The Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR) plays a key role in helping entrepreneurs and scientists create and commercialize new technologies that advance health.

With more than 1,000 life sciences companies located in Utah, the industry plays a key role in the economy, generating more than 70,000 jobs, both direct and indirect, $4.7 billion in total earnings, and $7.1 billion in state GDP according to the Utah Life Sciences Report published by BioUtah and the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

Utah is home to a thriving life sciences ecosystem that features a full spectrum of companies, ranging from homegrown international leaders—such as ARUP Laboratories, BioFire Diagnostics, Merit Medical, Myriad Genetics, and many more—to startup companies still in the early innovation stage. With a strong community of researchers, incubators, and support organizations, Utah ranks third in the nation in genomics and molecular diagnostics based on innovation, talent, and growth metrics.

However, despite the success Utah has seen in the life sciences, entrepreneurs still face an extremely challenging environment in this highly technical, capital intensive, competitive, and tightly regulated sector.  To offset some of these challenges, USTAR aims to provide a foundation for emerging technologies and companies to further advance their technology development and commercialization, as well as grow their company by connecting them to capital and other resources.  

“Utah taxpayers, citizens, and entrepreneurs have long shown their commitment to life sciences innovation,” said Barbara Araneo, Ph.D., who oversees the life sciences sector for USTAR. “USTAR is committed to helping entrepreneurs make a tangible difference in pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, agriculture, and other key sectors within our life sciences economy.”

Recently, USTAR and Church & State, a non-profit business incubator, coordinated a trip to Bio Korea—one of the world’s largest bioindustry trade shows—with support from the Center for Technology and Venture Commercialization (TVC) at the University of Utah, World Trade Center Utah (WTC Utah), and the Economic Development Corporation (EDCUtah).

“The commercialization of life sciences and biotech innovations is a challenge, and founders of these companies need to be fearless,” said June Chen, partner at Church & State, a non-profit business incubator. “They also need funding, mentorship, incubation facilities, and opportunities to engage with investors, both here in Utah and abroad.

With grants from WTC Utah, six early-stage companies—iVeena Delivery Systems, Photorithm, Progenitor Life Sciences, Q Therapeutics, T3S Technologies, and TheraTarget—were able to meet with potential investors, network with strategic partners, and demonstrate their technologies to institutional customers.

“This year, USTAR hosted a booth at Bio Korea, enabling some of Utah’s most innovative life sciences entrepreneurs to showcase their technologies in an international forum,” said Chen. “USTAR’s willingness to partner with private organizations, like Church & State, to support and advance life science and biotech innovation during the critical early stages of research and development is essential for diversifying the Utah economy and attracting foreign direct investment.”

In addition to organizing opportunities to meet with potential investors and partners, USTAR provides emerging companies with support through competitive grants and its incubation enterprise system.

USTAR has a life science incubator, the BioInnovations Gateway (BiG), in partnership with the Granite School District. The space is designed to help startup companies grow their ideas into innovative products by offering valuable resources—including research facilities, office space, and access to other USTAR programs—at a critical time in their development.

The space is designed as a transition space for newly launched start-ups, where proving the technology, building a team, connecting with experts, and attracting seed funding are essential.

One BiG tenant, Rosivo, recently won the Life Science – Medical Device category at the Utah Innovation Awards, presented by Stoel Rives LLP and the Utah Technology Council. Rosivo’s products include an innovative cartilage implant that can be used for nose and ear repairs, as well as a trachea repair implant, which is currently under development through USTAR support.

Another life science company supported by USTAR, RefloDX, won an early-stage Utah Innovation Award and is located at the USTAR Innovation Center in Clearfield. The company is in the process of developing a non-invasive medical device to monitor gastroesophageal reflux, a disease that affects more than one-fourth of the U.S. population.

“Overall, USTAR gave us the resources we needed, including funding, industry contacts, and mentorship that I didn’t have before,” said Rudy Wilcox, founder of RefloDx, earlier this year. “USTAR gave us the initial skillsets our company needed to succeed.”

To learn more about USTAR programs and other ways the state agency promotes technology-based economic growth in the life sciences, visit ustar.org.