HomeHealth Tech, Life Sciences and Other Fields Innovators Met at NJ Founders & Funders 2023

Health Tech, Life Sciences and Other Fields Innovators Met at NJ Founders & Funders 2023

33 startups and 26 angel investors and VCs who have invested in Garden State companies traveled to the College of New Jersey campus, in Ewing, for the NJ Founders & Funders spring gathering. 

What were all these entrepreneurs all interested in? Basically, to raise money. One wanted to complete the development of a wearable jetpack that could assist in search-and-rescue missions, another wanted to make the first wearable health sensor for salivary diagnostics, while a third one was developing novel biologics to tackle even the most severe mucosal infections in immunodeficient patients. Whether they were saying that saliva is the new blood when it comes to health markers or were betting all on the future employment of AI in furthering research, all wanted to convince funders they have got what it takes to succeed. 

300 meetings scheduled for the daylong event

The NJ Founders & Funders event is organized by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA). The main purpose of the event is to facilitate introductions between innovative emerging New Jersey companies and sophisticated angel and institutional investors.

“I think everybody in this room should walk away with something that’s going to benefit them and help them grow either their fund or their business,” said Kathleen Coviello, chief economic transformation officer at the NJEDA.

“We’re working on all pieces of the innovation economy, in supporting entrepreneurs and supporting the investors, which is why this event is so important to us because it brings that community together,” she said.

The 2023 edition was no joke, with 300 meetings scheduled for the daylong event, according to Grace Warner, a product officer with the NJEDA’s Venture Programs team. “During the session, you will have a few minutes for the entrepreneurs to introduce your company and pitch it to the investors,” Warner said. “I asked that everybody please allow a little bit of time for the investors to ask some questions.”

The first wearable health sensor for salivary diagnostics

The Founders & Funders event is a great way to meet investors ready to support great ideas or projects on the way of being developed, Daniel Weinstein, cofounder and CEO of Lura Health (Newark), said, adding that he still needed to follow up with contacts from the event. 

Weinstein first developed an idea for an in-mouth sensor as a way to automatically track nutrition intake. Then, he shared the idea with Saam Bozorg, a dental student, and Noah Hill, a computer engineer, at an entrepreneurial event at Tufts University.

The three specialists kept on developing their project, then switched it to medical monitoring, and established Lura Health, which now has four employees and six consultants, in 2016. 

The trio has raised more than $2.5 million, with $1.3 million coming from dilutive investors, including Princeton-based SOSV. Approximately $1.3 million is from grants, including Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase I and II grants from the National Science Foundation.

Lura Health is now working on the first wearable health sensor for salivary diagnostics, which could noninvasively monitor critical health markers, giving patients information on chronic health conditions more easily, ensuring a pain-free method to manage their health. With thirty-eight percent of U.S. patients currently using digital healthcare options to access remote counseling, telemedicine or both, any type of smart diagnosing can only bring a sizeable profit.

Medical device company develops novel biologics to treat and prevent infections

Another company, Lactiga, based in North Brunswick, which employs its two co-founders – Viraj Mane and Rikin Mehta – and one project manager, sent one of its co-founders on site to find possible financial investors. “The Founders & Funders event allowed us to meet a curated set of investors, and we formed a great connection with one of them,” Viraj Mane said about the event.

Mane, who is also chief science officer, said the venture-backed biotherapeutics and medical device company develops novel biologics to treat and prevent infections, their main aim being to improve the quality of life for patients with primary immunodeficiency diseases.

“We are unlocking the full therapeutic value of human milk to create the next generation of anti-infectives that can battle even the world’s most dangerous pathogens,” he said.

Mane continued, “I was inspired by my parenthood journey, and seeing frozen breast milk pouches in our freezer and wondering if the milk antibodies could serve a medical purpose for immunodeficient patients.” Lactiga is developing “patented biologics to prevent and treat mucosal infections to protect the airways of patients with rare immunodeficiencies,” Mane said. “Our biologics will prevent the life-threatening respiratory infections that afflict patients with rare immunodeficiencies like common variable immunodeficiency, or CVID.”

Lactiga raised $1.7 million through investments and research grants, with investors accounting for $1.2 million, according to Mane, and has spent about $1 million on research and development, intellectual property and manufacturing. 

Other entrepreneurs used the event to talk to as many possible investors, in order to bring forth their different ideas meant to better people’s lives. 

David Castley talked about his startup, RAEV Mobility (Harrison Town), which aims to create cleaner, more affordable and better inner-city travel, offering economical transportation systems. He aims to develop a fleet of low-speed electric vehicles to be shared by users within big, densely populated cities. 

“Using the RAEV app, users can easily locate the nearest available vehicle, unlock it with a QR code, drive themselves to a designated parking spot near their destination, and leave the vehicle for the next user,” he said.

With the RAEV alternative, people won’t need a full-size vehicle, a driver, and gasoline, the cost of ride-sharing will be greatly reduced, while the carbon footprint of the used vehicles will be lowered by 95 percent, Castley said.

“With RAEV, everyone can join the growing green revolution and contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable future,” he added.

How to ride in style, but still at affordable rates

Another entrepreneur involved in transportation is John Snee, although his company is more upscale oriented. “I got an idea for a ride share app called “ULimo” in 2017. It allows users to book one-way trips starting at $10 per person by selecting to share the ride with others, instead of being forced to pay $1,000 for a five-hour rental from a limo company,” he said.

Snee said that his startup is active in 20 markets and has generated $115,598 in revenue. The Robbinsville-based company is currently raising $500,000 to expand into six additional markets, according to Snee and the startup’s website. ULimo has 24 interns and seven partners, and spent about $10,000 initially to start operations.

An inflatable helmet to keep your head safe

If riding on only two wheels is your fancy, then maybe Jeffrey Klein’s company, Airnoggin, has something you are going to want to wear — an inflatable helmet that can fit into your shirt pocket when deflated. It can also be used by skateboarders, in-line skaters, kayakers, surfers and rafters.

Klein, who’s based in Paterson, came up with the idea in 2016, while his son was using a Citi Bike. He was not wearing a helmet, and neither were 82 percent of all bikers, the main reason being they did not have where to put the hard-shell helmets. 

How to fly using a wearable jetpack

But if ground transportation seems a bit obsolete, Funders & Founders had some propositions for the more courageous forward thinkers. Guanhao Wu, cofounder and CEO of Exovolar Industries Corp., an air mobility systems developer in Union City, said that his company, which now has three full-time and two part-time employees, has found a way to fly solo and hands free. Yes, you understood correctly, fly, using a wearable jetpack which does not require much training and fits on your body like an exoskeleton.

Wu said his company’s jetpack can be used to handle cargo transportation issues and even for search-and-rescue missions.

He cofounded Exovolar in 2019, after completing his master’s degree at Stevens Institute of Technology. “Our vision is to reach a future where people fly everywhere. It is inevitable, in our opinion. We built a wearable personal air-mobility system that allows a person to fly as easily as riding a Segway.”

Wu raised $350,000, with $300,000 of it coming from investors. 

Great opportunities for investors interested in backing new ideas

Investors also liked the event, having found good ideas to get behind. Stephen Dyer, who represented JumpStart New Jersey Angel Network (New Brunswick), said he was there to find New Jersey-based deal-flow for the group’s monthly meetings. “New Jersey Founders & Funders is a great resource that allows us to see many New Jersey-based startups in several hours,” he said.  “I thought the quality of the companies at Founders & Funders was very encouraging. JumpStart will likely look to bring several in to pitch at one of our monthly meetings over the coming months”, he added.

Dyer, who has been the chairperson of JumpStart NJ since 2013, established SRD Capital Management (Westfield) as his investing entity in September 2006, after 22 years on Wall Street, including 18 years at UBS Financial Services and its predecessor, PaineWebber. SRD Capital Management pursues investment opportunities in technology-based startups, mainly through opportunities Dyer sees through JumpStart.

“The JumpStart group currently has 37 members, primarily investing in technology companies raising their first round of capital from a third party. We meet monthly for approximately three hours and typically have three companies pitch. Those members who are interested in a company that has pitched would form a diligence team to explore further. We invest as individuals, so members only invest in opportunities that they like,” he said.

About NJ Founders & Funders

NJ Founders & Funders is organized by the NJEDA to facilitate warm introductions between innovative emerging New Jersey companies and sophisticated angel & institutional investors. Our mission is to help grow the innovation ecosystem. Hosted twice per year, venture capital investors are invited to meet with a pre-determined group of companies for 10-minute, one-on-one sessions to discuss strategy, business models and funding opportunities.

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