El Paso-based technology startup companies will call the Cardwell Collaborative in Central El Paso home for the next six months as they sharpen their business plans and prepare their products to sell on the market.
The Medical Center of the Americas Foundation selected 11 teams out of 25 applicants to participate in a new technology “proof-of-concept” competition. It is part of a broader effort by city leaders to create more high-skill, high-wage jobs in the region by cultivating innovative growth companies.
The competition’s objectives are “to create new high-tech businesses focused on developing technologies born in our region and to help the technologies born in the labs in our region get out of the labs and into the marketplace,” said Jeff Fuchsberg, director of intellectual property and innovation projects at the MCA Foundation.
The products include everything from a device developed by two brothers in a garage for diabetes patients to a portable device developed by a UTEP researcher that identifies Meningitis and Pertussis bacterial strains.
The competition marks a step forward for El Paso’s budding startup ecosystem. The MCA Foundation attempted a similar program in 2015 and only received four applications. None of the applications were strong enough to fund, said MCA Foundation Executive Director Emma Schwartz.
“This is what we have been working toward for so long,” Schwartz said.
The nonprofit is guiding the development of a 440-acre medical and biotech campus in South Central El Paso, which includes the Cardwell Collaborative.
The MCA Foundation began accepting applications for the proof-of-concept competition in May and winners were selected in June. Some of the teams began moving into their offices at the Cardwell Collaborative last week.
While some teams have already secured patents for their devices or garnered national attention, they have not brought their products to market. That’s where the MCA Foundation wants to help.
The 11 teams receive six months of free rent for office space on the third floor of the Cardwell Collaborative, a “biomedical innovation center” that opened in June 2016.
They also have access to business mentors and financial support from the MCA Foundation, between $5,000 to $50,000, to bring their products to market.
“We have an ongoing requirement to provide funding support for proof-of-concept level innovation – technologies that are too risky for an equity investor to typically be very interested in,” Fuchsberg said.
Next spring, an expo will be held for the teams to share their devices with possible investors.
Ernesto Holguin has worked with his younger brother, Eduardo Holguin, in his garage since 2014 on a device to help older El Pasoans and disabled residents with diabetes take care of their feet.
Ernesto Holguin is a registered nurse and clinical coordinator for dialysis patients at Las Palmas Medical Center on the Westside.
At the push of a button, his device dries and photographs the feet of diabetes patients who suffer from foot ulcers. Ulcers can form on the feet of people with diabetes when their feet are damp, covered by a sock or left untreated, he said.
Holguin said the idea came to him in 2003 when an elderly woman came to the hospital with an infection because an ulcer on her foot was exposed. The woman didn’t know she had a problem until she smelled it.
Holguin said the existing method for diabetes patients is to hold a mirror under their feet to check for ulcers, which is not practical when some patients can barely bend their bodies to put socks on.
In 2015, 25 million to 35 million Americans had diabetes and one in five developed ulcers, according to Holguin.
His project has gone through four prototypes, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently certified his patent.
Holguin said he has invested $3,000 in the device out of his own pocket.
In the meantime, XiuJun James Li, an associate professor in the UTEP Department of Chemistry, and his team of 10 researchers have been developing a way to identify Meningitis and Pertussis bacterial strains with portable devices.
The devices, which have been under development since 2012, are equipped with biochips that are able to identify the strains.
Li said the project has required four patents, and developing the devices has cost about $1 million.
He said while developed countries like the United States successfully prevent deaths from Meningitis and Pertussis, developing countries in Africa have not been as successful. He said an estimated 200,000 people die from the bacterial strains worldwide each year.
Li said he wants to help by making the technology more accessible and the process quicker.
“The product should be very competitive in the market,” he said.
His team has received support from the Philadelphia Foundation, a nonprofit that provides grants for several causes including global health care.
Fuchsberg said El Paso has a lot to offer and is a great city for startup companies. He said two new co-working spaces in Downtown, the Hub of Human Innovation business incubator and tech transfer centers at UTEP and NMSU foster a culture of innovation.
“There is a robust medical device manufacturing cluster that exists between El Paso and Juárez,” he said.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Aaron Montes at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 105 or (915) 777-4154. Twitter: @aaronmontes91