RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C., Oct. 27 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- North Carolina's smallest, most high-tech biotechnology "plumbing company" is the first recipient of an innovative new loan from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.
Advanced Liquid Logic, a microfluidics "lab-on-a-chip" spinout from Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering, is the first company in the state to get a Biotechnology Center Strategic Growth Loan (SGL). The $160,000 boost is the latest of several loans from the Biotechnology Center to the Research Triangle Park-based firm.
The Biotechnology Center launched the SGL concept earlier this year to help promising new biotechnology companies anywhere in the state survive the difficult startup process. An SGL may provide as much as $250,000, but the loan must be matched by an equal "angel network" or venture capital loan or investment. The SGL addresses a sometimes-deadly cash gap faced by many start- up companies between early-stage seed funding and later investment from venture capitalists, business partners and shareholders.
"We're glad the Biotechnology Center is there to help meet a critical need," said Richard West, Advanced Liquid Logic president and CEO. "The challenge we face is that there is just not enough early stage capital in this region to fund even the most promising companies. Over the last few years venture capital financing has moved downstream to later-stage companies, where products under development are closer to providing market return for investors." He said a network of angel investors provided the required SGL match for his firm.
West, a Duke engineering graduate, joined Advanced Liquid Logic technical co-founders Michael Pollack and Vamsee Pamula in early 2005. He understands well the trials and triumphs of entrepreneurship. Before heading Advanced Liquid Logic he was founder and CEO of TriVirix, originally a tiny Chapel Hill-based venture-funded medical equipment contract manufacturer that West shepherded through growth into an employer of some 500 people. New owners have since taken the firm to Minnesota.
Kenneth Roozen, executive administrator of the South Carolina-based Charleston Angel Partners, said the Biotechnology Center's due-diligence process and resultant funding, though separate from that undertaken by angel networks, provides a significant boost to an applicant's appeal. It contributed to his group's decision to invest in Advanced Liquid Logic, he said.
"This is the kind of leadership that makes North Carolina a fertile field for seed- and early-stage funding," said Roozen. "Having our investment matched dollar-for-dollar with this SGL program helps an already interesting opportunity spring to the front of the line. In addition, members of our group who are North Carolina residents will receive a tax credit from the State of North Carolina for their investment."
"We're delighted that the new SGL program helps meet the capital needs of promising young companies such as Advanced Liquid Logic," said Ken Tindall, the Biotechnology Center's Senior Vice President, Science & Business Development. "Great ideas must be nurtured to be converted into great North Carolina companies."
The Biotechnology Center has been providing a variety of loan programs to new biotechnology ventures for more than 17 years, primarily targeting start- up company research. But the SGL isn't restricted to research funding, said John Richert, Vice President of the Biotechnology Center's Business & Technology Development Program.
"The difference here," he said, "is that these funds can also be used for a wide range of needs -- hiring key non-executive employees, to help secure patent rights, to pursue business-development or licensing opportunities. The key restriction is that they can't be used for so-called brick-and-mortar capital outlays or executive-level salaries or benefits. But the program applies fewer restrictions on the matching investments."
Advanced Liquid Logic's core technology involves electronic wizardry for moving and analyzing miniscule droplets of liquid -- droplets measured in microliters and even nanoliters. That's a millionth and a billionth of a liter, respectively. To put that into perspective, West said a typical raindrop contains about 50 microliters of water.
Though the field of microfluidics research is growing, West said his firm is approaching it in a unique way. Most efforts in the field have been in channel-based technology using pumps, valves and pipes made on a micro scale, he said.
"But ours is done on a flat printed-circuit board or other specialized surface, and we move material around by turning switches on and off using a set of physics called electro-wetting. When you wax your car you can see how it makes water bead up on the surface. We're able to switch that droplet's properties from beading up to sitting down on the surface, manipulating its surface energy by turning electrodes on or off."
Put a bunch of electrodes in an array of a specific design, and you can, by sequentially turning them on and off, move droplets of blood or other fluid around the surface. The concept holds huge promise in both diagnostic and research instrument applications.
The firm has amassed more than $5 million in loans and grants since its founding in 2004 by Pollack and Pamula -- mostly in grants from the National Institutes of Health. It's one of two early-stage North Carolina biotechnology companies that received $15,000 Business Development Loans from the Biotechnology Center last year.
The firm is also among 16 North Carolina organizations awarded a total of $696,000 in state innovation grants as part of the new One North Carolina Small Business Fund, approved by the General Assembly last year with $1 million for the first round of grants for small businesses involved with research and technology development. Successful applicants had to already have a federal Small Business Innovation Research or a Small Business Technology Transfer award. Advanced Liquid Logic received $34,782 for a NASA-sponsored project to develop its lab-on-a-chip to perform diagnostic tests.
The Biotechnology Center, headquartered in Research Triangle Park, is a private, non-profit corporation supported by the N.C. General Assembly. Its mission is to provide long-term economic and societal benefits to North Carolina by supporting biotechnology research, business and education statewide.
Visit the Biotechnology Center's Web site at www.ncbiotech.org, and Advanced Liquid Logic at www.liquid-logic.com.
North Carolina Biotechnology Center