Clara Biotech was one of the first startups to complete BioTools Innovator’s accelerator in 2021, said Jim West; now the Kansas-built startup’s CEO is fully aboard the entrepreneur-boosting effort as associate director — and with his own company’s exit behind him.
West, co-founder of Clara Biotech — which launched first-of-its-kind cancer detection in 2015 from a lab in Lawrence — announced this week the assets of the startup had been acquired by Kansas City-based InnovaPrep, another local leader in biotech.
The move opens up West’s new role with BioTools Innovator, which is completing its third year as a global competition and accelerator supporting entrepreneurs in the life science tools industry.
“I’m able to come in and help push it forward and bring an entrepreneurial perspective to the company,” West said. “’It’s easy to get excited, because these companies are the tool for the next generation of technology breakthroughs.”
He views the change as an opportunity to assist the company on its path to success, recognizing the immense potential within the vast biotech ecosystem, where BioTools Innovator plays a pivotal role at the forefront of new technologies, he said.
BioTools Innovator operates as a virtual company, with team members scattered across various locations, including Boston, Austin, Michigan, Colorado, California, and now, Kansas.
Drexel, Missouri-built InnovaPrep completed its purchase of the assets of Clara Biotech in August, marking a significant development in the biotech industry, West said.
InnovaPrep’s detection tech focuses on biological sample collection, concentration and preparation. The company has commercialized a collection of market-disruptive platform technologies for rapid, automated concentration of biological particles.
The deal came about through the due diligence process as West and the Clara Biotech team explored a potential merger or acquisition with another company, West detailed, noting that looking at InnovaPrep as an additional opportunity revealed it to be the better fit.
InnovaPrep’s presence in the market complemented Clara Biotech’s work in the emerging field of biotech, he said.
“They are a bit farther along in the market than we are. They’ve got product in the market, they have better facilities,” West said. “What they were looking for is opportunities to level up in the field of exosome. It’s an emerging space. It’s very, very niche. And it requires a specific type of expertise.”
“It was an opportunity for them to really just kind of step into the space with a ready to go team in technology that they could move forward with,” he continued.
Financial details of the deal are confidential and will not be disclosed, West said, noting some team members from Clara Biotech are providing consulting support to InnovaPrep during the transition, while others have pursued new opportunities outside of both companies.
Clara Biotech’s co-founder Dr. Mei He, now an academic research professor at the University of Florida, was not significantly involved in the acquisition deal or the business side of the company, West said. The duo founded the startup when He was an assistant professor at the University of Kansas, launching the venture in Lawrence at the BioScience and Technology Business Center (BSTB), now the KU Innovation Park.
West recognized InnovaPrep founder David Alburty as the ideal leader to strengthen Clara Biotech’s expertise in a specialized and niche field, he said. Both West and Alburty are members of the Midwest-focused Pipeline Entrepreneurs network; Alburty was the winner of the 2020 Pipeline Inspiration award.
“They were the right partner. I’ve known the founder for many years now,” West said. “We’ve done some collaborations in the past from a scientific and product development perspective. So, there was always kind of an overlap and arcologies of interest.”
The deal holds great promise for the broader biotech community, as the two companies combine their strengths to deliver innovative solutions to complex challenges, he continued.
BioTools Innovator’s new era
West’s new role as associate director at BioTools Innovator is not just about recruiting new talent to its programs, but strategically expanding its work and impact, and bringing in high-quality ecosystem partners. He emphasized the significance of having the right people at the table.
“It’s a very niche tech, but in that it’s great because we can bring that ecosystem together to help make it bigger and to help companies meet the right people faster, and that’s really where a lot of the value is,” said West.
Looking ahead to the future of BioTools Innovator, West is eager for the opportunity to help entrepreneurs in the biotech industry achieve success, he said. Developments from these companies will play a vital role in shaping the future of health and medicine, West added.
“These technologies are what create the future of our health, breakthroughs in society and biotechnology,” he said. “These are the foundations of manufacturing. These are the foundations of how we diagnose and find diseases early.”
West plans to help drive innovation that leads to groundbreaking developments in biotechnology with his strategic vision, he said.
“It’s really the frontier of health and medicine,” West said. “So, being able to be a part of that to help make that happen, I mean, how could you not be excited?”