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Delaware Innovation Space invests in 3 startups

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The Delaware Innovation Space recently made more than $250,000 in investments in startup companies. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DISI

WILMINGTON – The Delaware Innovation Space, a 3-year-old nonprofit incubator and accelerator formed by the state, DuPont, and the University of Delaware, now has another role: investor.

The Innovation Space recently invested a total of $265,000 in three startup companies through its new First Fund investment program. The recipients include Baltimore-based Gaskiya Diagnostics and Revolve Biotechnologies as well as Layer Metrics, based in Princeton, N.J.

The First Fund program aims to invest in early-stage companies that are looking to continue development work while pursuing investment rounds and grants. It is geared toward health care, industrial biotechnology, advanced materials, nutrition, renewable energy and chemical ingredients, all industry sectors where Delaware has established businesses that can lend aid and expertise.

Bill Provine

Bill Provine, president and CEO of the Innovation Space, said that the First Fund, which was announced last year, wasn’t originally going to infuse cash into the startups. While the Innovation Space first sought to become equity investors through in-kind contributions of space and services, Provine said that the nonprofit’s leaders recognized the need for more traditional investments.

“Entrepreneurs still need to eat; we still need to give them the ability to buy materials and sustain themselves,” he said, noting that the cash component announced in early 2020 works as a one-to-one mix with services.

Although Provine declined to break down how much each of the three recipients received, he noted that the maximum investment for any one company is $150,000, split evenly between cash and services. All three First Fund recipients have relocated their labs and executives to the Innovation Space, although they may continue to have some presence in their home states, he added.

Founded last year by Mary Larkin, Gaskiya Diagnostics serves the $250 billion aquaculture industry by enabling farmers to quickly diagnose disease in their stock and enabling them to immediately mitigate its impact. It is developing a test that doesn’t require specialized training or equipment, making them accessible to all aquaculture farmers, decreasing losses and increasing food quality.

Aquaculture is a burgeoning industry that Gaskiya hopes to aid with improved testing. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Gaskiya is growing quickly, having closed a $625,000 first round of seed financing that included the Innovation Space as well as obtaining nearly $225,000 in federal grants for work on detecting viruses in farm-raised shrimp and trout.

“The First Fund investment is meeting several critical needs for our company’s growth, including growing our team in order to expedite and expand our product development to best meet the needs of our customers,” Larkin said in a statement.

Revolve Biotechnologies is a 7-year-old company that serves the biopharmaceutical industry through protein engineering. Its core technology, licensed from Johns Hopkins University, drives novel creation of optimized proteins for therapeutics, diagnostics, and research tools.

Revolve was named a finalist for the 2018 Maryland Incubator Company of the Year and it also has received a $450,000 federal grant for protein work that aids in the imaging of the brain.

“With a strong scientific community of other successful biotech companies, Revolve will be immersed in an ecosystem built to drive innovation. The First Fund investment, combined with the state-of-the-art facilities and equipment of the space, will allow Revolve to focus on growing revenue with the confidence that it can meet customer demand,” Alex Meltzer, CEO of Revolve, said in a statement.

Layer Metrics Inc. is focused on quality control for 3D metal additive manufacturing, a complicated process that is difficult to control and prone to distortions. Layer Metrics’ patent-pending sensor system monitors and detects flaws during the manufacturing process, enabling users to correct issues while a part is being printed.

“Layer Metrics is excited and privileged to be among the first companies to receive an investment from the Delaware Innovation Space and its First Fund,” said Clare Murphy, CEO of Layer Metrics, in a statement. “Additionally, access to this world-renowned, vibrant ecosystem connects us to new opportunities that are backed by a distinguished, broad-based and deeply experienced team. Supported by Delaware Innovation Space, Layer Metrics is accelerating its new monitoring technology to the marketplace.”

Provine said that the Innovation Space will make periodic investments through the First Fund, and it won’t necessarily wait for an annual application period. He hopes to parlay this support into future successful companies like Prelude Therapeutics, an Innovation Space tenant that recently went public and is now worth nearly $2 billion, that can be big employers for Delaware.

“You get them here and you get them to taste your environment and then it’s up to them whether to stay and grow here or not,” he said. “We hope to convince them to do so.”

By Jacob Owens

[email protected]

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