The 2017 summer of acceleration kicks entrepreneurs into high gear

It's start-up season in Memphis. This year, 18 teams will participate in rigorous entrepreneur training across the six unique accelerators.  

Sinead Miller traveled to Vanderbilt University in Nashville this month to receive her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, but she’s chosen Memphis to launch her medical device business, PathEx, which stands for “pathogen extraction.”

She’s working on the prototype for a dialysis-like device that can capture and remove blood-borne pathogens, including multi-drug resistant variants and associated toxins for the treatment of sepsis, a deadly condition that affects some 18 million people each year.

Miller invented the technology and teamed up with business partner Alex Wieseler, whose background is in business and finance. But the partners needed guidance to develop their business model, build relationships with potential mentors and learn about customer discovery and sales pipeline development. 

Miller knew Memphis, with its reputation as an innovation city for the development of medical devices and the home of industry giants such as Smith & Nephew and Medtronic, was the ideal base for her startup.

Miller and Wieseler packed up and headed to the Bluff City to participate in a rigorous entrepreneurial startup program known as the ‘Summer of Acceleration’. The boot camp-style program, now in its seventh year, is a collaborative effort between Start Co., EPIcenter and Memphis Bioworks.

“Memphis distinguishes itself from other communities because it’s close knit and everyone is willing to help you. If you give to the ecosystem in Memphis, it gives back to you."

Start Co., a nonprofit venture development organization that supports founders and companies, promotes entrepreneurship with a focus on digital startups and aims to advance Memphis’ economic growth through entrepreneurship.

Partner EPIcenter measures and celebrates the impact of entrepreneurial support to create a just, inclusive and growing Memphis economy while Memphis Bioworks strives to create companies, jobs and investments in bioscience.    

This year, 18 teams are participating in the programs from sectors that include medical technology, agricultural technology, logistics, education reform and more.

Steve Bares, president and executive director at Memphis Bioworks, said that after several years of practice and graduating 40 teams, the accelerator has become more streamlined and the ecosystem is “a little more mature.”

Capital, talent and mentorship are the key ingredients to creating viable companies who’ll choose to set up shop in the Bluff City. 

“We’re putting money on the table, saying, ‘We believe in your idea before anyone else believes in your idea,” Bares said.

And collaboration has proven to be tremendously successful in expanding the city’s startup culture. 

“If we really want to grow Memphis and bring people here, we need that organic growth,” Bares said. “It ultimately will generate a culture takes us into the next century.”

This year’s cohort of teams is a diverse crop with 50 percent of participants from outside the region including teams from Chicago, Houston and San Diego and foreign teams from Argentina and Dubai.

“You don’t see female founders in the medical device industry, but Start Co. has made an effort to reach out to women founders."

The accelerator has also succeeded in reaching out to women entrepreneurs.

“You don’t see female founders in the medical device industry, but Start Co. has made an effort to reach out to women founders,” Miller said.

Another factor in Miller’s decision to relocate to Memphis was Memphis Bioworks' ZeroTo510, the nation’s only medical device acceleration program, which focuses on medical technology innovation.

“It’s been a tremendous help because, before, we didn’t have our business side developed,” said Miller, citing the program’s guidance in networking, funding, meeting with investors, and helping her navigate the FDA’s rigorous approval process.

“This has helped us outline all of those things, which we never could’ve done without this program.”

The Summer of Acceleration culminates with Memphis Demo Day on August 10 when the teams will pitch their startup ideas to investors, share their insights with the greater entrepreneurial community and network with community leaders.

"…We're honored to be working with these talented founders this summer in the Start Lab and helping them develop, grow and refine their businesses,” said Eric Mathews, founder and CEO of Start Co.

“Each summer it's exciting to watch the teams evolve through the program and pitch compelling plans at Demo Day. Beyond Demo Day, we continue to work with founders, providing mentorship, support and resources to help ensure their success," he added.

When the Summer of Acceleration ends and she graduates from the program, Miller says plans to continue improving her prototype and growing her PathEx business model in her adopted city.

“Memphis distinguishes itself from other communities because it’s close knit and everyone is willing to help you,” she said.  “If you give to the ecosystem in Memphis, it gives back to you. Everyone wants you to succeed, and we want to stay in Memphis and give back to this community.”

A full list of teams participating in the 2017 Summer of Acceleration can be viewed here

Read more articles by Aisling Maki.

Aisling Maki is a writer and editor with awards from The Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and Public Relations Society of America. Her work has appeared in publications in more than 20 countries and she has written locally for more than a dozen publications, including The Commercial Appeal, Memphis Flyer and Memphis Parent Magazine. She previously worked as a digital producer and weekend reporter for Action News 5, Memphis correspondent for the Agence France-Presse (AFP) and staff reporter for Memphis Daily News.

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