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VOL. 131 | NO. 63 | Tuesday, March 29, 2016

SweetBio Reaches $1 Million in Secondary Funding

By Madeline Faber

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The dust has settled after New Orleans Entrepreneurship Week, and several Memphis startups have returned home as winners.

At the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, Kayla Rodriguez, left, co-founder of SweetBio, speaks with Sydney Gray, grants and development manager for Propeller, a New Orleans-based nonprofit incubator. 

(Spencer Lucker, Delta Regional Authority)

“It’s like South by Southwest, but for entrepreneurs in the South,” said Kayla Rodriguez, co-founder and chief operating officer of SweetBio, of the week-long event.

The event, which draws over 10,000 participants annually, is typically only open to New Orleans-area entrepreneurs. SweetBio and 18 other startups gained entry through their membership with the Delta Entrepreneurship Network. The network is a program of the Delta Regional Authority, a federal partnership intended to drive capital and economic development in the Delta region.

During the week, startups from the DRA’s six-state footprint participated in the Delta Entrepreneur Showcase. The top spots went to Memphis-based SweetBio, which won $2,500 in second place, and Little Rock-based LineGard Med, which took the $10,000 grand prize. Both of the health care startups are graduates of Memphis Bioworks’ ZeroTo510 medical device accelerator.

Last September, the DRA selected SweetBio as one of the Memphis-based companies to go through the Delta Entrepreneur Network.

“We didn't know a lot about the DRA and the Delta Entrepreneur Network before that, but since then it has opened a lot of doors,” Rodriguez said.

With the award from the showcase, SweetBio has hit the $1 million-dollar mark in second-stage funding. Rodriguez is getting ready to take her product, a dissolvable membrane that uses honey as its key ingredient for use in oral surgery, to clinical studies. She hopes to submit the product to the FDA this year and have it on the market in 2017.

“I think the credit goes directly to the leadership of SweetBio,” said Katie Milligan, director of small business and entrepreneurship with the DRA.

“We always have a strong turnout in Memphis,” she added. “Entrepreneurship is not always glossy. It requires a lot of hard work and long hours, and I think Memphis is really poised to be an anchor in the South for entrepreneurship.”

Kayla Rodriguez, co-founder of SweetBio in Memphis, pitches to investors and judges at the Delta Entrepreneur Showcase.

(Spencer Lucker, Delta Regional Authority)

Another Memphis-based company, Feather, attended the New Orleans event as part of the Delta Entrepreneurship Network.

Founder Rachel Fuller joined on with the DRA under a different name, CareCurrent, with an aim to create software for agencies that employ senior care providers. After graduating from Start Co.’s women-led business accelerator, she made a significant pivot and went into business for herself.

Under the new software model, families seeking in-home care can directly connect with and employ senior caregivers.

The shift was well received in the local business community. After being selected as a member of the Delta Entrepreneurship Network, Fuller was connected with Hayseed Ventures, a Fayetteville, Ark.-based venture capital firm.

In February, Hayseed signed on with $250,000 in second-round funding to push Feather’s caregiver model nationally.

“If I never would have participated in the DRA program, I never would have had that opportunity,” Fuller said.

She’s looking to hire one or two more employees and continue to scale nationally. While the service is based in Arkansas and Tennessee, Fuller said she’s seeing more users crop up across the U.S. She plans a full-scale launch across the Delta region in 2016.

Other Memphis-based companies that pitched at the New Orleans competition include Musistic, Renewable Energies, Inc., DivorceSecure, FrontDesk Connect, and MyCollegeSTREAM.

Musistic, which allows musicians to record with anyone, anywhere on any digital audio workstation, won the People’s Choice Award, garnering the majority of votes from nearly 150 participants.

As members of the Delta Entrepreneurship Network, the startups will continue to have access to the DRA’s network of investors and resources, and will help mentor the next class of Southern companies.

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