reduces the amount of blood that is wasted in hospital due to compliance parameters.

EndoInsight: This company is using patented technology from Vanderbilt to bring to market a low-cost carbon dioxide insufflation system that will help reduce the pain and discomfort associated with colonoscopies.

Innometrix: This team from Oxford, Miss., has developed a diagnostic technology that renders a biomechanical snapshot of the female pelvic floor and will give physicians improved data prior to surgery.

Compression Kinetics: A Chapel Hill, N.C., team has created a new compression sleeve designed to increase circulation and decrease peripheral edema.

Each company chosen for the program will receive $50,000 in initial seed capital from co-investors Innova, a pre-seed, seed and early-stage investor focused on starting and funding high-growth companies in the health care, technology and health care technology fields across Tennessee, and MB Venture Partners, a Memphis-based capital firm that provides equity capital and strategic direction to life sciences startups.

ZeroTo510 is in its third year and last year three companies in the program received $100,000 of follow-up funding. Over the past two years, companies have achieved $4.5 million of investment funding.

What will Bioworks be involved with next?

“You can be sure we have other things coming online we’ll be telling you about,” Bares said.

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