Alabama Launchpad competitors CerFlux and VentorLux win combined $150,000 in Selma

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Cycle 1 2019 Alabama Launchpad winners VentorLux and CerFlux with judges and audience members at Arts Revive in Selma. Photo by Bruce Nix

In front of a sold-out crowd in Selma on February 28, six Alabama startups made their best pitch. And the winner is (drumroll) our health. Check out what $100,000-winner VentorLux and $50,000-winner CerFlux, based in Birmingham, have in store for us.

Selma, Alabama, EDPA, Launchpad
Students from Wallace Community College of Selma had an opportunity to watch the pitches before the final competition. Photo by Bruce Nix

Why Selma? Check out Bham Now’s interview with Steve Spencer, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. EDPA sponsors Alabama Launchpad.

Meet VentorLux, $100K winner

Alabama, EDPA, Launchpad, Selma
Nathan Carr (founder) and Drew Barwick (executive director) of VentorLux accept the big check. Photo by Bruce Nix

Bham Now caught up with Nathan Carr, founder of VentorLux, after the big Launchpad win. VentorLux’ ultraviolet-C LED lights sanitize air flowing through healthcare facilities’ HVAC systems. This solves a major problem. Healthcare-associated illnesses cost more than $40 billion annually.

Alabama, EDPA, Launchpad, Selma, judges
Judges panel. Photo by Bruce Nix

Prize money plans

Here’s how VentorLux will use the $100,000 to grow its business in Phenix City, Alabama:

  • Order new LEDs.
  • Schedule microbial testing.
  • Build a small R&D production/assembly space.
  • When the parts arrive, build the “light core” in the new space.
  • Build a simulation chamber for testing microbes in the air, and initiate tests.
Alabama, EDPA, Launchpad, Selma
Judge Rachel Lane smiles as a Launchpad competitor nails the pitch. Photo by Bruce Nix

After the product passes microbial tests, Carr said, VentorLux will fill initial orders of 30 to 40 units to a local hospital.

“We are using newer, more powerful UVC LED’s for the fourth model, which will be the go-to market model.”

Nathan Carr, founder, VentorLux

Alabama Launchpad benefits

Alabama, EDPA, Launchpad, Selma
Carr and Barwick (front row) with Launchpad judges. Photo by Bruce Nix

Next, Bham Now asked Carr how the Alabama Launchpad process benefits competitors, beyond the prize. Was advice from coaches and feedback from judges helpful? Were business relationships formed?

“All of the above. What a tremendous resource. The Launchpad is named perfectly. This amount of financial backing allows for a small startup with a great idea to put all the right pieces into place to become a thriving business.”

Nathan Carr, founder, VentorLux
Selma, Alabama, EDPA, Launchpad, Wallace Community College student
Talk about a learning experience for Wallace Community College students. Maybe one day this student will pitch on the Launchpad stage. Photo by Bruce Nix

Why Phenix City, Alabama?

Final question: what makes Alabama, and Phenix City in particular, a good place for VentorLux to set up business?

“Alabama is one of the leading manufacturing states in the country now. And EDPA’s Alabama Launchpad Startup Competition is one of, if not the, best in the country.”

Nathan Carr, founder, VentorLux
Barwick and Carr pose for a photo op at the Launchpad competition. Photo by Bruce Nix

As for Phenix City, it happens to be next door to the city where Carr and Barwick’s other business is headquartered. Sonic Air Flow produces energy-efficient, high-powered fans for HVAC systems. VentorLux lights will be installed in the fan units, so it helps that the companies are close.

Another factor that puts Phenix City over the top is its proximity to resources and opportunities at Auburn University, Fort Benning and the U.S. Department of Defense.

A full house for the final competition at Arts Revive. Photo by Bruce Nix

“We believe that Phenix City sits in a unique spot, not only geographically, but also economically. Lots of opportunity in every direction.”

Nathan Carr, founder, VentorLux

Meet CerFlux, $50K winner

Dr. Karim I. Budhwani (CEO), Christopher M. Krebs (CFO) and Dr. Lisa W. Johnson (COO) of CerFlux accept the big check. Photo by Bruce Nix

Next up, CerFlux. This biotech company developed a test that identifies the most effective first-line cancer treatment for each individual patient. Compared to traditional protocols, this saves money and precious time. It also saves patients from enduring side effects from ineffective treatments.

Prize money plans

Dr. Budhwani makes the case for CerFlux. Photo by Bruce Nix

CerFlux is currently constructing a state-of-the-art lab in the historic Rush Hotel building in downtown Birmingham. That’s the corner of 18th Street and 3rd Avenue North.

The company will put the $50,000 toward its six-month roadmap, including:

  • Complete renovations and construction of the lab.
  • Refine the design and manufacturing process of the CerFlux platform for matching tumors with treatments.
  • Gather preliminary data required for national Small Business Innovation Research grants to underwrite subsequent research and development costs for translating the platform from “lab-2-life.”

Alabama Launchpad benefits

Krebs, Johnson and Budhwani (front row) with Launchpad judges. Photo by Bruce Nix

If you’ve got a startup, you should think seriously about applying for a future Alabama Launchpad Startup Competition. Check out how CerFlux benefited from the competition process itself.

  1. They gained expert outside perspectives. A quantitative scoring mechanism immediately highlighted strengths and areas ripe for improvement. CerFlux said they received “a clear, concise and directed line of qualitative questions, thoughtful comments and, yes, even glowing compliments to help steer those quantitative measures higher.”
  2. Even completing the application was helpful. “The scope and constraints imposed by the application process helps refine and enhance the clarity of message,” the CerFlux team said.
  3. Practice, practice, practice.
The CerFlux team watches a competing pitch. Photo by Bruce Nix

“In the days leading up to the final pitch to the judges, our team practiced the full-length pitch (and adjusted the slides) over a dozen times with different audiences in different settings.”

CerFlux

Practicing their pitch helped CerFlux articulate their vision, value, strategy, impact and startup story to a broad audience.

Johnson, Budhwani and Krebs pose for a photo op at the Launchpad competition. Photo by Bruce Nix

Why Birmingham, Alabama?

It comes down to the five P’s that are essential for startup communities, Budhwani said—particularly for companies in the cancer biotech space. Those five P’s are people, pillars, places, public policies and private investments.

“In Birmingham, we have a good mix of (1) people: researchers, scientists, entrepreneurs; and (2) pillars: O’Neil Comprehensive Cancer Center, Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama, UAB grad school, drug discovery firms like Southern Research, health insurance firms like BCBS of Alabama and patient/survivor organizations like Forge Cancer Survivor Center. We have a growing option of (3) places, such as Innovation Depot, Dynamic Biosciences and Forge Coworking. Finally, we have an improving (4) policy landscape—EDPA, BHM small business council—and (5) private investment appetite for startups.”

Dr. Karim I. Budhwani, CEO of CerFlux

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