Originally published in the October 2014 issue of Veterinary Practice News
Early in the 1967 Oscar-winning movie “The Graduate,” Mr. McGuire provides young Benjamin, played by Dustin Hoffman, with one word of career advice: plastics.
Jump ahead nearly a half century and Ron Robinson, the CEO of Veterinary Energy Technologies Inc., is trying to persuade investors to recognize the potential of an entirely different science: plasma.
The future that Robinson envisions was on display in late August in Kansas City, Mo., where a panel of judges chose Veterinary Energy Technologies and its cold plasma invention as the winner of the $2,500 Innovation Award.
Fourteen companies at the early or middle stage of their growth were given 10 minutes each onstage to highlight what they would like to introduce to the veterinary market if only investors would buy in to the idea and the business model with cash or expertise.
Veterinary Energy Technologies earned the loudest applause at the KC Animal Health Corridor’s annual Investment Forum, but all 14 presenters achieved something more valuable than $2,500: the opportunity to advertise themselves to representatives from 40 financial funds and 88 animal health companies.
Investors have bought into the hype, handing over $130 million to Investment Forum presenters since 2009.
Two weeks after his prize-winning appearance, Robinson and his Apopka, Fla., company had not signed an investment deal, but negotiations typically require a lot of due diligence on both sides.
“We’re in contact with a number of people, and I believe that it will become fruitful,” Robinson said.
Plasma technology, as Robinson described it, is “a new frontier in medicine, just like nuclear medicine was a number of years ago.”
Plasma is an ionized gas.
“Most of the scientists and academia are using it right now and trying to figure it all out,” he said. “We’re one of the only companies that is going through and commercializing it.”
Robinson told the judges and audience members that Veterinary Energy Technologies would manufacture a device that produces “cold,” or room temperature, plasma energy.
Cold plasma could be used, he said, as an adjunct treatment to promote blood coagulation in less than 15 seconds, kill bacteria and some viruses, accelerate wound healing and reduce inflammation. As a bonus, it has “some remarkable sterilization properties.”
How is cold plasma produced? Start with a proprietary gas mixture.
“We take an inert gas, bombard it with an electromagnetic current [and] kick off an electron,” he explained.
When might veterinarians become plasma doctors?
“If we get the money, I’d say in the third quarter of 2015,” Robinson said.
One judge, Craig S. Wallace, the CEO of Ceva Animal Health in Lenexa, Kan., has seen all types of inventions laid out at the annual forums.
“The [ultimate] winners will be selected by the people in the audience,” he said. “That will be determined over the next several months and maybe even years as the presenters look for partners or potential investors.”
Wallace agreed with his fellow judges that Veterinary Energy Technologies and its cold plasma medicine deserved the Innovation Award.
“It was very interesting science and technology,” he said, “and I believe the value proposition was delivered in a way that was understood.
“How the investors or potential partners and market view it, there’s research to be done around that.”
Among the 13 companies not onstage at the end was TruVitals Inc., which before the event had attracted just over $1 million in funding from angel investors and the University of Florida Research Foundation. TruVitals, which wants to make zero-contact vital signs monitors, went to Kansas City looking for partnerships with animal health companies, veterinarians, researchers and other parties to test and develop the technology.
Barry Lieberman, vice president of marketing at the Gainesville, Fla., company, was confident that his presentation would resonate with the audience.
“With an event like this, many times there are people who provide follow-up—they’ll call you afterwards and go back and think about it and determine if this is the right fit,” he said.
“I would hope that because we were here and they saw us that they got excited enough to say, ‘Yes, this is something we would like to get involved in.’”
TruVitals didn’t show up looking for cash necessarily.
“Investment is one word that has so many meanings,” Lieberman said. “The reality is it is a partnership. It’s rare that the investment is passive—somebody hands you a check and goes away and says, ‘OK, send me a check in five years.’ More often it’s a business relationship that’s created and the investors have something they want to bring to the table besides just money.”
If given another crack at his presentation, Lieberman said he would slow down.
“I’d try to drive home the business opportunity more,” he said. “You get enamored by the device—all of the people we’ve shown it to in the market have been very excited about it.
“When you have the marketplace so excited, you get excited about it and forget that this is a business deal,” he added. “I’m not selling the product when I’m standing up there, I’m selling a business opportunity.”
As a panelist, Wallace had advice for future presenters.
“What I would suggest is, number one, that they know their audience,” he said. “The audience is not a group of veterinarians, it’s not a group of consumers. They’re speaking to investors and potential partners.
“What do those people want to know?” Wallace asked.
“They want to know, ‘What is your product, what problem does it solve, what value does it bring, how is it different from what’s already out there, how is it protected as far as intellectual property and what is the exit strategy?’”
Could cold plasma medicine become the next plastics?
“I know we’re going to find investment money, simply because our technology is so unique and so novel,” Robinson said.