By Tess Postema

Cavities are the great unifier.

According to a comprehensive study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 90% of adults in the U.S. have or have had a cavity, while 1 in 4 has untreated cavities.

What if there was a way to simultaneously identify and treat cavities before they fully form?

Dr. Bloembergen, leader of Greenmark on working with UM

Dr. Steven Bloembergen, founder of GreenMark Biomedical

Enter GreenMark Biomedical, a Michigan healthcare startup founded in 2016 by Dr. Steven Bloembergen.  Collaborating with University of Michigan researchers, GreenMark has developed novel dental technologies, using bio-based nanoparticles produced from natural starch (and harmless to patients) to pinpoint and treat “pre-cavities.”  Cavities are nipped in the bud – or rather, the enamel – averting the need for costly or invasive surgical procedures for potentially millions of people.

From precision dental products and applications like GreenMark’s, to cutting-edge cybersecurity systems, to autonomous vehicle technology, Michigan’s startup ecosystem is generating innovations that have the potential to positively impact society.  Collaboration between academia and industry early in the process often fuels and catalyzes these innovations.  

And GreenMark is a perfect illustration of how to take advantage of the considerable resources available to small companies and startups through U-M and other interrelated organizations like the Michigan Corporate Relations Network (MCRN), funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and administered by the Business Engagement Center. 

A perennial challenge faced by small companies and entrepreneurs is meeting research and development needs in order to reach commercialization faster.

MCRN’s Small Company Innovation Program (SCIP) helps companies do just that, and was recently nominated for a national award that “recogniz[es] exemplary initiatives spurring innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology-based economic development.”

SCIP, facilitated by U-M’s Economic Growth Institute, provides 1:1 matching funds (up to $40,000) to Michigan small businesses to help cover the cost of conducting a research project at any Michigan public university.

SCIP was able to help connect GreenMark Biomedical with Dr. Carlos Gonzalez-Cabezas, Richard Christiansen Collegiate Professor of Oral and Craniofacial Global Initiatives and Associate Professor of Dentistry, at the U-M School of Dentistry, and fund two successful joint research projects, spanning 15 months, exploring the diagnostic utility of GreenMark’s fluorescent nanoparticle technology.

Not only did this collaboration with U-M help to support two critical research phases; it has also propelled GreenMark towards commercialization – scaling the “startup” valley of death by advancing GreenMark’s technology from a simple proof of concept to successful in vitro (laboratory) testing.

“We are so thankful the meaningful and timely early funding from the State of Michigan and U-M.  This made a world of difference that led to our subsequent grants and traction,” states GreenMark CEO Steven Bloembergen.

And a small seed can bear significant fruit.  The initial investment of $40,000 from MCRN, while certainly not primarily responsible for GreenMark’s current success, was able to provide a solid foundation to help make the business case to investors.

Last fall, GreenMark was awarded $110,000 from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the Michigan-Pittsburgh-Wyss Regenerative Medicine (MPWRM) Resource Center, and won the $100,000 Second Prize at the 2018 Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition (AMIC).  Most recently, in March the biotech startup secured $670,000 in equity funding.

“SCIP enabled a collaboration with experts at the University of Michigan and which, upon completion of the project, allowed us to employ a key hire as our Director of Engineering….This project also bridged us to a federal grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), important external validation of our technology and instrumental in securing equity investment from three Michigan-based Angel investment groups,” Dr. Bloembergen explains.

Even within the current ulta-competitive startup environment, GreenMark appears poised to shine.  And as a present tenant in U-M’s Venture Accelerator, GreenMark is literally staying as close as possible to U-M’s entrepreneurial heart as it can.