Medical Device Daily Executive Editor

MINNEAPOLIS – Don Gerhardt, president and CEO of Medical Alley/MNBIO (St. Louis Park, Minnesota), admits to a bit of a bias when it comes to evaluating the place of the annual Medtech Investing Conference, which opens today at the Radisson Plaza Hotel in downtown Minneapolis.

Because Medical Alley is a co-sponsor with IBF (International Business Forum; Massapequa, New York) of the annual conference, being held for the fourth year in this vital med-tech region, Gerhardt is proud of the place the gathering has made for itself.

And especially of the attention the meeting is helping to focus on Minnesota and the Upper Midwest as a place for healthcare investors to put their money to work.

“Going back three or four years,” he said, “there wasn’t a lot going on in terms of investment in start-up and developmental-stage firms in this part of the country. It was all pretty much confined to the East and West coasts.”

Now that is changing.

“We continue to see strong national and international interest in what is going on here,” Gerhardt said, noting, for instance, that this week’s conference will draw attendees from between seven and 10 countries.

“That breadth of participation is achieving what we as an organization had hoped for when we partnered with IBF to sponsor the first Medtech Investing Conference in 2002,” he said.

With the investing spotlight now illuminating many of the companies represented on the Medical Alley rolls, the focus of the conference is evolving as well.

“Business development people from the large companies are starting to show up in greater numbers,” Gerhardt said, “so we’re seeing more and more networking being done involving the companies that are looking for investors or corporate partners.”

It’s a matter of getting the right people into the same room – not only those looking for partners, but also those representing venture funds and institutional investors, with a few economic development and technology transfer types stirred into the mix.

Among the interested participants this year are representatives of the Midwest Research University Network (MRUN; Evanston, Illinois), which is holding a national meeting in conjunction with the Medtech Investing Conference.

MRUN, an alliance of university business development professionals dedicated to facilitating growth of technology spin-out companies, is built around the concept that regional cooperation in new business formation can better facilitate commercialization of university research.

More than 20 member institutions – representing most of the members of the Big 10, plus several other Midwestern universities and organizations, such as the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minnesota) – work together to address shared problems in start-up business development.

“These institutions were seeing a lot of grants and venture capital activity going to the coasts, said Gerhardt, “and people involved with those institutions were saying, ‘Hey, there’s lots going on here.’”

So MRUN was formed in 2002, and now is working jointly on grant applications and attempting to accelerate the establishment of spin-out companies to commercialize university-generated technology.

“They’re also very active in organizing ‘angel’ networks and other financing opportunities,” said Gerhart. “They really mean business.”

The program for the opening day includes an overview session on trends in investing in medical devices and healthcare technologies, followed by a panel on the challenges in funding and building early-stage device companies.

An afternoon session will highlight post-FDA approval activities involved as companies transition to the commercialization stage.

Five early-stage firms will present during a “Medtech Connect” showcase, a session that will be repeated with five other firms on Thursday.

Typically fast-paced and replete with opportunities for financiers and companies to connect with one another, the conference takes a back seat to none. As Liz Rammer, vice president of marketing and communications for Medical Alley/MNBIO, puts it: “We have the right people and the right program. And best of all, it’s fun.”