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Investing in Innovation at the University of Maryland, Baltimore

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) spurs the advancement of commercially promising technologies and innovative startup companies through a robust mix of programs designed to support our inventors and entrepreneurs at each stage of development. One initiative is the UM Ventures, Baltimore (UMVB) equity investment program.

Bringing a biotech product to market requires significant funding. For many startups in this space, the first round of funding can be difficult to acquire. The UMVB equity investment program invests directly in UMB startups, providing not just financial support, but also sending a strong message to potential co-investors: this company, this technology, this team has potential.

Since the program was established in 2014, UMVB has invested just under $2 million in 12 companies through 18 investments. And the track record is excellent.

  • Four of the companies – Harpoon Medical, Breethe, Living Pharma, and SurgiGyn – have been acquired.
  • The portfolio companies have raised an additional $95 million in co-funding, new grants, and subsequent follow-on funding.
  • Four 510k clearances and two CE marks have been obtained.
  • Returns from the four acquisitions have helped establish both a dedicated, independent wet laboratory in the University of Maryland BioPark and a medical device prototyping space on UMB’s campus. Both of these spaces expand the University’s capabilities and provide critical support for UMB startups and inventors.

Over the last year, UMVB has made three investments in a diverse mix of companies.

  • Gliknik, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company creating new therapies for people living with immune disorders, received follow-on investment in the summer of 2023. The company is advancing its fourth drug into human clinical trials.
  • Sonosa Medical, a pre-clinical diagnostics company developing the next generation of tools to diagnose and treat obstructive sleep apnea, received an initial investment in the fall of 2023.  
  • Protaryx Medical, a medical device company reimagining access to the left atrium for minimally invasive transcatheter cardiac procedures, received follow-on investment in January 2024. The technology behind Protaryx also received support from the UMVB Life Science IP Fund, an initiative that provides direct support to commercially promising translational research projects at UMB.

Dr. David Block and Phil Robilotto signed a follow-on investment agreement in the summer of 2023.
Dr. David Block and Phil Robilotto signed a follow-on investment agreement in the summer of 2023.
Prior to these investments, UMVB had not made any investments since 2021 due to a lack of qualifying opportunities. That downturn is reflective of an overall lull in biotech investment following the boom of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The financing environment has been an extremely challenging one for the past three years,” said David Block, MD, MBA, chairman and CEO of Gliknik, adding “we are extremely grateful to UM Ventures and all of our investors who have stuck with us over the years.”

“We’re excited about the uptick in activity over the last year and feel it indicates a rebound in the biotech investment environment,” said Phil Robilotto, associate vice president for technology transfer at UMB and executive director of UMVB. “It’s a very positive sign for UMB startups trying to raise financing rounds in 2024.”

The goal of UMVB’s investment program is to help UMB startups successfully navigate the “valley of death.” This occurs after a technology is spun out into a startup, but before it has been de-risked enough  to attract interest from investors. 

"This investment is a boon for Sonosa and came at a pivotal stage,” commented Stephen Restaino, PhD, founder and CEO of Sonosa Medical. “It also highlights the holistic approach and firm commitment at UM Ventures, Baltimore to support commercialization of the incredible research at UMB."

David Mester, MBA, CEO of Protaryx Medical echoed Dr. Restaino, saying “Protaryx owes much of its success to the invaluable partnership with UM Ventures, Baltimore. Their continued support, including multiple rounds of financing, has played a pivotal role in our journey.”

The UMVB equity investment program invests in startup companies that are based on UMB intellectual property and are based in Maryland. It was originally established to help support UMB startups as they attempted to raise initial seed financing rounds, but due to the success of the program, has expanded to include participation in follow-on rounds, such as late seed, “A round,” and later.

UMVB is actively looking to expand its investment network to benefit UMB startup companies. For more information on the UMVB equity investment program, please contact Phil Robilotto.