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Temple program offers entrepreneurs guidance on attracting investors

Some Philadelphia startups are getting help to polish their pitch to investors.

MidAtlantic Diamond Ventures is a coaching program for up-and-coming companies. It's based at Temple University's Fox School of Business. Executive director Jaine Lucas says in Philadelphia several of the startups are life-sciences firms -- companies hoping to sell a new pharmaceutical, medical device or some other biotech product.

"They were absolutely the darlings of the investment community even as recently as five or six years ago," Lucas said. "The issue with a lot of life-science firms is that the dollars to get to that point are huge, the failure rates typically very, very high."

Discovering the next blockbuster drug can be sexy, but the regulatory hurdles in the health-care industry are high.

So, Benjamin Pascal's company, Invisible Sentinel, is developing testing tools for the food sector.

"It's become a white-hot industry in terms of diagnostics," Pascal said. "People are being required to test and the FDA has a lot of more power than they used to have in terms of regulating food facilities."

Invisible Sentinel is working on easy-to-use test kits that will give manufactures more detailed information on the contaminants that can lead to food-borne illness. Pascal says new federal rules and expensive, image-damaging recalls are pushing food makers to greater vigilance.

"You aren't only forced to test by the Food Safety Modernization Act -- and to really clean up your act in terms of food safety -- your vendors, your direct pocketbook, the Walmarts, Costco, they won't buy from you," Pascal said.

Invisible Sentinel is one of the firms housed at the University City Science Center incubator.

Diamond Ventures also worked with the life-sciences firm BeneLein Technologies. Doug Leinen says the mentors helped focus the firm's pitch.

"Making sure that the audience truly understands. Not jumping right in to the nitty-gritty, like a lot of us entrepreneurs want to do," he listed as some of the good advice.

The company is looking to lower the cost of making generic drugs by producing less-expensive ingredients.

Leinen is using a biologic approach to making chemicals -- the chemicals are manufactured within cells.

"Microbes are very efficient chemical plants, it turns out," Leinen said.

The end-product has to be certified as identical -- and as pure as -- the chemicals used in drug-making now.

Leinen says winning federal Food and Drug Administration approval for a drug component is less cumbersome than testing and clearance required for a completely new medicine.

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Kristen Fitch

Kristen Fitch

Senior Director, Marketing