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Deals Of The Week Watches Crowdfunders Multiply Like Rabbits

Posted May 31, 2013

By Michael Goodman
The IN VIVO Blog

That giant sucking sound you hear is investors pulling their money out of early-stage drug and device research. As we’ve chronicled here and in our other publications, big pharma has valiantly stepped in to fill the breach, whether through corporate venture or academic tie-ups, but that won’t be enough to budge the gathering volume of biomedical discoveries stalled between lab and clinic.

Some investors, thinking the JOBS Act and its provisions governing general solicitation will usher in a sea change in how biomedical ideas get funded, have pointed to crowdfunding as a solution. We’ve written about a number of these entities, including MedStartr Inc., Poliwogg LLC, and most recently, HealthiosXchange.

On May 17, VentureHealth LLC threw its hat into the ring. VentureHealth is the creation of Mir Imran, who founded and manages its sibling companies InCube Ventures LLC and InCube Labs LLC, an incubator and collaborative research lab that spins out one or two companies each year. InCube Ventures typically invests in start-ups out of InCube Labs as well as in external companies. Mir himself holds more than 200 issued patents, is the inventor of numerous devices, and has founded more than 20 medical device companies, 15 of which have had successful exits via trade sale or IPO.

There is some debate about whether crowdfunding threatens VC by accessing a new and better idea flow and a broader base of investors. Greg Simon, CEO of Poliwogg, sees it as potentially disrupting the traditional investment supply chain, knocking out investment banks and venture, along with their bloated fees.

Simon told us that venture would probably not be interested in crowdfunding because the numbers are too small and, besides, venture’s business model is based on investing other people’s money.

Mir and his colleagues at InCube think otherwise. VentureHealth embodies the idea that the best of venture can be blended with the best of crowdfunding, to the benefit of venture investors, citizen LPs, entrepreneurs, and biomedical technology.

The potential of linking venture to crowdfunding was unwittingly demonstrated by an early pioneer. MedStartr, a crowdfunder of low-tech health and wellness products to non-accredited investors, operates on what amounts to a donation model. Investors see no return except for the warm glow that comes with contributing to a good cause. But an interesting thing about its crowdfunding model is that venture, angel, and other kinds of investors are on the sidelines watching. And every so often, when they see a good idea, they swoop in and fund it. MedStartr, sadly, is unable to participate in those exits.

But VentureHealth is.

For starters, VentureHealth takes a carried interest fee on what it earns in a sale or other liquidity event, much like a VC would. Mir’s partner, Andrew Farquharson, claims that this model aligns the interests of VentureHealth with its investors. Unlike some other crowdfunding portals, VentureHealth has no plan to become a registered broker-dealer.

VentureHealth’s plan is to only go out to accredited investors. In fact, it will be quite selective in the investors it brings in – physicians, researchers, individuals who understand the technology being offered and the market it’s targeting. As long as they meet those criteria, they can be experienced accredited investors or novice accredited investors who meet the minimum financial requirements set by the SEC but have traditionally been excluded from investing in private companies. Mir told us that VentureHealth is not interested in going out to non-accredited investors. It can raise all the money it needs from its accredited base, with additional support from InCube Ventures and, where warranted, from other venture co-investors.

It’s refreshing to find a crowdfunder who rejects the populist cant that many of its peers go in for. That’s not to say that VentureHealth isn’t opening up ground floor investment opportunities for investors who would otherwise be excluded. But it’s not exactly democratizing the process for all comers.

VentureHealth will focus on devices, drugs, diagnostics, and mobile health. In many cases, says Mir, InCube Ventures will co-invest alongside VentureHealth. The crowdfunding entity will likely have broader a remit for the deals it pursues than its venture sibling, but where they intersect, there will be co-investment. Venture health will be able to draw on the traditional venture strengths of screening deals, doing the diligence, managing companies, and providing follow-on funding.

The two exits listed on VentureHealth’s website illustrate the flexibility and potential of the venture/crowdfunding model especially when managed by industry insiders with extensive relationships and know-how.

Nfocus Neuromedical Inc. is a developer of a neurovascular device with an initial indication in brain aneurysms. The company was founded by Mir and co-inventor Martin Dieck. It was acquired in February by Covidien PLC in a structured acquisition for $51 million upfront and a $21 million earn-out payment. VentureHealth raised $1.49 million. Oxford Bioscience, DFJ e-Planet Ventures and others participated in financing rounds.

In the other exit, BodyMedia Inc., a developer and marketer of wearable body monitors that communicate with mobile devices, was acquired by Jawbone for $100 million in May 2013. VentureHealth raised $469,000. InCube Ventures, Comcast Ventures, and others participated in financing rounds.

Mir acknowledges that there’s an incestuous element to these early exits in which he wears the hats of company founder, venture co-investor, and crowdfunder. That might change over time. But he underscores another advantage of VentureHealth’s tight association with its VC sibling: “When Incube Ventures makes an investment from our fund, we keep a sizeable amount of dry powder on hand for follow-on rounds.” His point is that most angel investors – Mir says crowdfunding is organized angel investing – can’t look that far into the future and reserve capital for follow on fundings.

VentureHealth’s raises currently range between $500,000 and $1.5 million. Mir expects that number to rise as his accredited investor base gains experience. VentureHealth lists one “active investment” on its site: Channel Medsystems Inc. is developing an office-based, cryoablative technology to treat excessive menstrual bleeding. It raised $9.7 in an April B round led by Boston Scientific, toward which VentureHealth contributed $875,000.--Mike Goodman 

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