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STARTUPS & INNOVATIONS

FINANCING

Irvine-based medical device maker LensGen Inc. announced the closing of an initial $10 million of a $20 million bridge financing this month. 

The round was led by Japan’s optical manufacturer, Hoya Corp., who previously headed up a $20 million Series A round for the lens maker in 2017.  

LensGen said it plans a large Series B round in early 2021, which will fund its pivotal clinical study. 

The company is developing what it says is the first intraocular lens that adapts to the natural curvature of the eye. The device will be used to treat patients with cataracts and presbyopia or farsightedness, using the same conventional procedures that surgeons perform on more than 28 million patients annually.

LensGens is led by Chief Executive Ramgopal Rao, who founded the company in 2011. He was also the founder of Irvine-based AcuFocus, which created presbyopia technology that revolutionized care for LASIK patients. 

Jim Mazzo, the recently retired global president of ophthalmic devices for Carl Zeiss Meditec Inc., and chairman of local medtech and technology accelerator Octane, joined LensGen’s board earlier this month. 

Mazzo said, “LensGen has a unique platform technology that I believe represents the future of cataract and lens replacement surgery.”

Shipping and logistics software maker Zuum Transportation Inc. in Irvine closed its $12.6 million seed round this month. 

Zuum is building a logistics platform that connects shippers and brokers with pre-vetted carriers and truckers. The platform includes automated bidding dispatch, track and trace capabilities, workflow automation, digital document management, accounting, predictive analytics and more, the company said.

Investors include Richmond, Va.-based transportation provider Estes Express Line and its subsidiary Estes Forwarding Worldwide; Dallas-based BNSF Logistics; Logifruit, a Spain-based sustainable packaging and logistics provider.

Pat Martin, vice president of corporate sales and strategic planning for Estes Express Lines, said the company invested in Zuum because of its “agile, comprehensive technology suite.”

Martin said in a statement, “We anticipate strong demand from shippers, brokers, and carriers worldwide. Zuum leadership has deep industry knowledge and a true partnership mindset.”

Plug and Play Ventures in Sunnyvale; SAIC Ventures in Menlo Park; and Philadelphia-based Holman Growth Ventures also invested. 

Zuum is led by Chief Executive Moe Azizi, former chief of operations and marketing for VMG Transportation Group. During his time there, Azizi increased the Ontario-based firm’s revenue tenfold to $10 million. 

Zuum said new funds will support product development, as the company continues its mission to bring together the fragmented logistics industry. 

COVID INNOVATIONS

The University of California-Irvine said it has developed a low-cost, rapid coronavirus antibody detection platform that can read diagnostics tests.

It could be ready for commercialization by the end of the year.

UCI is working with Irvine startups Nanommune Inc., which is led by Phil Felgner, director of the Vaccine R&D Center at UCI, and Velox Biosystems Inc. to scale the platform for use in U.S. and abroad.

The team aims to test 20,000 blood samples for antibody detection per day; a figure that could increase upon commercialization.

The “TinyAnalyzer” platform analyzes blood from a simple finger prick to detect antibodies from 14 respiratory viruses. The prototype uses an LED and a small camera to look for numerous antibody markets at once, which significantly lowers the cost of testing, the university said.

The portable machine costs about $200, well below the cost of imaging machines that can run $10,000 to $100,000.

The platform can also read coronavirus nose swab diagnostics tests.

The university said the platform will play a critical role in vaccination because it will require widespread testing, and provide a unique alternative for regions and countries in need of a low-cost testing option.

ACQUISITION

Irvine-based Pet Qwerks Inc., a maker of toys for cats and dogs, was acquired by Doskocil Manufacturing Co., an Arlington, Texas-based firm with OC ties which markets its related products under the Petmate name.

Financial terms of the deal, announced this month, were undisclosed. 

“We have always admired Petmate’s commitment to pets and their families,” Jim Gick, founder of Pet Qwerks, said in a statement. “The Petmate name is renowned in the industry for impeccable standards, and we are honored to be included in their brand. Looking forward, it will be our pleasure to watch our products grow under their guidance.”

Doskocil Manufacturing got its start as a dog kennel manufacturer in the 1960s before expanding into pet toys and travel accessories, food storage and more. 

The Texas firm was previously owned by Costa Mesa-based Westar Capital LLC, a private equity firm funded by George Argyros. Westar sold the company to Chicago-based Wind Point on undisclosed terms in 2011. 

Since then, Petmate has acquired several pet brands, including Costa Mesa-based Precision Pet Products Inc. 

It markets and sells more than 4,000 products today. 

LAUNCH

Artificial intelligence-powered personal assistant app Wing has a new focus: business customers.

The company, whose app can schedule meetings, perform shopping tasks, help with expenses and bills and other types of services, was initially designed for busy consumers.

When the pandemic hit, user growth slowed due to a lack of travel and less commuters. Suddenly, people had more time to complete their own tasks, according to Roland Polzin, chief marketing officer of Wing.

The pandemic had the opposite effect on businesses. 

“The need for automation for businesses is much greater,” Polzin said. “Many businesses had to lay off workers, but their workload in many cases is the same or higher.”

Since its B2B launch at the beginning of this month, Wing has increased its usership tenfold, Polzin said.

It’s also partnered with several businesses at the University of California-Berkeley accelerator program, called Berkeley SkyDeck, in recent weeks.

One such partner is KiwiBot, an autonomous robot delivery service, which is currently offering $1 food delivery through the Wing app in underserved communities.

Wing started at the UCI Beall Applied Innovation Wayfinder incubator in 2018.

It is currently raising a $2 million seed round of funding.

Orange-based Abbot’s Butcher Inc., a maker of gourmet plant-based dishes, launched in Whole Foods Market this month. 

The company’s plant-based Spanish Smoked Chorizo, Slow Roast Chopped Chick’n and Ground Beef Sausage are now available at select locations of the grocer in Southern California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii. 

The company previously introduced its products to stores and restaurants including Mother’s Market and Kitchen, Tender Greens, Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop and Ed Lee’s Toast Kitchen & Bakery in Newport Beach, among others.

Abbot’s Chief Executive Kerry Song formed the company after she gave up meat for animal welfare and the environment, but missed the taste of meat. She continued to crave her favorite dishes, so she recreated them with her own plant-based recipes like chicken tacos and beef bolognese. 

Abbot’s Butcher raised a $1 million seed round last year led by New Crop Capital in New York. It is currently raising additional funds.

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