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Abilitech Medical wins MN Cup

Abilitech Medical was named startup of the year at the MN Cup this week. Abilitech Medical is a medical device company that builds medical devices that improve the lives of individuals suffering from neuromuscular disorders, such as multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy. The company’s first product is a one-of-a-kind, upper body wearable assistive device that…

Picture of person with drawn over device on right arm
Courtesy of Abilitech Medical website

Abilitech Medical was named startup of the year at the MN Cup this week. Abilitech Medical is a medical device company that builds medical devices that improve the lives of individuals suffering from neuromuscular disorders, such as multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy.

The company’s first product is a one-of-a-kind, upper body wearable assistive device that allows the user to perform activities in daily life.  The Abilitech Assist fits to the arm and, like a vehicle’s power steering, can be utilized by the wearer to enable functional range of motion.  The device helps patients control the movement of their arms so that users can perform daily activities – such as using a computer or eating.  The device has been built with a spring at the shoulder and elbow that help support the user’s existing strength.  Then, software makes the experience unique to each wearer, customizing the spring tension based on individual user strength but also the needs for lifting and dexterity.

The company is led by Angie Conley who has grown up in the Twin Cities med-device ecosystem with a stint at Medtronic. But, just prior to Abilitech, Ms. Conley was a leading sales and marketing consultant with Fortune 100 companies seeking to grow their presence in the med-device market.

Her growth in Minnesota’s medical technology ecosystem makes perfect sense.  As she said in a press release following the Abilitech win, “Minnesota has the perfect ecosystem to build a medical device startup. We have a highly experienced workforce and advisory community, excellent hospital systems, and resources, like Medical Alley and the MN Cup to build our business.”

She also pointed to the programs ability to pull in high-level mentors as a key way that Abilitech has benefited from the local ecosystem.  She pointed to mentors such as Robert Befidi of 3M, Janelle Voaykin of CGI, Mike Nolan of United Health, and others.  The role of mentorship is critical in both helping new executives build companies but also in expanding these executives potential network for sales and market understanding.

However, like many other ecosystems, funding remains a gap that Ms. Conley has suggested remains underdeveloped. “Now, Minnesota and other Upper Midwest startup regions need the involvement of investors with bigger, and more open pocketbooks to invest in early stage companies.”  To date, Abilitech through Ms. Conley and her team’s efforts have been fairly successful fundraisers.  According to the press release, the company has raised more than $10 million.  However, to her point, much of that has come from non-Midwestern sources, including Bios Partners (Fort Worth) and DEFTA Partners (San Francisco).

According to the Star Tribune, the company is preparing to launch a seventy-five patient study with Gillette Children’s Healthcare and the University of Minnesota study.

The MN Cup is run out of the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.  However, it was originally founded by serial entrepreneurs, Dan Mallin and Scott Litman to help grow the entrepreneurial community in Minnesota.  It is a community-led, public-private partnership that brings skilled mentors and professionals to bear against startup opportunities.  To date, the organization has given away nearly $3 million in funding to organizations that have ultimately raised nearly $400 million in aggregate capital.  This program is one of the leading state-run programs in the country and is a model for many other nascent programs around the Silicon Prairie.

The current director of the MN Cup is Jessica Berg.  Following the successful completion of MN Cup 2019, Berg described the purpose of the MN Cup to the Star Tribune, “the purpose of our competition is to connect early-stage businesses with the education, mentorship, and connections to improve their concepts and increase their chances for success.” Ms. Berg is a well-respected leader in the Twin Cities region having co-founded a women’s networking group, called WomenConnect.  In addition, she is the current board co-chair of Twin Cities ecosystem stalwart – Forge North.

To find out more about Abilitech Medical, check out their website at: www.abilitechmedical.com.

To find out more about the MN Cup, check out their website at: https://carlsonschool.umn.edu/mn-cup/about.

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