Neurotechnology’s Farm System
Major-league baseball teams have learned the value of minor-league franchises for developing star players of the future. The neurotechnology industry has a potent farm system of its own, namely the numerous university and private research institutions developing new generations of neural prostheses, neurostimulation devices, and neurosensing electronics.
In this issue, we report on some new spinoffs from neurotechnology research institutions that promise to move the industry forward in years ahead. Most notable is the NeuroNexus Technologies spinoff from the University of Michigan [see article, p1]. This institution has more than 15 years experience delivering implantable microprobes to neurotechnology researchers, a track record that infuses a significant amount of maturity to the new firm.
Like the University of Utah spinoff Bionic Technologies, NeuroNexus’ founders spent many years providing electrode assemblies at little or no cost to university researchers, thanks to funding from the NIH Neural Prosthesis Program and other sources. While this early-stage seeding of the market with prototype devices may not have generated massive revenue for the universities involved, the programs helped the research centers fine-tune their product development, explore new applications, and establish a degree of product standardization that will hopefully pay off handsomely for the spinoff companies—and indirectly the universities supplying the intellectual property.
Of course Michigan and Utah are not the only institutions to have fostered commercial neurotechnology startups. The University of Southern California has participated in several ventures, including Second Sight, LLC’s effort to market the first retinal prosthesis [see article p1]. The Cleveland FES Center at Case has helped spawn at least three neurotech firms. In Europe, the Center for Sensory Motor Interaction at Aalborg University has spun off the Danish firm Neurodan [see article p7] and several German institutions, including University of Bonn and the Fraunhofer Institute, have worked to produce commercial ventures in neurotechnology.
In fact, the richness of this neurotechnology “farm system” is perhaps the greatest asset of the industry. In many cases, research institutions offer more commercialization expertise than their industrial partners, in contrast to other more mature life science industries like biotech and pharmaceuticals. Some institutions, like MCNC in North Carolina [see article, p8], are even supplying their own source of venture capital funds to help lead their innovations to market. With a minor league franchise this savvy and enthusiastic, the neurotechnology industry can count on a rich stream of new talent for many years to come.
Editor and Publisher