An entrepreneur’s pathway is often strewn with knotty challenges that need quick, nimble solutions, says serial entrepreneur Steven Bloembergen, chairman and CEO of GreenMark Biomedical.
“I liken starting a new company to childbirth,” he explains. “It’s exciting but often painful. You cannot afford to rest on your laurels and think that just because you’ve done it before it will be easy.”
Since founding GreenMark Biomedical in 2016, Bloembergen has been spearheading the company’s development and marketing of next-generation diagnostic and therapeutic agents for dental cavities. “We are helping to transform the dental experience by bringing next-generation tooth-decay technology to market,” he explains. “We enable dentists accurately to assess when to treat and make painless, natural repair possible.”
GreenMark Biomedical’s technology, invented at the University of Michigan, uses specially modified starch nanoparticles that show the size and location of active pre-cavity lesions, allowing dentists to detect tooth decay earlier and use minimally invasive restorative or remineralizing treatments.
“The people at the U-M have been great to work with,” Bloembergen says. “They include the U-M Venture Center staff and the inventors who have kept helping us. We will continue this strong collaboration into the future. My wife and colleague, a medical professional who was on the U-M faculty and worked as a medical analyst, also has injected her talents and passion into our new venture.”
Bloembergen has successfully tapped into the many resources offered by the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, the Ross School of Business and the state of Michigan to build his industry network and fundraising capabilities.
“I’ve had a lot of help,” he says. “Our mentors have been wonderful, and it has been a heartwarming experience for us. This is where Michigan has really stepped up, compared to 20 years ago. A lot of credit goes to people like Professor David Brophy and his network of successful entrepreneurs.”
The key areas where GreenMark Biomedical has received assistance include:
Refining its pitch – “Investors want to hear a powerful, convincing pitch in less and less time,” Bloembergen says. “They demand that you cover all the bases in 10, five, four or as little as three minutes.” He received help in refining his pitch from four investor-mentors and a student team in Professor David Brophy’s Financing Research Commercialization class last fall. Bloembergen also benefited from coaching prior to his presentation at the 2017 Michigan Growth Capital Symposium and the 2017 Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. In addition, staff members from the Michigan Small Business Development Center, Ann Arbor SPARK and LEAP were on hand to offer timely sage advice.
Increasing team resiliency – “We participated in the VentureWell ASPIRE workshop for a week,” Bloembergen says. “They really challenged our team and put us through tough exercises. We now consider one of their mentors to be part of our team.” The workshop is intended to prepare startups for the investments and partnerships necessary to launch their ventures.
Gaining personal introductions – “Although cold calling sometimes works for customer-development processes, if you get a warm introduction to people, it is more meaningful,” Bloembergen remarks. “Francis Glorie, an experienced startup CEO, consultant and mentor, took to our pitch and said we were ready to go out for angel funding. He has made all sorts of wonderful introductions to investors, opened many doors for us and selflessly spent countless hours helping to prepare us and refine our pitch.”
Procuring grant monies – GreenMark Biomedical received funding from the state of Michigan’s Business Accelerator Fund (BAF) that enabled the company to engage a professional regulatory advisory firm for its products. Through the Small Company Innovation Program (SCIP), a Michigan Economic Development Corporation-funded grant program at the U-M, Bloembergen received money to hire and pay the salary of a Michigan Ph.D. graduate who is now working full-time for the company. GreenMark also applied for an NIH SBIR Phase I grant last September for continued development of the company’s diagnostic application and recently received notice of intent to fund the application.
Raising investment capital – “One of the biggest challenges for startups is finding a good, smart lead investor,” Bloembergen says. “It’s a tough job. Any time a company is pre-revenue, which we are, it’s more risky. So investors will look for any ammunition you can provide to show that your customers will buy your product and that it will do what you say it will do.”
GreenMark Biomedical is seeking $500,000 in the form of a SAFE or convertible notes to a priced $2.5 million Series A round later this year. Bloembergen has pitched to a number of angel funds in Michigan and has been well-received.
“We hope one of these funds will step up to be our lead investor, but meanwhile we may need to spread our web to the larger Midwest and the East and West coasts,” he says. “Our vision is a world where dentistry is nonthreatening, with painless treatment options that will allow dental care for more people and a more positive experience for everyone. We need investors to help develop our business to where society can benefit from it, and dentistry is more about preventive oral health than fear and invasive treatments.”