Business incubator set up to grow Baton Rouge biotechnology companies

A business incubator focused on developing local biotechnology companies has its first four tenants at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

The BioTech Initiative, a partnership between Pennington and the LSU Louisiana Business and Technology Center, will help grow companies that harness technological advances to improve patient health and care and control health care costs, the two organizations said Tuesday.

“We’ve worked out a partnership agreement where LBTC provides all the business counseling and support services. We actually screen the tenants, and we’ll show them the space and bring them in there,” said Charlie D’Agostino, LBTC executive director. “Pennington provides the space and some services.”

Pennington has set aside about 8,000 square feet — enough room for eight tenants — on the second floor of its Imaging Center to serve as an incubator for the fledgling businesses.

The Pennington incubator’s first tenants are Cardio Fortress, which uses technology to improve the lives of heart failure patients; ComplyRx, which helps businesses centralize the administration and management of employee health, wellness and benefit services; Next Generation Fitness & Research Labs LLC, a veteran-owned small business that specializes in combat conditioning, tactical physical fitness, corporate wellness programs and personal training; and inforMD Solutions, which provides detailed patient information to help health care providers monitor a patient’s use of medications.

Pennington’s incubator will concentrate on businesses that are focused on medical devices, software and technologies, but not nessarily using labs.

D’Agostino said the partners worked out a deal so tenants who need access to a lab or a Pennington researcher to do some testing can buy that service for a fee.

“We are very excited about this initiative, as given the goals, it allows Pennington Biomedical to link its expertise with startup companies whose focus is clearly aligned with our research,” said Dr. William Cefalu, Pennington’s executive director.

Pennington specializes in nutrition and health research.

Baton Rouge Area Chamber Chief Executive Officer Adam Knapp said Pennington has been talking about encouraging this sort of entrepreneurial activity.

It makes sense for Pennington to capitalize on the Louisiana Business and Technology Center’s expertise rather than building an incubator from the ground up. It’s also encouraging to see more collaboration between innovation assets such as Pennington and the LBTC, Knapp said.

For years, the chamber has been working to help improve communications and coordinate the efforts of the area’s business incubators: among them the Louisiana Technology Park on Florida Boulevard, which nurtures young technology and digital-media companies; the Louisiana Emerging Technology Center, which incubates life science companies at LSU’s main campus; the Louisiana Business and Technology Center at LSU’s South Campus; and Southern University’s incubator program. The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is also counted among the area’s research and potential business development assets.

Knapp said collaboration has been much improved among the organizations.

However, most of the communication is done informally, at the staff level, rather than in a more formal arrangement, such as an advisory board that meets regularly.

The chamber headed a previous effort to better coordinate the area incubators’ efforts, but that plan was delayed after the Regional Innovation Organization board forced out its executive director in May 2012 during a dispute over communications. RIO has since been replaced by Step One Ventures, a fund aimed at helping startups in need of additional financing.

Pennington and the LBTC provided some background on the first tenants in the BioTech Initiative incubator:

Cardio Fortress was conceived in 2009 by Dr. Kevin A. Courville, a cardiologist focused on improving the care for patients with congestive heart failure. Working with software entrepreneur Randy Gray over four years, they have developed a software application called HF Defender. It is designed to improve the specialized care for patients suffering from congestive heart failure and lower hospital readmissions.

ComplyRx, whose founding partner and CEO is Richard Duhe, has developed a mobile app that allows employers to disseminate pertinent corporate information, documents or training videos about health, wellness and benefit services to employees, plan members or retirees through their smartphones, iPads or tablets.

Next Generation Fitness & Research Labs LLC, which started four years ago in owner Canaan Heard’s garage, targets its tactical conditioning, corporate wellness programs and exercise physiology research on clients that include the U.S. military, athletes, law enforcement and corporate offices.

“Being at Pennington allows us to interact with the researchers here and conduct our own research,” Heard said.

inforMD Solutions uses technology to deliver detailed information to health care providers about patients’ use of medications.

“This opportunity allows for companies like ours to have access to tremendous resources from globally recognized entities while being headquartered in Pennington’s state-of-the-art facility,” said Rick Massengale, president/chief operating officer of inforMD Solutions.