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Innosphere gains Boulder presence with Innovation Center of the Rockies merger

FORT COLLINS – Fort Collins-based Innosphere and Boulder-based Innovation Center of the Rockies plan to merge effective Jan. 1, combining a pair of nonprofit incubators that serve tech startups and university innovations along the Front Range.

The two organizations will join forces under the Innosphere flag, with ICR’s assets transferring to Innosphere. Both boards of directors have approved the deal.

The merger will give Innosphere, which has offices in Fort Collins and Denver, a physical presence in Boulder County, where about a half dozen of its current client companies are based.

The two organizations traditionally have targeted two distinct stages of the innovation cycle.

Founded in 2005, ICR’s niche has been in leveraging a network of hundreds of advisers in the business community to help university technology-transfer offices and researchers understand the business potential of their innovations. ICR would then help develop commercialization strategies for those innovations, sometimes matching entrepreneurs with the technology to launch companies. ICR has commercialization agreements with the University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado State University and the Colorado School of Mines.

Innosphere, meanwhile, has provided a two-year incubator program during which startups are connected with mentors and corporate partners who help the companies hone business plans, become investor-ready and raise capital to accelerate their growth.

Both organizations have close working relationships with CSU, Innosphere CEO Mike Freeman said, with ICR often helping get the startup process going for a given university technology before Innosphere then picks up where ICR’s services left off and helps get the startup to the next stage.

“Really what we’re doing is creating a seamless package of services,” Freeman said in an interview. “I think from a practical standpoint, it removes the barrier of it looking like two partners.”

Innosphere, which operates on an annual budget of about $1.3 million, gets its funding through program fees charged to startups as well as through CSU and corporate sponsors. ICR’s budget has been around $300,000 per year, with funding coming from the university partners, corporate sponsors and the city of Boulder.

Freeman will remain CEO of Innosphere.

ICR executive director Eric Gricus and three of ICR’s four other employees will stay onboard with Innosphere. Gricus will serve as program director for university programs and oversee the Boulder office. ICR currently operates out of office space at the accounting firm of EKS&H in downtown Boulder, but Innosphere plans to set up a new office for its Boulder location.

Four ICR board members – business consultant Bob Gill, entrepreneur Merc Mercure, Boulder city manager Jane Brautigam, and Terry Fiez, vice chancellor for research and innovation at CU – will join the Innosphere board, which has 14 members. That’s in addition to CSU Ventures CEO Todd Headley, who is on the board of both organizations.

Freeman said it was Headley who first brought the concept of merging Innosphere and ICR to him and Gricus, an ICR veteran who took over as executive director earlier this year following Tim Bour’s departure.

“I think he saw this vision about integrating these services end-to-end, and that’s really how this conversation started,” Freeman said.

Gricus said the decision to merge with Innosphere was not a financial one from the ICR standpoint.

“I think this was one of those rare situations where one plus one equals three,” Gricus said. “It now gives our key partners a more comprehensive set of services for their innovation needs.”

While Innosphere has operated mostly in the technology space, the merger with ICR brings connections to the natural and organic foods industry, which Innosphere will add as a focus. As Innosphere has had only loose relationships with CU and Colorado School of Mines, ICR’s agreements with those two schools will give Innosphere an enhanced connection to the pipeline of innovation coming out of those universities.

Freeman said Innosphere has been eyeing adding a location in Boulder for awhile, and that the deal with ICR was core to that objective since he said his organization didn’t want to create the appearance that it might be duplicating services that were already in town.

“I don’t think it would have been appropriate to announce we’re opening in Boulder without going through a key partner like ICR,” Freeman said.

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Boulder Valley, NoCo startups land millions in OEDIT grants

Several companies and university ventures from the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado were awarded grants in the latest round of the Advanced Industry Accelerator Grant Program administered by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

The state handed out more than $4.1 million in Proof-of-Concept and Early Stage Capital and Retention grants that are aimed at promoting growth and sustainability in Colorado’s advanced industries like aerospace, bioscience and advanced manufacturing.

Boulder-based company Vairex Air Systems was among the local companies receiving grants. Vairex, which makes controllers for fuel-cell motors, received a follow-on $100,000 grant, adding to the AIA grant of $150,000 the company received last year.

Four of the local companies, in addition to two from Denver, are or were members of the Fort Collins-based Innosphere incubator, including Vairex, Eximis Surgical, SilLion, PetroDE.

The local companies and universities receiving grants included:

Petro DE, Broomfield, $250,000

Canvas Technology, Boulder, $250,000

GeoVisual Analytics, Boulder, $250,000

Kelvin Thermal Technologies, Boulder, $250,000

Roccor Aerospace, Longmont, $250,000

SunTech Drive, Superior, $250,000

SilLion, Broomfield, $250,000

Aaron Michels, University of Colorado Boulder, $150,000

Julie Dunn, Colorado State University/Eximis Surgical, Louisville, $150,000

Suzanne Tabbaa, Equine Orthopedics Research Center, Colorado State University, $150,000

Douglas Thamm, Colorado State University/VetDC, Fort Collins, $140,490

7 startups cap Boomtown Accelerator program with demo night pitches

BOULDER – Seven startups capped off the latest Boomtown Accelerator session by pitching their companies to investors and the public at a Demo Night event at the Boulder Theater.

In exchange for a 6 percent equity stake, Boomtown provides startups with $20,000 in seed money and a 12-week mentorship program.

The seven startups pitching Tuesday included six that were part of the latest Boomtown cohort, as well as one that’s been participating in Boomtown’s connectivity lab. In addition to those seven Boomtown invited two student teams, one from the University of Chicago and one from the University of Colorado Boulder to pitch their companies.

The seven Boomtown startups pitching Tuesday included:

IndiCard, Denver: A community of hospitality employees that helps them save money on food and drinks around the country for being in the industry.

Predictive ReCognition, Boulder: Deep learning and visualizations to help the neighborhood hospital save $20 million in fees, costs and penalties associated with value-based care.

WorkTrip, Boulder: Provides the mobile tools to track and record tax deductions for business travelers.

Meer: Uses Facebook’s data to personalize travel packages based on the budget and timeline provided.

Wellness Intel, Denver: Helps people make intelligent health decisions.

Alef Omega, Boulder: An app that turns equations into tangible things that you can explore and play with without first having to know the rules.

Grownetics, Boulder: Combines big data and machine learning optimization algorithms to help growers reduce costs, decrease energy usage and increase yields.

The two college startups pitching Tuesday included:

Riviter, University of Chicago: Helps retailers turn buyer intent into sales by suggesting products that deliver what the customer is seeking without IT integration or private customer data.

Qualify, University of Colorado Boulder: Gamefies college mobile dating by requiring successful quiz completion before gaining access to view someone’s profile.

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Longmont-based Goddess Garden soaks up $2M Series A funding round

LONGMONT — Organic sunscreen maker Goddess Garden has raised a $2 million Series A funding round as it preps for an expansion into Walmart next spring and further development of newer product lines.

Chief financial officer Paul Halter said the Longmont-based company, which has traditionally done well with natural-products retailers such as Whole Foods, has hit a tipping point with more-conventional retailers, getting on the shelves in places such as CVS, Walgreens and Kroger. While revenue will top $6 million this year, Halter said the company is poised to eclipse $10 million in 2017.

“We’ve done really well in the natural (channels),” Halter said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Now basically the market has been pushing our way. We’ve proven our concept of a natural sunscreen (with conventional retailers).”

Vancouver, British Columbia-based Renewal Funds led the Goddess Garden funding round.

Halter said the cash will be used primarily to support the distribution into new retailers, as well as developing its other skincare product lines aside from sunscreen. But it’s sunscreen that has provided the company’s major entry into the market.

“We’re really replacing these chemical sunscreens that have chemicals in them that are problematic from a human health standpoint and also from an environmental standpoint,” Halter said.

CEO Nova Covington, Halter’s wife, started Goddess Garden in 2004. But it wasn’t until about 2009 that the company got serious about distribution, said Halter, who left his job at IBM three years ago to join Goddess Garden full-time.

Goddess Garden employs 24 people, mostly at its Longmont facility. Until recently, the company did all of its manufacturing there. But the rapid growth has led to the company contracting out some of its manufacturing elsewhere in the United States.

“With the growth we’re looking at, it would be a massive capital expansion requirement (to keep all of the manufacturing in-house), so that drove us to shift the model,” Halter said.

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Boulder-based Biodesix raises another $5.1 million

BOULDER — Local diagnostic test-maker Biodesix Inc. has pulled in another new chunk of funding as the company continues to grow its Veristrat and other products.

According to a regulatory filing made this week, the company has raised about $5.1 million through the issuance of new convertible notes. The filing noted a total offering of $15.7 million, meaning more cash could be on the way.

Biodesix CEO David Brunel couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

Biodesix, which is headquartered at 2970 Wilderness Place, makes a line of blood tests that are focused on identifying which cancer patients could best benefit from various cancer drugs, because most cancer drugs work only on specific sets of the population.

In February, the company raised a Series F funding round of $17.8 million, and then tacked on another $6.1 million of equity funding in July. The company has now raised well more than $100 million since its founding in 2005.

Bitsbox raises new cash to get coding kits in hands of more kids

BOULDER — A former software engineer at Google, Scott Lininger was naturally excited when his young daughter showed an interest in coding. But perhaps unsurprisingly for a kid with a Google parent, she quickly outgrew the products on the market at the time that were geared toward teaching kids to code. That conundrum, at least in part, was what led Lininger and cofounder Aidan Chopra to start Bitsbox in 2014.

Just more than 2½ years later, the company is on pace to finish 2016 with more than $1 million in revenue, and is wrapping up a round of funding from angel investors that is aimed at fueling even more growth in 2017.

Boulder-based Bitsbox, officially Codepops Inc., provides a monthly subscription service that equips kids ages 6 to 14 with increasingly advanced projects that teach them to code.

Aidan Chopra

Aidan Chopra

Scott Lininger

Scott Lininger

“She’s been doing Bitsbox the whole time,” Lininger said of his daughter, who is 10 now, in a recent interview. “So she’s quite the little coder now.”

Bitsbox is one of six companies that recently completed AT&T’s six-month Aspire Accelerator, through which the startup received a $100,000 investment from AT&T in the form of a convertible debt note. Bitsbox has since raised $735,000 from investors under similar terms, with another $165,000 on the way. Rockies Venture Club in Denver and Milwaukee-based Golden Angels are among the investors participating.

Bitsbox plans to use the money to beef up marketing and growth. Lininger, the company’s CEO, said the focus right now is to continue to perfect Bitsbox’s home product. But the company also has kits aimed at schools, libraries and maker spaces, and will look at getting into more schools in 2017. Bitsbox has sent free coding kits to more than 6,000 classrooms and is conducting a number of pilot programs with schools in the United States and Canada. Locally, the St. Vrain Valley School District was one of Bitsbox’s early adopters.

Bitsbox’s home subscriptions range from $20 to $45 per month. They include code printed on a variety of materials that kids can type into free online accounts and then manipulate to see their own customized apps come to life. The apps can then be run and shared on any computer or mobile device.

Just before Thanksgiving, Bitsbox launched a $23 sampler box that gives kids a taste of the service without subscribing.

“We’re on track,” Lininger said of Bitsbox’s trajectory as a company. “We’re really happy about the holiday season so far. As a consumer product, you sort of wait until Q4.”

This year marks the first full year of sales for Bitsbox.

Lininger and Chopra, who met while they both worked at Google, started Bitsbox on April 1, 2014. But it wasn’t until after going through the Boomtown Accelerator in Boulder that fall that they launched the first kits through a Kickstarter campaign in January 2015 that wound up raising $250,000. The company began fulfilling those Kickstarter orders in April of last year, and then began selling on its own website.

Bitsbox has raised about $1.5 million to date, and has seven employees at its office at 3080 Valmont Road. Bitsbox designs the kits and writes the code in Boulder, and Lininger said most of the materials are sourced, produced and shipped by partners in Colorado.

Lininger said the recently completed Aspire Accelerator — the curriculum of which is tailored specifically to the needs of each company — proved invaluable in making industry connections as the company gets set for its next phase of growth.

“We just got really excellent mentorship and introductions to all sorts of people in the tech space,” Lininger said.

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Boulder-based VictorOps raises $12.2M Series B, with profitability in sight

BOULDER – Local software firm VictorOps Inc. on Wednesday morning announced a $12.2 million Series B funding round that CEO Todd Vernon says will help the fast-growing company achieve profitability over the next two years.

The $12.2 million is actually an initial close on the Series B, which Vernon said will grow in the coming weeks.

Shea Ventures led the new round of funding, with existing investors Foundry Group and Costanoa Venture Capital also participating.

VictorOps, founded in 2012, has raised a little more than $30 million to date.

The company makes a software platform that helps development operations teams at software-as-a-service companies manage and remediate software system alerts and outages in real time. The new funding follows a $10.6 million round raised last year that was an add-on to a Series A financing begun in 2013.

“This money is predominantly for growth,” Vernon said in a phone interview. “We believe we have the product dialed in.”

VictorOps has seen its number of new customers grow by 64 percent in the last year, but the company’s revenue growth isn’t coming just from new customers. The company charges on a per-seat basis, and Vernon said 30 percent of new seats every quarter have been coming from existing customers.

“It’s kind of growth from two different angles, which creates that hockey stick you want to see in a startup,” said Vernon, who declined to disclose specific revenue figures.

VictorOps employs 45 people at its 1401 Pearl St. headquarters. Vernon said he expects to add between 15 and 25 employees in the coming year, primarily in engineering and also sales and marketing.

The funding announcement came on the heels of another unveiling VictorOps’ new Integration Guarantee Program, which aims to take another step toward making life better for the DevOps teams using VictorOps’ product.

VictorOps’ platform aggregates information from multiple monitoring platforms in use by SaaS companies and alerts the DevOps teams of issues that arise. VictorOps’ new guarantee promises that the company’s software will be able to accept data from any monitoring platforms that customers are using.

“The Integration Hub and the Integration Guarantee Program will make it easier for our customers to leverage a wide variety of monitoring and alerting products – including those important to the entire software delivery lifecycle – providing unparalleled access to contextual information for each alert and further streamlining the on-call process regardless of role,” VictorOps vice president of product Joni Klippert said in a news release announcing the integration guarantee.

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Louisville-based Rogue Wave Software acquires Akana

LOUISVILLE — Rogue Wave Software Inc., a software-development firm based in Louisville, said Tuesday it has acquired Los Angeles-based Akana, formerly known as SOA Software.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Akana specializes in developing, managing and securing application programming interfaces. Akana’s platforms allow businesses to extend their reach across multiple channels — mobile, cloud and Internet of Things.

“Today’s announcement builds on our commitment to software development, and extends these critical applications into Web, mobile and IoT,” Brian Pierce, Rogue Wave’s chief executive, said in a prepared statement. “APIs are the business interfaces, so the ability to manage and govern their use fits squarely with our product capabilities. Akana mirrors the needs in our enterprise customer base and furthers our mission to accelerate great code.”

Rogue Wave has offices in Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan. Akana has offices in San Jose, Chicago, Atlanta, Rochester, Minn., New York, London, Munich, Johannesburg, Sydney and Hyderabad.

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Nivalis Therapeutics shares tumble on negative trial results

BOULDER – Nivalis Therapeutics Inc.’s stock lost more than half of its value Tuesday after the company reported negative trial results for its cystic fibrosis drug, covosonstat.

After markets closed Monday, Boulder-based Nivalis (Nasdaq: NVLS) announced that a Phase 2 clinical trial looking at the use of cavosonstat in adult patients who also were being treated with Orkambi failed to meet its primary endpoint. Cavosonstat is the company’s lead drug candidate.

Markets reacted swiftly to the news. The company’s shares were trading at $2.56 apiece near the end of Tuesday’s trading day, down $3.69 from Monday’s close of $6.25.

Nivalis officials said there were no dose-limiting toxicities in the trial, and that cavosonstat was well-tolerated at all doses.

“While we are disappointed in the outcome of this trial, we plan to continue to investigate the therapeutic potential of cavosonstat and our S-nitrosoglutathione reductase (GSNOR) inhibitor portfolio to determine next steps,” Nivalis’ president and chief executive Jon Congleton said in a news release.

Momentum had seemed to be building for cavosonstat. Earlier this year, Nivalis had been awarded Fast Track designation for the drug from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a designation that provides for accelerated review of drugs intended to treat serious or life-threatening conditions and address unmet medical needs. That came one month after the drug landed Orphan Drug designation, which provides special status to drugs intended to treat, diagnose or prevent diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people in the United States.

Nivalis raised a $30 million round of private equity funding in 2014 before raising $88.55 million in an initial public offering in June of last year.

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Sunrise Strategic Partners opens Boulder office, makes 5th investment

BOULDER — Sunrise Strategic Partners, launched in February by Boulder Brands cofounder Steve Hughes, has opened a 3,000-square-foot office in downtown Boulder as it continues to invest in a wide range of growing natural-products companies.

Sunrise’s new office is at 1426 Pearl St. The firm, which had been run virtually until now, has grown to now include four full-time investment professionals, as well as a network of strategic advisers.

Hughes partnered with New York private-equity firm Trilantic North America to start Sunrise, with an aim of investing between $10 million and $25 million apiece in smaller companies that have annual revenue in the $10 million to $20 million range and that are primed for accelerated growth.

Hughes serves as CEO of Sunrise, while former Citigroup investment banker Vince Love has been onboard since the company started as partner and chief operating officer. Sunrise, meanwhile, added investment professionals Pat Hughes and Nick Molé over the summer.

Sunrise this week made its fifth investment, taking a minority stake in New York-based Maple Hill Creamery, which produces a line of certified organic dairy items with milk sourced from 100-percent grass-fed cattle. The company, founded in 2009, has a network of 100 farms, representing 25 percent of all organic dairy farms in the state of New York.

Sunrise didn’t disclose the specific amount of the investment in Maple Hill, but said it falls within the firm’s target range. The new cash will help fuel expansion of sales, marketing and supply for Maple Hill, which sells its products in some 6,000 retailers nationwide.

“As consumers and retailers begin to understand the value and benefits of 100 percent grass-fed, there is significant opportunity to scale this brand,” Hughes said in a news release. “I’m looking forward to working with Tim and the entire Maple Hill team to bring 100 percent grass-fed dairy to more consumers.”

Sunrise’s investment in Maple Hill follows investments in Boulder-based clothing company PACT Apparel, Greenwood Village meat snacks company Perky Jerky, Denver-based packaged meat company Teton Waters Ranch, and Utah-based breakfast food maker Kodiak Cakes.

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