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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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
“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
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
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
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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- Practice, practice, practice.
“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.
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