Graeme Thickins on Tech

Reflections & analysis about innovation, technology & startups, with a focus on Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes

What’s the Future for MedTech Startups? Reasons to Be Worried (and a Ray of Hope)

[NOTE: This post first appeared at]

Living and working here in Minnesota, as I do, you constantly hear about how wonderful our state’s medical technology industry is. After all, we’re the No. 1 Global Medtech Cluster, as I was reminded again here at the AdvaMed 2016 conference.  We all think we’re sitting on this huge industry that will just keep growing forever and bring bountiful riches to our state. Well, it turns out things are not all that rosy.futureatrisk-cover280w

I learned today about a new report, “A Future at Risk: Economic Performance, Entrepreneurship, and Venture Capital in the U.S. Medical Technology Sector.”

Here’s the gist:

“The American medical technology industry has been suffering from a steady decline of entrepreneurship for more than two decades…”

What? Yes, it’s a fact: the numbers associated with this engine of innovation (and jobs) have been declining quite markedly.

We can relate to the medtech startup engine very well here in Minnesota, with our own giant Medtronic having been started by Earl Bakken in a garage in Northeast Minneapolis. (I worked for the company early in my career and got to be taken out for a welcome lunch by the man himself.)

Two charts from the report, shown here, will surprise many. (Click for larger view.) startupdensity-chart-kauffman

newcoformations-chartHere’s more from the report’s executive summary:

“The (medtech) industry is increasingly concentrated in a shrinking number of large players. All of those companies are scouring the globe for medtech innovation. With fewer startups in the system, the industry’s dominant companies recognize the long-term threat to innovation represented by fewer companies fueling the industry’s pipeline of innovation. All these factors represent a present and future threat to American leadership in the industry, to medical innovation and, ultimately, to patients.” Continue reading

TreeHouse Health Names Its 13th Portfolio Company

The winner of the 2016 Minnesota Cup, the largest business plan competition in the U.S., has been named by healthcare-startup incubator TreeHouse Health in Minneapolis as its latest portfolio company. StemoniX is leading the development and manufacturing of human-induced pluripotent stem cells for pharmaceutical drug-discovery applications, such as biologically accurate, miniaturized organ-like microtissues.TreeHouse-FinalLogo

“We are excited to announce the addition of StemoniX to the TreeHouse Health ecosystem,” said J.D. Blank, managing director, in a prepared statement. “Through their innovative work, they are advancing the field of drug discovery and ultimately helping patients get better treatment more quickly.”

StemoniX’s biotechnology provides scientists with standardized, easy-to-use, cost-effective access to relevant human microtissue for toxicity and efficacy screening. stemonix-logoIncorporated in Minnesota, the company is colocated in Minneapolis and San Diego, California.

TreeHouse Health defines itself as an “innovation center” designed to invest in emerging healthcare companies and help accelerate their growth. It says Stemonix is setting a new standard for stem cell technologies to meet the demands of drug discovery and personalized medicine.

mncup-logo-squareStemoniX earned the Grand Prize and title of “Best Breakthrough Business Idea of 2016” at the 12th annual MN Cup awards, held on September 22, 2016 at the University of Minnesota.

StemoniX says its efforts are revolutionizing stem cell-based research and drug screening and will lead to a new era of drug discovery and personalized medicine. “We’re grateful to become part of TreeHouse Health as a portfolio company,” said Ping Yeh, CEO. “We’re confident our relationship with TreeHouse Health will help us establish a strong presence in Minnesota, as well as generate new opportunities for Minnesota-based financing and collaborative partnerships with TreeHouse Health anchor tenants and other connections.”

TreeHouse Health now has 13 portfolio companies.

TreeHouse Health now has 13 portfolio companies.

Yeh continued: “We are thankful to the MN Cup organizers, sponsors, and community for their support and the opportunities created by our participation in the competition this year, which includes our new relationship with TreeHouse Health.”

Along with providing investment, TreeHouse Health offers its portfolio companies access to its ecosystem consisting of leading healthcare organizations (its “anchor tenants”), professional service providers, and other emerging healthcare companies. To date, TreeHouse Health has invested in thirteen early-stage healthcare companies and has anchor tenant relationships with Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (BCBS), and Accenture.


My Live Blog of the 2016 ‘Pioneer Summit’…


I just wrapped up my live blogging at the Pioneer Summit in Redwood City, CA, covering both days of the conference, September 14 and 15. More than 1,500 attended. Here’s how the organizers described the conference:

“The agenda is packed with thrilling conversations on the ideas and people who will shape the world. Whether you’re inspired by game-changing entrepreneurs building our robotic future, or determined investors that fuel billion-dollar startups, the Pioneer Summit is bringing the Global Silicon Valley’s best and brightest to Redwood City.”

They weren’t kidding — it was packed with awesomeness!

What follows is my complete live blog, now archived in chronological order.

(Also see a selection of the photos I took at the event in this Flickr Album.)

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