Oncora Medical just closed a seed round of $1.2 million from investors like Philadelphia’s BioAdvance, San Francisco’s iSeed Ventures and Wisconsin-based oncology entrepreneur Dr. Thomas “Rock” Mackie, but they say they couldn’t have done it without early financial support from the Philadelphia tech scene.
Founded by brainy high school best friends David Lindsay and Chris Berlind, Oncora Medical is building software that aims to help radiation oncologists learn from past treatment data.
In 2014 and 2015, the early days of Oncora, Lindsay, 26, an M.D./Ph.D. student at Penn, cobbled together roughly $100,000 in grants, loans and investment from various sources: First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund, the Wharton Innovation Fund, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, medical school entrepreneurship program PennHealthX and, most recently, the University City Science Center’s Digital Health Accelerator. Oncora received $50,000 from BFTP in the form of a zero-interest loan, as part of the state-backed venture firm’s effort to support ultra early stage companies.
Oncora also received investment from DreamIt Health, from which they graduated last fall. (Entrepreneurs, we hope you’re taking notes.) Many of those sources focus on health IT, pointing to the region’s growing infrastructure for the sector.
That money, most of which was grants and loans and thus, non-dilutive, was invaluable, Lindsay said, because it helped keep Berlind afloat while he took a leave of absence from his Georgia Tech computer science Ph.D. program to build Oncora’s product. (Berlind, 27, has since finished, but now it’s Lindsay who’s taking a leave of absence from his grad program.) The duo insisted on waiting until they had traction before seriously approaching investors, Lindsay said.
Lindsay had no problems approaching investors on a whim. There was Mackie, a pioneer in the radiation oncology world, whom Lindsay saw speak at the annual meeting of the American Association for Physicists in Medicine in Anaheim last summer and cold-approached after his talk. He did the same with Barbara Schilberg of BioAdvance, who gave a talk at Penn that Lindsay attended. As for iSeed, Lindsay had lunch with partner Adam Lin on DreamIt Health’s investment roadshow and a few phone calls later, Lin was in.
They also count Safeguard Scientifics’ managing director for healthcare, Gary Kurtzman, as an advisor, whom Lindsay met when he took Kurtzman’s healthcare entrepreneurship class at Penn. Oncora isn’t in Safeguard’s investment sweet spot: it’s too early, but Kurtzman is already taking a role in the company, joining its board as chairman. Safeguard spokeswoman Heather Hunter is helping Oncora distribute the press release for their seed round, too. We’ve seen this before, where a later-stage investor takes an interest in an early-stage company, like with Bullpen Capital’s Paul Martino advising Squareknot. Sounds like they’re playing the long game (or just giving back).
Oncora has a team of four working out of a private office at CityCoHo (2401 Walnut St.) and plans to hire three to five engineers this year, Berlind said.