Life science entrepreneurs at Innovation Park

Read the original article in the South Bend Tribune

Entrepreneurs create the businesses that grow and support our economy. Regional leaders commissioned a Regional Entrepreneurial Action Plan to provide new support services and capital to entrepreneurs through Elevate Ventures, a venture development organization.

The Corporate Partnership for Economic Growth (CPEG), a supporter of the plan, recently sat down to discuss our region and the new program with two entrepreneurs of life sciences companies with offices inside Innovation Park at Notre Dame: Les Ivie, president of F Cubed; and Steven Ruggerio and Carol Tanner, founders of LightSprite.

CPEG: Give us a quick snapshot of your company.

Ivie: F Cubed, LLC (F3) is engaged in the development of a product platform for the rapid and specific detection of target DNA. Our product is essentially a "full laboratory in a box" that can be used by minimally trained personnel in virtually any setting, indoors or outdoors. Initial applications include environmental diagnostics, food safety, and medical diagnostics.

Steve Ruggiero and Carol Tanner

Ruggerio/Tanner: LightSprite LLC was founded by the inventors of a new nanoparticle analysis platform. Based on Laser Transmission Spectroscopy (patent pending), the LightSprite instrument has been proven to identify and quantify species-specific DNA in the environment, and has the potential to identify a broad range of human pathogens including viruses and bacteria. There is also the potential to identify unique optical properties of medically important cells, like cancer cells.

CPEG: What are your biggest challenges as an entrepreneur?

Ivie: To ensure that we effectively communicate with our shareholders and reach our business goals as described in our business plan. While our technical challenges are largely resolved, we still have U.S. EPA and U.S. FDA approval processes to complete, which are quite daunting. We also must convince potential customers that our radical new technology is market-ready and a reasonable business alternative to more established and larger competitors.

Ruggerio/Tanner: Finding the right people to join the team -- people who we feel will move the company forward in a profitable direction, and have creative ideas about bringing a product to the market place.

CPEG: The region is piloting new services through Elevate Ventures. How has Elevate assisted you?

Ivie: We have been pleased to use Elevate Ventures as a sounding board, especially in discussing marketing strategies for potential regional customers.

Ruggerio/Tanner: Elevate has discussed options for matching resources from other investors, and has put us in contact with local entrepreneurs who can provide advice.

CPEG: Have you had any funding success?

Ivie: F3 has managed to raise more than $3 million from fewer than 20 private investors since 2010. We consider this a great success for a number of reasons: The general economy has been challenging; funding for life sciences companies has been even more challenging; and our investors are also active advisers and participants in our business.

Ruggerio/Tanner: We are in the final stages of loan negotiations with the city of South Bend's Industrial Revolving Fund. This will provide the company with operating funds for several months to get it up and running.

CPEG: What does the immediate future look like for you?

Ivie: We expect to deliver our first sales in the next 60 days. We have a good base of potential customers and expect that 2012 will finish on a strong commercial footing.

Ruggerio/Tanner: We will be constructing a company-owned prototype and plan to start a nanoparticle testing service. This will allow us to better define the markets, customers and product specifications for our instrument. Continued work in the environmental sector with environmental DNA analysis is moving forward.

CPEG: Why did you choose this region for your startup?

Ivie: Initially we chose northern Indiana because of its proximity to our Chief Science Adviser, Hsueh-Chia Chang, Bayer professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. After moving to Innovation Park, we learned this region is friendly to businesses like ours, there is a wealth of strategic partners, and a plentiful supply of potential customers.

Ruggerio/Tanner: Its proximity to the University of Notre Dame, where we are full time professors of Physics.

To learn more about these innovative companies, visit and

Next week CPEG will discuss the role of Angel investors in entrepreneurship.

Shawn Peterson is president and CEO of the Corporate Partnership for Economic Growth.