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7 teams seek to convert high-tech ideas into start-ups Entrepreneurs receive feedback from experts on business plans at end of 3-day workshop

Every business starts with an idea, but it's a long way from the moment of inspiration to becoming a Google or a General Motors.

Prospective entrepreneurs have enough questions about how to get started, find customers and -- especially -- win over investors to fill a technology research park.

Over three recent days, inventors and would-be business founders received a wealth of coaching and feedback from a roster of industry experts at a pre-seed workshop on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

"This is an early-stage filtering process to determine if these businesses can move forward and -- if so -- what are the key issues and challenges they need to address," said Marnie LaVigne, director of the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, which hosted the event.

Tuesday, seven teams that hope to translate a high-tech idea into a start-up company made presentations to panels of business leaders who offered blunt critiques and suggestions.

It was the last day of the three-day workshop, part of a program that started six years ago in Rochester and now is held across the state.

This is the 41st such workshop in New York -- the fourth in Buffalo -- and 246 business-concept teams have gone through the program, LaVigne said.

Local workshop success stories include Graphene Devices, an advanced materials company, and AndroBioSys, a bio-pharmaceutical company, she said.

This year's workshop featured six life-sciences business teams and one energy-related business team.

It kicked off last week when the inventors received an infusion of talent -- including a coach and an MBA student -- to help them answer questions about their business concept, their competition and the size of their potential market.

Tuesday's panel sessions were a moment of truth for representatives of the seven teams, including Christopher Voltz, director of marketing and special projects for AIDS Community Services of Western New York.

Voltz made the case for Evergreen Computerized Health Outcomes, or ECHO, a not-for-profit that uses data-mining technology to offer unique access to data that the community group has collected and sorted from 12,000 area AIDS and HIV patients.

The not-for-profit hopes to form a for-profit company and expand with data from across the state. Voltz said HIV researchers, pharma companies and others will be interested in getting access to this data.

Panelist David Colligan, a lawyer and board member of the Western New York Venture Association, said concerns about patient and government privacy need to be addressed. Voltz replied that the patient data has no identifying information.

"I think it's fascinating; I think you're onto something," said panelist Kent Keating, chairman of Seevast, a marketing services company.

Georgirene D. Vladutiu, a professor in the pediatrics department at the University at Buffalo, talked next about her would-be company, Myogenetics Inc.

She and colleague Paul Isackson have developed a comprehensive method to diagnose and screen for up to 16 muscle disorders at the same time.

These are disorders brought on by exertion, temperature extremes and other environmental exposure, and they are often underdiagnosed and unrecognized, Vladutiu said.

She said the market for this testing could be $196 million per year.

"If the market is really that big, someone else will try to get there first," warned panelist Jack Greco, an associate with the Trillium Group.

"It's a very tedious process," said Vladutiu, adding that no one else is doing this type of comprehensive test.

Chris Dunstan, a director of the Oishei Foundation, also sat on this panel, one of two that offered guidance to the various business teams.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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