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VOL. 131 | NO. 7 | Monday, January 11, 2016

Innova’s Bouten Talks Growing Health Care Hub

By Andy Meek

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When Jan Bouten looks out his office window at 20 S. Dudley St., he can count no less than five medical institutions in his field of view.

It’s a tangible representation of something he and others are working behind the scenes to support and grow – Memphis’ status as a nexus of health care, medical device, biotech and life sciences activity. But where civic leaders, startup founders and others often have highly visible roles in growing that ecosystem, Bouten has a unique vantage point on it all.

He’s a partner at Innova, an investment entity founded in 2007 by the Memphis Bioworks Foundation that’s behind a lot of the funding activity.

He and Innova write the checks and facilitate the relationships that make much of the activity possible. One of the most recent examples came in recent days, when Memphis-area predictive analytics company Entac Medical Inc. announced it has surpassed initial funding objectives for its Series A funding round.

“I think Memphis is really starting to find its own identity in the startup world. We’re not just trying to copy what’s happening in Silicon Valley or New York. We’re doing our own thing, finding our own way of doing it.”


Innova led that round, which remains open until Jan. 31. That kind of activity gives Bouten a useful spot from which to survey what’s going on in this sector in the city, as well as what’s in the cards for the future.

His assessment? The future looks bright, and Memphis is “just getting started.”

“I think we’re actually building a national reputation in some areas,” said Bouten, whose firm started making its first investments in 2008 and has to date invested almost $20 million in 60 companies – most of them in Memphis.

At last count, he says, those companies employed more than 250 people.

“I think Memphis is really starting to find its own identity in the startup world. We’re not just trying to copy what’s happening in Silicon Valley or New York. We’re doing our own thing, finding our own way of doing it.”

Innova is assisting companies, especially health care and related ventures, do that, by helping them grow, providing funding, and linking them with established corporations for things like licensing opportunities, buyouts or additional investments.

About Bioworks’ medical device program ZeroTo510, participating startups in which get funding partly from Innova, Bouten says the firm has gotten better at preparing startups to ask the right questions early in the process. Those questions include things like what their exact funding path will be, what engineering challenges lie ahead and what the financial picture looks like on the back end of the process.

Bouten makes it clear his firm doesn’t function in a vacuum. That there is a flywheel of activity, in other words, spinning around it in the city that benefits everyone, such that the more startups get launched, the more medical research is pursued and health care investment funded, the more those things are likely to keep on happening.

It’s important to have all that activity working in concert as it is in Memphis, he says, pointing to accelerators, thousands of which have launched around the country. They’re “trendy,” the participants usually spend three months hard at work, pitch at a demo day, “and then what?”

If there isn’t the kind of ecosystem around them that Memphis has, “You’ve just got a really shiny busy plan and pitch. And nobody to talk to.”

“I think we’ve gotten smart in Memphis to focus on what we have a lot of here, which is a concentration of medical and the health care industry,” Bouten says. “We clearly also have a strong presence in logistics. Similarly, if you look at Start Co., they’re starting to focus more on specific business-to-business types of companies.”

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