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Innovators gather at Edward Jones for St. Louis County business plan competition

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 1, 2012 - For the second year in a row, the biotech community was strongly represented among the winners of the annual St. Louis Regional Business Plan Competition.

“It shows the very fertile field for entrepreneurs to come out of the biotech arena here, both on the medical and the plant side because we have such great science,” Denny Coleman, president and CEO of the St. Louis County Economic Council, told the Beacon. “If you wrap around that science, the entrepreneurs, some money to help get the process started, the great facilities that we have, we’re really looking for great things out of this sector in the future.”

The SLCEC organized the event which gave away $100,000 in grant money along with 75 hours of professional legal, accounting and public relations services donated by some of St. Louis’ biggest names such as Armstrong Teasdale, Fleishman-Hillard and RubinBrown. Two of the three victors were medtech startups.

Winners were announced Wednesday at a lunch hosted by sponsor Edward Jones in an event at its Des Peres office, complete with speeches, photos and oversized checks. More than 100 applicants competed for the cash.

Half the prize money went to MediBeacon, a company working on a non-invasive renal monitoring system.

“We’re really excited,” said Steve Hanley, CEO of the operation he helped found earlier this year. “It was a great process to go through and we’re thrilled to have won.”

The company, which has acquired 22 patent families from Mallinckrodt and Covidien, is looking to create a way to use a fluorescent device to pick up a tracer that would allow someone to keep track of kidney function in real time.

“The competition gives you a template, an approach of how to present the business plan and makes you present to some very experienced business leaders as well as investors so the process itself has great value,” said Hanley.

Second place went to the sole non-biotech winner, iLER Brands, where founder Scott Iler is working to put out his GameDay Scoreboard, an electronic device designed to attach to the pole on a driveway basketball hoop. The board includes a timer, sound effects and programming for games from “horse” to a free-throw contest.

“They sell 500,000 basketball poles a year in retail so if you go back a few years that’s 2 million basketball poles looking for a scoreboard,” said Iler, a Fairview Heights native who founded the company this year though he’s been working on the idea since 2008.

Iler, who snagged $30,000 from the contest, hopes his device will be in stores in time for Christmas and thinks he can sell 7,000 units next year.

Not that it’s been easy. He said he’s previously run into trouble getting a manufacturer who would deal with a company as small as his.

“That’s the whole key, finding the right resources to be able to take your product and get it manufactured,” he said. “That was the hardest part.”

RETECTIX, a company looking to produce a new kind of implantable material for surgical meshes, claimed third prize. President Matthew MacEwan said the secret to success lies in locating the right people.

“It’s really just a matter of knowing how all the parts fit together and finding the strongest and most capable people to compose the team,” said MacEwan, whose company evolved from one founded earlier in 2010. “I think there are a lot of great people, a lot of great talent, a lot of great resources. Finding those people maybe takes a little more digging than in other places, but I think St. Louis has a lot of great capacity for high-tech startups. With a little effort you can make great things happen.”

He hopes RETECTIX will be one of those things.

“It’s a great honor to win this award today,” said MacEwan, a Texas native whose technology was developed at Washington University. “It really shows the local support for new companies in the biotech space, especially in the St. Louis area. There’s a strong undercurrent of biotech here, and we’re a product of that.”

Last year’s three awardees also featured two medtech concerns.

The contest began in 2010, and Edward Jones announced it would be backing it yet again next year.

Interviewed before his remarks in the investment giant’s sunlit lobby, an enthusiastic Charlie Dooley said the competition was about more than just giving away cash and services. It also rewarded initiative.

“It’s about entrepreneurship. It’s about supporting startups,” said the two-term St. Louis County executive. “That’s the whole key to this thing.”

“Even this company,” he added, gesturing at the multistory Edward Jones building, “was started with one person with an idea and look where they are now.”

The competition is open to entrepreneurs from all around the area, not just those within the county’s borders.

“We’re not concerned about just St. Louis County,” Dooley said. “If the metropolitan area grows, St. Louis County grows as well. It’s about all of us.”

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