GreenMark Biomedical Inc., based in East Lansing, is an entrepreneurial example of what “a village takes”.
The company, which received Food and Drug Administration approval in March for dentists to use its starch nanoparticle mouthwash to detect tooth decay much earlier than previously possible, has raised more than $ 6 million in funding through it large grants and a. raised or attracted a variety of angel and institutional investors across the state, including three seed funds established by Michigan Economic Development Corp.
GreenMark has received more than $ 3 million in non-dilutive funds from a variety of grants and grants, including two Phase I and two Phase 2 grants totaling $ 2.84 million from the National Institutes of Health . In 2018, GreenMark won the $ 100,000 runner-up in the annual Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition in Detroit.
The company raised the first half of its seed funding round in 2018, with the Blue Water Angels of Midland investing $ 280,000 and the Biosciences Research and Commercialization Center in Kalamazoo, affiliated with Western Michigan University, investing $ 200,000 invested, and Invest Detroit Ventures invested $ 50,000. The remainder of that $ 1.2 million seed round was raised over the next year, including $ 500,000 from the University of Michigan’s Michigan Invests in New Technology Startups program, $ 100,000 from Invest Michigan, and $ 45,000 US dollars from Red Cedar Ventures, a Michigan-affiliated university foundation.
A $ 1.74 million round of funding raised last year included an additional $ 500,000 from the UM MINTS fund, $ 300,000 from Red Cedar Ventures, and $ 100,000 from a new fund coming with affiliated with the MSU Foundation, the Michigan Rise Pre-Seed Fund III; $ 213,000 more from the Blue Water Angels; an additional $ 200,000 from the BRCC; and $ 250,000 from Ann Arbor Spark.
Steven Bloembergen, the company’s founder, chairman and CEO, expects to raise an additional $ 3 million to $ 3.5 million in the third quarter of this year. At this point, he plans to increase a sales team and generate income. The company currently employs eight people.
“We have two global dental companies that love to invest. I can’t name any names, but both of them are very excited,” he said. “Everything went so well, it’s ridiculous.”
How can such broad support for a startup be explained? For one, early detection of tooth decay is a huge global market opportunity. But more importantly, from a perspective of these checks, they are investing in the same starch nanoparticles and the same entrepreneur who was previously the focus of a $ 100.4 million initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2011.
Bloembergen began looking for a starch nanoparticle market in 1996 when he started a small startup called Lions Adhesives at the Michigan Biotechnology Institute in Lansing, a nonprofit biotech accelerator. Bloembergen, who completed his Ph.D. in Polymer Science and Engineering at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, thought the starch particles could be used to improve paper production in paper mills.
In 2010, after receiving a $ 5.7 million grant from Sustainable Technology Development Canada, the company, now renamed EcoSynthetix Inc., relocated its headquarters to Burlington, Ontario and left for the next year in the largest initial public offering in Toronto on the Toronto Canada Stock Exchange this year. By then, the company was making more than 200 million pounds of the nano starches at manufacturing facilities in the United States and Canada.
Today GreenMark is buying the same starch nanoparticles from EcoSynthetix – Bloembergen left the company in 2016 – and adding luminescent markings to them to make them glow where teeth decay. Bloembergen applied for the first patent for a dental use of the nanoparticles in 2011, but EcoSynthetix had no interest in commercializing it.
“It was amicable. EcoSynthetix basically gave me the patent,” said Bloembergen.
Bloembergen, who holds more than 25 biomaterials patents, had commuted to Ontario from his Michigan home. He founded GreenMark in 2016. He has an office in MSU’s Technology Innovation Center in East Lansing.
The FDA-approved starch-based product bears the brand LumiCare Caries Detection Rinse, whereby “caries” is the technical term for tooth decay. After flushing, areas of early tooth decay will light up and give dentists a clear view of the extent of tooth decay by looking at blue light through an orange filter.
Bloembergen has developed a second product called CrystalCare, which uses nanoscale starch particles fortified with calcium and phosphate to restore or remineralize tooth enamel when tooth decay is beginning. He says they’ll be filing paperwork with the FDA in the fall and hopes to get approval to sell in 2022 after clinical trials are conducted.
UM’s MINTS funding for the company arose from the work of researchers there on GreenMark technology, as well as from other corporate relationships with UM students and faculties. And although GreenMark is officially headquartered in East Lansing, it has had labs in UM’s Venture Accelerator on the North Campus since 2018. UM holds licenses for research carried out there to advance GreenMark’s technology, including the application of the luminescent tags and the infusion of calcium and phosphate into starch particles.
Many employees are also associated with UM. Nathan Jones was a dual student from the University of Waterloo who worked at EcoSynthetix in 2009 and was part of the team whose work led to the 2011 patent that the company gave to Bloembergen. He earned an engineering degree in nanotechnology from Waterloo, then a Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Macromolecular Sciences and Engineering from the University of Michigan.
Jones and his PhD supervisor, Professor Jörg Lahann, worked closely with Professor Brian Clarkson of the UM School of Dentalry in researching UM licenses. Lahann joined GreenMark in 2018 as Vice President of Technology.
Adam Laird, who is now Director of Business Development at GreenMark, graduated from UM Law School in 2018. He was an associate on the venture capital team at Invest Detroit Venture that summer, where he led the due diligence process for GreenMark. He joined GreenMark in January 2019.
Jae Young Han, the company’s clinical engagement and customer relations manager, is the only student in UM history to have concurrently earned a degree from Dental School and an MBA from Ross School of Business. He joined GreenMark in 2020 and continues to practice clinical dentistry.
Patti Glaza is the executive vice president and fund manager of Invest Detroit Ventures and an avid investor in GreenMark’s funding rounds. “Life science can be very difficult. The interesting thing about GreenMark is Steve’s ability to sell his vision and get FDA approval without a huge capital raise, he said.
“First, Steven is a great leader,” said Jeff Wesley, executive director of Red Cedar Ventures. Not entirely by chance, Wesley spent 15 years in the dental business as President of Accu Bite Dental Supply Inc., based in Williamston, which he sold to Patterson Companies Inc. in 2005. “I just love the product. It’s such a disruptive technology. “
Domenick Zero has been the director of the Oral Health Research Institute at the Indiana School of Dentistry since 1999 and a paid consultant for GreenMark. His specialty is cariology, the study of the causes and treatment of tooth decay. “If you want to prevent the early stages of the disease, you have to recognize it at the earliest level,” he said. “This is the holy grail of dentistry.”
He said dentists traditionally treat tooth decay “through drilling, filling and billing”. There may be institutional opposition to a dental product that eliminates much of the drilling and filling and therefore billing. “Everyone is human and motivated by personal interests,” he said.
Nonetheless, he said the industry knows they need better tools and the recent FDA approval of GreenMark’s mouthwash is a great endorsement.
Zero said insurance companies and third party payers, like the federal government, have to pay for dental services the way doctors are paid. “Doctors are paid much more than dentists for diagnostic services. What matters is how dentists are compensated. We need to reduce perverse incentives,” he said, referring to the costly drill-fill-and-bill model.