One in every 50,000 males worldwide is born with myotubular myopathy, a muscle disorder that impairs the development of motor skills and limits actions like sitting, standing, eating and even breathing. One in 50,000 might not sound like very much, and it isn’t, at least by industry standards. Like all “orphan diseases” this genetic disorder affects too few people to offer much financial reward to pharmaceutical companies and so no cure exists. Nearly all those born with the disease die before reaching adulthood.
But in early March, a company called 4s3 Bioscience raised a whopping $20 million in Series A funding for the development of its genetic disease therapy technology that targets myotubular myopathy as well as another similar disorder. This quite literally life saving technology company is housed in an incubation space here in Boston, though not one you should expect to produce the next Pinterest.
4s3’s Series A is the latest victory for the UMass Boston Venture Development Center, the university’s incubation space complete with wet and dry labs, and a filled with would-be world-changing companies. The other VDC company to raise money this past quarter according to VDC was Noblegen Biosciences, which aims to make whole genome sequencing a standard clinical practice.
And the VDC itself is picking up momentum, according to its quarterly newsletter:
In the last five quarters, companies at the Venture Development Center achieved a 78% fundraising success rate, raising a total of $33,704,000. This compares to an 18% success rate for tech startups nationally.
Of the 20 companies currently incubating, approximately 60% are in healthcare, life sciences, or software related to one of the two of them, according to William Brah, Founder and Executive Director of VDC. A quick scan of the incubator’s portfolio reveals firms working on cancer treatment, supercomputing and software to monitor neurobehavioral health, to name a few.
Any company can apply to be in VDC, not just those based on UMass research, but once there, many startups find themselves using the faculty as a resource. Opened in 2009, the VDC looks for companies about a year away from venture funding and charges them to use its space and facilities but does not take equity.
It also does its best to pair students with the companies as part of its commitment to graduating more future entrepreneurs. When Sample6, a synthetic biology startup that raised $5.74 million in May, arrived at VDC, the first thing it asked was for the number for Career Services in order to find UMass interns.
“That’s really what rings our chime here,” Brah tells me.
Speaking of the VDC’s early funding successes, Brah gives the typical entrepreneur’s response:
“We think we got a good start, but we’re not satisfied.”