Missouri entrepreneurs granted investments by UM System fund

Thursday, February 23, 2012 | 1:45 p.m. CST; updated 3:04 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 23, 2012

COLUMBIA — UM System President Tim Wolfe spent his second Thursday morning on the job giving out $600,000 to Missouri entrepreneurs.

Wolfe and Mike Nichols, UM System vice president for research and economic development, announced the 2012 Enterprise Investment Program winners to a small audience at 10 a.m. in the Life Science Business Incubator at Monsanto Place.

HLB Horizons LLC, a company that has developed a safer way to produce a potentially dangerous chemical compound used in rechargeable batteries, and EternoGen LLC, a new medical device company that has created a longer-lasting cosmetic skin filler, were announced as the first-ever recipients of the investment program's money.

"What's exciting about these two that we've picked is that one is led by a faculty member and one by a graduating MBA student," Wolfe said. "I'm sure that we're going to be reading about the success of his company and the success of him for many years to come."

The Enterprise Investment Program is a UM System fund set up to support high-tech startup companies established around technologies developed at a of UM's four campuses. The fund currently holds $2.8 million, according to its website. Entrepreneurs can apply for money from the program, and each selected applicant can receive up to $500,000.

HLB Horizons will receive up to $400,000 from the program. EternoGen will receive up to $200,000, with an additional $300,000 coming from two other investors.

"The competition was tough and intense," Wolfe said of the applicants. "It took about a year for us to evaluate the 16 proposals submitted. We looked at 16 outstanding business plans and selected two as the best."

According to the program's website, it aims to help startup businesses commercialize "University of Missouri-developed intellectual property," increase the company's capacity to attract other investors and create Missouri jobs.

Wolfe said the fund's first investments are a step in the right direction for the state's economy.

"It is a clear path toward creation of jobs; it drives the economy," Wolfe said. "We are in a race for jobs — this is a global race for jobs, and we are behind. This is our commitment to help the state of Missouri catch up."

Over the next five years, Wolfe said, the two companies will provide Missouri with 175 new jobs.

HLB Horizons President Mark Lee, also an assistant professor of radiology and chemistry at MU, spoke excitedly about his company's opportunity to stay in Missouri. Most chemical companies these days are getting their start in China, he said.

"Without this investment, we might have been able to start the company, but we wouldn't have been been able to keep it here in the state of Missouri or even in the United States," Lee said. "We're hoping to start small-scale production of the chemical compound this year and continue to expand the company in Missouri for the next three to four years."

The chemical compound, which contains boron, has been dangerous to manufacture in the past. However, Lee and his team has been able to develop an eco-friendly and safe way to produce the compound, used in rechargeable hybrid car batteries, for defense purposes and in high performance polymers. It also has potential medical applications.

EternoGen CEO and recent MBA graduate Luis Jimenez, accompanied by his team, spoke about the benefits of the cosmetic skin filler the company developed. It is longer-lasting than the traditional collagen filler and can be used to diminish the appearance of scars and wrinkles, as well as having wound-healing and orthopedic reconstruction applications.

"This target market, the baby boomers, long to be young and beautiful," Jimenez said. "And I must say, there's nothing wrong with that."

Jimenez, who has lived in Columbia for two years, was brought on as CEO of EternoGen at the same time he began his MBA coursework.

"I would like to invite more people to do that; it's a fun task," he said, laughing.

MU Chancellor Brady Deaton closed the announcements by talking about how impressed he is with the program, the entrepreneurs and the UM System as a whole.

"You can't look at this enterprise without being terribly optimistic about the future," he said.

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