Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Entra: The Stealthy New Start-Up from Yet-Ming Chiang and Michael Cima

I kept hearing that A123 Systems founder Yet-Ming Chiang was up to something new, so I've spent a few days putting together the pieces.

Turns out he has launched a new company, Entra Pharmaceuticals, to commercialize some drug delivery technology that he and fellow MIT prof Michael Cima cooked up a couple years ago. But they're not just creating an inexpensive, disposable new device that Cima refers to as a "patch pump" -- they're also working on a new drug, too. "The strategy is to make a product with the drug on board," Cima says. "Instead of a $5000 pump, this is a transformational technology that's less expensive, smaller, and less complex."

Unlike a passive nicotine patch, Chiang says their device does involve electronics. "A good way to describe it is 'smart' and 'active,'" he said during our game of Twenty Questions this afternoon. Neither founder wants to be specific about the disease they're addressing, though Cima says it won't be diabetes.

Both Chiang and Cima are board members and consultants to Entra, visiting the company one day a week for a technology update. They've hired Frank Bobe as chief executive, who was formerly chief business officer at Alseres Pharmaceuticals. (Alseres is a 17-year old company that has yet to get a drug approved, and was [updated] just de-listed from Nasdaq.) Heading up business development is Shobana Albrecht, previously at BG Medicine and Baxter. Rick Gyory is VP of product design and development; he earlier worked at Transform Pharmaceuticals and ALZA Corp.

Interestingly, Entra is now located at the BU Photonics Center near Kenmore Square -- the very same building where A123, Chiang's last company, was hatched. (Battery-maker A123 raised $69 million earlier this year, as it remains in a holding pattern waiting to go public.)

Here's the key patent MIT has licensed to Entra, which seems like a hybrid of a transdermal skin patch and a wearable infusion pump.

"Many new drugs have short half-lives," Cima explains. "They're metabolized quickly. So to get the right exposure, you have to hook yourself up to an IV for continuous administration, or if you do a bolus dose, you have to go really high, and a lot of the time the side effects you get are associated with that high concentration. With a device you can wear, you can achieve a long half life" without having to do either of those things, and without having to redesign the molecular structure of the drug itself. "That's the value that we bring, at a high level," Cima says.

This is the first life sciences start-up for Chiang. He told me that the science behind Entra was initially funded by a DARPA grant, and then by MIT's Deshpande Center. "The idea behind Deshpande is to help new technologies get through the 'valley of death,'" Chiang said, when they're not raw research any more, but they're also not yet a commercializable product. "That really worked in this case."

Up to now, the only real known info on Entra was a PEHub report last December noting that Flybridge Capital Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners had put $4.2 million into the company in an A round -- and will increase that amount to $12.5 million if the company hits certain milestones this year. The board member representing Flybridge is Michael Greeley; Jeffrey McCarthy represents North Bridge. This is the fourth Cima-related start-up that Greeley has been involved with.

(Another recent collaboration between Cima and Greeley is Certus Biomedical, which will soon change its name because of some trademark conflicts. Very little is known about that company, either, although its backers are Flybridge, Ed Kania at Flagship Ventures, and Kevin Bitterman at Polaris Venture Partners.)

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Three CEO Moves: Viximo, CloudSwitch, Paragon Lake

I don't usually track executive comings and goings here, but three interesting ones have happened recently (not all officially announced yet):

    1. Rob Frasca has been replaced as CEO at virtual goods company Viximo by Dayna Grayson from North Bridge, who will serve as acting CEO. North Bridge is one of the company's investors.

    2. Long-time SolidWorks CEO John McEleney is taking over as CEO at stealthy start-up CloudSwitch from founder Ellen Rubin, who is staying on in a key executive role.

    3. At custom jewelry site Paragon Lake, they're bringing in former BrassRing CEO Deb Besemer as CEO, and moving founder Matt Lauzon over to COO.

Here's a recent post from Lauzon on "Hiring the Right CEO."

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Delivered: A123's IPO Papers Arrive at the SEC

InnoEco told you back in April that an IPO for A123 Systems was on the way... and I actually assumed that since three months had elapsed with no news, the company had put it on ice, waiting for market conditions to improve.

But they just filed this morning, likely hoping to take advantage of the public interest in cleantech, and anything (like the company's plug-in hybrid car conversion business) that can combat high gas prices. A graphic included in the company's S-1 filing says, "Our world is warming up... to a new generation of energy storage solutions enabled by nanotechnology."

(I just checked... no, Al Gore is not on their board of directors, despite that "Inconvenient Truth"-style messaging.)

Some key info from the filing:

    We design, develop, manufacture and sell advanced, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and battery systems. Our batteries and battery systems provide a combination of power, safety and life that we believe no other commercially available battery provides. We believe that lithium-ion batteries will play an increasingly important role in facilitating a shift toward cleaner forms of energy. Using our innovative approach to materials science and battery engineering and our systems integration and manufacturing capabilities, we have developed a broad family of high-power, lithium-ion batteries and battery systems. This family of products, combined with our strategic partner relationships in the transportation, electric grid services and portable power markets, position us well to address these markets for next-generation energy storage solutions.

    In our largest target market, the transportation industry, we are currently working with major North American and European automotive manufacturers and major automotive, or tier 1, suppliers to develop batteries and battery systems for hybrid electric vehicles, or HEVs, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, and electric vehicles, or EVs. For example, we are engaged in design and development efforts with several passenger vehicle manufacturers and tier 1 suppliers, including General Motors Corporation, or General Motors, and Think Global AS, or Think Global, relating to the design and development of batteries and battery systems for eleven passenger vehicle power train programs that can be applied to 19 vehicle models. We estimate that the number of HEV, PHEV and EV models with an annual production run of at least 20,000 vehicles will grow from ten models in 2008 to over 100 models in 2012. The advanced battery market for HEVs, PHEVs and EVs is currently a $700 million market. We estimate this market could grow to at least $5 billion by 2012.

    ...We began selling our first products commercially in the first quarter of 2006. We have over 1,100 employees worldwide. Since our inception through March 31, 2008, we have generated $87.1 million in revenue, consisting of $72.6 million from battery and battery system sales and $14.5 million from research and development services. Our revenue has grown from $34.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2006 to $41.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2007, and from $8.1 million for the three months ended March 31, 2007 to $10.3 million for the three months ended March 31, 2008.

Like a lot of start-ups, they're still losing money: $31 million in 2007, up from $15.8 million in 2006. Revenues were $41.3 million last year, up from $34.3 in 2006.

[ Update: Dan Primack has a post noting that A123 also disclosed in the filing that they raised an additional $102 million this year, bringing their total funding to $230 million. ]

As I'd reported earlier, the biggest A123 shareholders to this point are North Bridge Venture Partners (13.6 percent), Desh Deshpande (12.7 percent), GE (10.4 percent), and Qualcomm and Motorola, both with about eight percent. CEO David Vieau holds 2.4 percent of the stock. No word on how much founders Yet-Ming Chiang and Ric Fulop hold. Another beneficiary of a successful IPO will be MIT, which licensed some of the original IP developed there to A123.

In June, I wrote a column about A123's early history -- and produced a video about the company.

How excited are people about this IPO? I've gotten about a dozen e-mails over the last three months asking me whether I knew when A123 would file...

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The A123 Systems IPO: Signed, Sealed ... But Not Yet Delivered

Two unnamed sources with close ties to A123 Systems, the Watertown maker of next-gen lithium ion batteries for Black and Decker cordless tools and plug-in hybrid cars, tell me that the company's IPO filing is essentially complete. Once the first quarter numbers are finalized, an S-1 is likely to arrive in the SEC's inbox sometime in the next month or so. The offering could value the company at more than $1 billion. Road show is planned for September; Goldman, JP Morgan, and Merrill are underwriting, I'm told.

A123 Systems has raised more than $150 million since it was founded in 2001. Among the biggest winners from a successful IPO would be North Bridge Venture Partners and Sycamore Networks chairman Desh Deshpande. (North Bridge has a cool video case study on A123.) Sequoia Capital and General Electric are also investors.

Will Wall Street have an appetite for a battery IPO in September? We'll see...

A123 Systems' PR rep, Keith Watson, says, "The company can't comment on anything related to an IPO."

(In the photo is George W. Bush with A123 CEO David Vieau, standing next to a plug-in hybrid Prius that A123's Hymotion division converted. White House photo by Paul Morse.)

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Display Demo Night at Cambridge Innovation Center

Two interesting news tidbits emerged at this past Wednesday's "Entrepreneurs on the Edge" demo night at Cambridge Innovation Center.

We brought together five representatives of companies working on new kinds of display technologies. I was least familiar with QD Vision, a Watertown company working on "quantum dot" based LED screens, so it was nice to hear more about their technology. (Their backers include Highland Capital and North Bridge.)

Dan Bricklin was there, and he recorded a podcast of the panel discussion part of the evening.

Two of the companies there shared some interesting news, both related to spin-outs.

Adam Bogue, formerly vp of bizdev at Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs, is spinning out a new company called Circle Twelve, Inc. Circle Twelve will commercialize the DiamondTouch table developed at MERL over the past seven years, which turns a tabletop into an interface, allowing four users to sit around and interact with data by touching it. Bogue says that Mitsubishi will have a stake in the new company, and earn royalty payments from every sale. He's looking to raise about $1 million to get the company off the ground.

The system sells for $10,000, which doesn't include the LCD projector it uses to project images onto the table, or the laptop or PC that serves as a CPU. (A Computerworld article mentioning DiamondTouch is here.) Bogue was getting a lot of questions last night about how the table is different from Microsoft's Surface technology, and also the Perceptive Pixel technology used on CNN during election nights. For one, DiamondTouch is available now...

Here's a video of Bogue's demo that I shot:

And David Rose, founder of Ambient Devices, said he's helping to launch a new company called Vitality, to bring to market smart pill bottle tops called GlowCaps. (Rose stepped away from day-to-day responsibilities at Ambient earlier this year.) GlowCaps will not only remind you when to take important medications (and perhaps e-mail your doctor to let her know you're sticking to the regime), but could send a reorder request to the pharmacy when your stock of pills dwindles. (More from Engadget. Rose said he has raised some seed funding already to do some consumer trials from a West Coast angel investor.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Today's Globe column: Why VCs Do (or Don't) Blog

Today's Globe column deals with the ways that blogging is changing the relationship between entrepreneurs and VCs. From the piece:

    There's a bifurcation happening in the Boston venture capital world: Some firms blog, and some don't. And the divide isn't just about being hip to the latest trend. It signifies an important shift in the way VC firms interact with entrepreneurs.

The video is below (it features Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital, Jon Radoff of GuildCafe, MIT Sloan student Sim Blaustein, and Mike Feinstein)... and after it, some additional thoughts e-mailed to me by VC bloggers Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures and Jeffrey Bussgang of IDG Ventures.

From Fred Wilson:

    [Blogging is] a huge benefit to our business. Of course it brings incremental deal flow, but it also filters the deal flow and makes it more targeted and more relevant

    Its also a great way to bring needed attention to the companies we invest in

    And its a way to do research on new sectors and learn about other companies that compete with our companies

    And its a great way to learn about emerging technologies. Check out the comments to my andreessen post yesterday or my post on AIR last week. You can't buy that kind of education and I get it every day for free

    I could go on and on. Its the best tool for vc investing that I've ever seen and I've been in this business for more than 20 yrs

From Jeffrey Bussgang:

    - Definitely less about deal flow and more about transparency and providing accessibility, humanizing the VC process
    - Open dialog helps me keep in touch with entrepreneur’s latest issues and hot buttons
    - Provides sense of accountability to the entrepreneur community
    - Helps me understand social networking, community, blogging, and many other Web 2.0 phenomenon from a practical standpoint as a practioner, not theoretical

Interestingly, one thing I didn't mention in my column... at least one Boston firm, North Bridge Venture Partners, has an internal blog that's visible only to their partners and entrepreneurs.

(In my blogroll at right, I think I have a comprehensive list of all the Boston-area VC blogs.)

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Today's Globe column: Cell Towers, the Home Version

Today's column deals with a few of the local companies developing technology for femtocells -- essentially a tiny cellphone tower for your home -- and some of the VC firms backing them. From the piece:

    Plugged into your high-speed Internet connection, they'll communicate with your existing cellphone whenever you're at home, and send your calls over the Internet. The benefits are better coverage, faster data speeds, and longer battery life for your handset - since it no longer has to communicate with a cell tower that may be a mile away.

And here's Airvana CEO Randy Battat talking about'll be interesting to see whether Airvana's femtocell product looks like the prototype he has in the video, or has a flashier design (Randy is an ex-Apple exec, after all.)

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