Ben Franklin invests in small companies

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At first thought, robust football players and frail Alzheimer's patients have nothing in common. But if they need a quick brain scan, they definitely do.

A football player goes down on the field and gets up wobbling, leaving coaches unsure if he's sustained a concussion. Instead of a costly trip to the emergency room and a costly CAT scan of his head, Adam Simon's portable, headset-like scanning device, the Mindreader, can provide a quick answer at the stadium.

The reading indicates changes in cognitive function that may or may not have the player go to the hospital.

An Alzheimer's patient is going to start a new drug but it's difficult to determine whether or not the drug is effective. A quick, portable brain scan from the Mindreader before the drug is administered – and another scan two or three months into the medication – indicate any positive or negative changes in cognitive functioning.

It's all made possible by Simon's association with Ben Franklin Technology Partners at the mountaintop campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem.

Ben Franklin invests in startup businesses, providing financial and business support to get small businesses such as tech companies up and running.

Bob Thomson, regional director of the Bethlehem facility, says entrepreneurs have varying reasons for going to Ben Franklin.

“Usually they've worked for someone else and have a desire for their own small business. They might be unhappy with the direction an employer is going in and are frustrated on the job,” Thomson said. “We do work with startups that don't have previous experience in their chosen endeavor, but most are spinoffs of something they've worked with.”

$50,000 INVESTMENT

Thomson said the companies starting up at Ben Franklin fall into five broad categories: software, life sciences, microelectronics, IT and new inventions.

In Simon's case, Ben Franklin invested $50,000 in his new company, Cerora, and gave him space at the mountaintop facility.

“Startups can have other investors,” Thomson said. “There may be a personal investment or government grants, even private investors.

“We invest pre-revenue and help get products commercialized.”

Orasure Technologies, a provider of quick diagnostic tests for AIDS, got started at Ben Franklin in 1987 and went public in 2000. CICLON Semiconductor Device Corp. started out with Ben Franklin and was bought out by Texas Instruments in 2009 and is now known as Texas Instruments of the Lehigh Valley. It makes cellphone chips.

SIMPLIFYING BRAIN SCANS

Simon's path to Ben Franklin was slow but steady. After receiving degrees in both physics and math at the University of Rochester, Simon earned a doctorate in physics at the University of Chicago.

He then did postdoctoral work at Princeton in physics and biology, and then went to work for Merck Research Labs for 13 years.

In addition to starting Cerora in 2011, Simon is an independent consultant to pharmaceutical, biotechnology and information technology clients since 2008. He's a world-renowned expert on Alzheimer's biomarkers.

His goal with Mindreader is to simplify the process of brain scans, using fewer leads. He wants it to be good enough to be a reliable medical device but not overly complicated.

“Ever since starting with them [at Ben Franklin], I feel very well supported,” Simon said.

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