Highlights from the Project MedTech Midwest Showcase Pitch Competition

 Krista Moon  0 Comments

On May 8, 2024, Project MedTech hosted a MedTech Pitch Competition at the mHUB Innovation Center in Chicago, IL. Here's a recap of the startups that pitched, the investors who participated in the panel discussions, and companies that did the fast rounds, along with what I learned about sales and marketing for startups and where we can add value to their growth trajectory.

Recap of MedTech Startup Pitch Competition at the Midwest Showcase

Table of Contents

Why I Went

You might ask why the heck a sales and marketing agency like Ascend Business Growth would attend a MedTech pitch competition, and that would be a valid question!

  • Main reason: One of our recent clients is a digital health company. We worked with them for 5 years, from the seed round to $25M Series A. Given our success there and a great case study, after years of angst about what niche to focus on, I decided to build out our expertise in the MedTech space. I have so many ideas on how to get founders set up on a sales and marketing foundation they can grow into from the beginning to make it easier to get funding and then quickly and effectively launch their innovation when they get to that point.
  • As the founder of Ascend Business Growth, I have a strong background in science (Zoologist, Science Teacher) and a passion for health and wellness (I had cancer at 38, BRCA1, and have a rare disease called Castleman's Disease - I'm kind of a health nut as I figure out how to battle these things. I'm open about it. 😉) Maybe, just maybe, I can bring some unique insights and ideas into the mix that can positively impact how our society approaches health and wellness.
  • Our team is really good at building sales and marketing systems from the ground up to create a strong foundation for organizations to grow, so startups make a lot of sense for us.
  • My question of the day: When do sales and marketing come into the process? From what I gathered, most founders hack together a website as best they can at the beginning, and then when they get seed funding or Series A, they re-do it all or do a major overhaul on their branding and messaging.

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Startup Pitches

25 medical device companies pitched. We created a spreadsheet that outlines the companies, what they do, and a few other details we gathered from my notes from the event and online research (as best as we could gather in a reasonable amount of time).

The winner of the pitch competition was STM Patch!

SingleTimeMicroneedles’ (STM) mission is to improve domestic and global health and wellness through equitable access to highly effective vaccines. Their core technology is an easily-administered patch applied to the skin to embed arrays of microneedles (MNs). Minutes later, the patch is removed, and MNs are imperceptibly embedded in superficial skin.

Two other Honorable Mentions

SonoStik. Their flagship product is the SonoStik IV Guidewire Introducer: the first venous access device designed to enable single-handed, ultrasound-guided placement of peripheral IV (PIV) lines.

EndoShunt Medical. EndoShunt effectively controls hemorrhage from an injury while maintaining blood flow to the rest of the body, providing trauma surgeons with the time they need to perform definitive repairs.

Check out the spreadsheet to learn about all the companies that pitched!

Download the Spreadsheet

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Panel Discussions

I took a picture of each group (except the first one), so I included those along with the panelists and their companies.

Venture Capital

This was the first panel discussion, bright and early at 9:30 AM! Venture capital firms invest in early-stage companies in exchange for equity or an ownership stake. A few key points that stood out are:

  • Some VCs will only invest in companies that use their incubators.
  • Have your data ready—with realistic projections. Budgets, funds, salaries.
  • VCs typically only invest in a few companies per year.
  • Be honest and transparent.
  • Know your ideal profitable customer. 
  • Building a relationship with a VC can take many years before they will invest. It's a serious relationship, like a marriage.
  • Funds can turn around quickly when the time is right. Investment timing is often timed with exit timing.
  • Competition can expedite the process and responsiveness. VCs want to know all the players on the field. They usually don't like to compete with multiple companies in the same industry.
  • Don't disrespect the analysts. They are often your champions and critical for pushing the deal forward.
  • Leverage the insights and knowledge of physician investors.
  • Your solution must solve an unmet clinical need.



  • Portal Innovations, https://www.portalinnovations.com, Jeremy Langsam, Venture Analyst: A life sciences venture capital firm supports early biotech and MedTech startups. It provides seed capital, lab space, connections, and collaborations and invests in companies that use its incubator.
  • Mutual Capital Partners, https://mutualcapitalpartners.com,Liz Todia, VC: This venture capital fund is committed to entrepreneurialism and works with angel funds, economic development entities, and entrepreneurs to assist them through the capital continuum throughout Ohio and the rest of the Midwest.
  • Glide Healthcare, https://gildehealthcare.com, Karthik Bolisetty, Senior Associate: Glide Healthcare is a specialized healthcare investor that manages over €2.5 billion ($2.5 billion) across two fund strategies: venture and Growth and Private Equity.
  • BioStar Capital, https://biostar.capital, Alan Davis, Managing Director: They encompass five venture capital funds, with successful early- and late-stage investments focusing primarily on cardiology, orthopedics, and robotics.

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Where Does Innovation Happen?

This panel discussed ideas about launching new MedTech products out of University innovation centers. A couple of ideas from this talk were:

  • It can be difficult to move innovation from the University to the real world.
  • Innovation happens in the hospital with clinicians and their intimate experience and insights about where the unmet needs are.
  • A key challenge is to increase awareness about what they are doing and to keep the ideas flowing after students leave the University.
  • Alums and students are not investors. The only way to succeed is to grow your network.

Where does innovation happen?


  • University of Iowa, http://jobs.uiowa.edu, Jon Darsee, Chief Innovation Officer: His responsibilities include economic development efforts such as UI Ventures, protostudios, UI Research Park, MADE, and TRI. Two targeted strategic areas of focus in alignment with State of Iowa initiatives are MedTech and EdTech.
  • Nationwide Children's Hospital, https://nationwidechildrens.org, Cory Criss, Pediatric Surgeon: Accelerating pediatric opportunities and development through the Midwest Pediatric Device Consortium (MPDC).
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, https://illinois.edu, Dan Rodawig, Director of Corporate Development: He facilitates philanthropic support for scholarships, student and faculty support, programs, and sponsored research. Think of Dan as your connector for the University of Illinois, Carle Health and the local community.
  • Purdue Research Foundation, https://prf.org/, Justin Renfrow, Director: He’s tasked with advancing technology readiness levels, startup creation and de-risking, and engagement with student startups. “We work with teams to de-risk their technologies and help craft their pitch, preparing them for outside investment. Our focus is providing support to Purdue technologies and startups to help set them up for success.”

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Strategic investors focus on synergistic collaborations that add value to their overall portfolio. They are willing to take a lower percentage for the same amount of money because they have different objectives than a traditional VC, and their deals may require something other than shares in the company. Strategics are a good consideration when you need relationships with a larger player in the industry. *I don't have notes on this panel discussion.


  • Heinz Ventures, LLC, https://heinzventures.com, Eric Heinz, Managing Partner: A life sciences venture studio pursuing a vision to pioneer definitive therapies that safeguard the economics of healthcare.
  • J.P. Morgan, https://www.jpmorgan.com, Michael Gietl, Managing Director: Providing investment banking solutions, including mergers and acquisitions, capital raising and risk management, for a broad range of corporations, institutions and governments.
  • Baxter International, https://www.baxter.com, Alexandria Goldman, Managing Director, An American multinational healthcare company primarily focused on products to treat kidney disease and other chronic and acute medical conditions.
  • Johnson & Johnson, https://www.jnj.com, Greg Parranto, Former Area Vice President: A focused healthcare company with expertise in Innovative Medicine and MedTech.

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Other Dilutive Capital

Angel investors invest their own money in early-stage and seed-stage companies. 

In my notes, I have that Angels are looking for a 15x return on their investment. For example, a $15M valuation would ideally be somewhere around a $200M exit.

  • Approach early.
  • Build relationships - investors are partners.
  • Use your network.
  • Only give up 20-25 percent for each round. 
  • Create one product first, then grow.
  • Don't sugarcoat your problems.

Other Dilutive Capital

  • Gopher Angels, LLC, https://gopherangels.com, Carl Stamp, Board Member, Investor, Consultant: Carl is an advisor and mentor to entrepreneurs through his memberships with the Minneapolis-based angel investing group Gopher Angels and the University of Minnesota's Office of Technology Commercialization.
  • VisionTech Partners, https://visiontech-partners.com, Ben Pidgeon, Executive Director: An angel investing network across Indiana and Ohio focusing on the life sciences, SaaS, IoT technology, advanced materials, supply chain, and hardware.
  • VCapital Management, https://vcapital.com, Ryan Kole, Partner: A Chicago-based venture capital firm with a concierge and flexible service structure for investors, acting as a guide to professional investment advisors and individuals who seek to add venture capital to diversify their portfolios, manage risk, and meet wealth management goals.
  • Arch City Angels, https://chicagoarchangels.com, Michael O'Toole: A provider of risk capital for early-stage and seed-stage companies in the Midwest and around the country. They accept companies through a referral process within their network and cover a wide range of industries.

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Diversified Funding - Zero to Hero

Last but not least, the all women panel. 

It was the end of the day so my notes are really light!

  • Don't dilute your cap table while still paying everything.
  • Accelerators offer many different types of services. Know what kind of support you need an find accelerators that match.

Diversified Funding - Zero to Hero


  • Team NEO, https://northeastohioregion.com, Swarna Solanki, Director of Business Development for Healthcare: Team NEO is a nonprofit economic development organization for 14 counties in Northeast Ohio. They do research, data analysis, marketing, and collaborations to facilitate and accelerate economic growth in the region.
  • Bounce Innovation Hub, https://bouncehub.org, Jessica Sublett, President and CEO: This nonprofit innovation hub serves northeast Ohio entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses and comprises more than 300,000 square feet of coworking, event, meeting and professional office space.
  • Drug Development NINDS Small Business Program, https://www.ninds.nih.gov/funding/ninds-small-business-program, Annette Gilchrist, Program Director: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Small Business Program is a congressionally mandated set-aside program to encourage research and development leading to commercialization. It supports innovative ideas at different stages of development, including applied bench research, translational research, and early-stage clinical trials.
  • Blueprint MedTech, https://neuroscienceblueprint.nih.gov/neurotherapeutics/blueprint-medtech/blueprint-medtech, Elyse Kemmerer White, Program Manager [C]: An NIH incubator provides non-dilutive funds that accelerate early-stage medical device development for diagnosing or treating disorders of the nervous system to readiness for first-in-human clinical studies.
  • mHub, https://www.mhubchicago.com, Melissa Rabin Lederer, Chief Experience Officer: An innovation center for manufacturing and hardtech with labs for prototyping and manufacturing, talent pipelines, networks of experts and investors, manufacturing supply chain, and training.

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Fast Rounds

These five organizations shared details about their goals and objectives on stage.

  • SmartHealth, https://www.smarthealthcatalyzer.com, Tom Denison, Founder, CEO and Chief Relationship Officer: VC investing company that works with life science innovations. Their team is built up of bioentrepreneurs and biomedical experts with over 30 years of industry experience.
  • MedTech Color, https://www.medtechcolor.org, Katrina Holland, Director: Building the world’s largest network of Black and Hispanic Medtech leader, increasing the number of these leaders who enter and stay in Medtech, and adding tangible value to the Medtech ecosystem via inclusive thought-leadership.
  • iBIO (Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization, https://www.ibio.org, John Conrad, President and CEO: iBIO is a life sciences industry association that represents the 85,000 life sciences employees at member companies, universities, service providers and venture firms. They promote the industry’s value to the public and policymakers, connect innovators to investment and talent, stimulate collaboration, and foster the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to transform patient lives through groundbreaking research and work to grow the Illinois economy.
  • Jalex Medical, LLC, https://jalexmedical.com, Jennifer Palinchik, President: Medical device consulting with design engineers, regulatory affairs specialists, and quality management providers to move from concept to commercialization.
  • Zapyrus, https://www.zapyrus.com, Kevin Saem, Commercial Director: AI sales research assistant for MedTech. Zapyrus events are kept up to date in real-time, pulling from thousands of publicly available sources of information to make sure that you never miss an important update. Insights on 16,000+ active MedTech OEMs.
  • Pitchbook, https://www.pitchbook.com, PitchBook provides capital market data and intelligence solutions that help drive action.
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When do sales and marketing become relevant for early-stage MedTech companies?

From the Founder's Perspective

I asked this question to quite a few people at the event, and the main gist was that founders are great at innovation but may not be great at messaging, sales, and marketing. Their excitement and passion for their innovation compensate for any awkwardness in the sales process at the beginning.

Founders, who likely have a $0 sales and marketing budget, create their own initial branding and website to communicate with investors and get their innovation in front of key early adopters. When it comes to managing the investor or sales pipeline, it's likely spreadsheets or a minimally configured CRM system.

Most MedTech founders lean more toward engineering or technical backgrounds, not sales and marketing, so figuring out how to communicate the value of their innovation to investors and ideal profitable customers and manage sales relationships is new territory.

Once founders get seed funding, or more likely, Series A funding, they invest in overhauling their online presence and streamlining the sales process. Until then, they do the best they can!

My next question is: When an early-stage MedTech is ready to invest in sales and marketing, where do they begin?

From the Investor Perspective

Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to ask any of the investors about their expectations of founders in terms of sales and marketing and what, if anything, they do to help them build their growth platform. I'll come back and fill this in once I find out!

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How does Ascend Business Growth add value to early-stage MedTech companies?

I have some ideas about this. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Ascend Business Growth is a HubSpot partner, and we have been using that platform exclusively with all of our clients since 2010. We built our entire business on HubSpot because it has everything we need to do sales and marketing in one system.

Integrating a million technologies is a pain—and a time-waster to boot. HubSpot is our tool of choice because it has the CRM (contacts and deals!) at the core of its system and does the website, email marketing, social posting, blog articles, lead gen campaigns, workflows, automation, sales enablement, customer service, and analytics and reporting. You don't need too much more than that to do sales and marketing! And it's all in one tool. Also, they have technical support that you can call, which is very valuable. They are a stable player in the marketplace and continually develop their platform to stay aligned with market needs.

Here's how using HubSpot and a sales and marketing service and consulting company such as ours can help startups reduce risk, gain more interest, and have a more robust launch.

100% Do-It-Yourself

You don't have to hire anyone if you don't want to, and you still can get huge value from starting with a tool like HubSpot

Get HubSpot Free

You can use their free tools to start building your sales system using their CRM and create a starter website, too. You can do a TON on their free platform. I built this website on it: www.electioncontestnews.com, for example. You can even do some email marketing, so if founders want to do an email newsletter to keep potential investors up-to-date with their innovation, that is an option—all for free.

Starting off with HubSpot free gets you "moved in" so you can get familiar with the sales and marketing landscape and have all the tools you need to explore how you want to build your growth platform over time.

Use HubSpot Academy

I learned most of what I know from HubSpot (and over two decades of experience now!). That is one of the main reasons I gravitated to their platform—I was thirsty for knowledge, and they had it in abundance, even back in 2010.

Founders can break down any part of the sales and marketing process they need to focus on. For example, they may want to set up a sales pipeline to track their potential investor relationships. They could take the courses Designing Your Sales Process in HubSpot, Pipeline Generation Bootcamp, Selling Smarter with Pipeline Report, and more.

HubSpot has a course for anything you want to know regarding sales and marketing. It's a great resource, whether you use their platform or not. Their blog is also a treasure trove of information about how to do everything in sales and marketing.

The Ascend Business Growth blog can be a valuable educational tool, too.😄

Assisted DIY

Assuming that HubSpot is the tool of choice, startups can begin independently without professional help. We can learn anything we want on YouTube and blog articles; it only depends on our available interest level, time, and capacity to understand the concepts.

While startups can go it alone, using our sales and marketing consulting and service dramatically reduces the time founders spend building the growth platform and keeps them where they are most valuable: innovating and building relationships. They can use our experience to start strong and avoid common pitfalls—at a reasonable cost.

Phase I: Build the Framework

Okay—you have very little budget, if any. Yet, you need to sell and market your innovation. Sales and marketing are not your thing; you want to ensure you get started on the right path without spending a thousand hours learning and struggling or presenting your innovation in a way that doesn't highlight its true value.

We recommend getting HubSpot free, then consult with us regularly—bi-weekly or weekly—as you develop your investor pitches and starter website. We will be your growth partner! We've been doing this for many years, so using our brains can dramatically shorten your learning curve and give you valuable time back in your day. It's a low-cost investment for a high return in the long run.

  • 60-minute consulting meetings to work together on*:
    • Messaging (words you use to gain interest in your innovation, including SEO words and phrases).
    • Branding development (logos, colors, templates - the basics).
    • Complete and successful HubSpot onboarding (make sure the users know how to do what they need to do productively - we have an onboarding process and guide.)
    • HubSpot configurations, technical details, tips, and tricks to maximize your time and productivity in building relationships and your growth platform.
    • Ideas and quick wins to find target investors, define and find your ideal customers, and advance growth and business development.
    • Maximizing LinkedIn.
    • Analytics and strategic review of progress to date.
  • Support hours: tasks or projects we will do on your behalf to move the process along quickly. For example, we can write copy, create social profiles, set up Google Analytics, create a Google Business profile, do SEO analysis, and more. Sometimes, there isn't enough time in the day, and that is where we come in.

*Working together means we have an actual working meeting where we get things done and decide how to move forward and what the "homework" is to make progress. We don't like to meet for more than an hour because it can become overwhelming, with too much information.

Phase II: Fast-Track Growth and Increase Market Share

At this stage, your:

  • CRM should be configured closely for fast-tracking growth.
  • branding and website may need a refresh, but the core elements should be solid.
  • messaging may need tweaking, but you should have a good starting point.

The great thing about onboarding to a tool like HubSpot at the beginning is that when you are ready to put the pedal to the metal, you have everything you need to implement your sales and marketing approach. Nothing is holding you back—except time, resources, and budget! You have the framework, though, so the path forward is yours to take.

If you're ready to move forward, someone will have to invest more time in sales and marketing.

  • Option 1: DIY + Consulting—If founders want to continue bootstrapping and have the time, capability, and desire to increase sales and marketing, we can support the process in a similar fashion to phase I. We'll continue having working meetings and ensure positive outcomes from their efforts and investment in HubSpot, and we can fill in gaps as needed. We do sales and marketing all day, every day, so keeping us engaged can help you reduce risk and save time by leveraging our expertise to help ensure you get maximum results from your efforts.
  • Option 2: Outsource—Divide and conquer. The founding team handles the parts of growth that they are strong in, and Ascend Business Growth handles the rest. In this scenario, we step in as your marketing team; the organization gets highly experienced marketing and HubSpot skills for the price of one marketing hire. And just as HubSpot has all the tools companies need to do sales and marketing, which reduces the learning curve and cost of building a growth platform, Ascend is the centralized resource for marketing skills, so there's no need to cobble together various disconnected sales and marketing vendors.

Our mission is to ensure that organizations we help onboard to HubSpot are as successful with it as we know they can be. Some companies are stronger in sales and marketing than others, and we are there to support and meet them where they are.

I've seen so many companies waste inordinate amounts of time and money on sales and marketing, and it hurts my heart. A strong foundation out of the gate and a thoughtful yet agile approach reduce risk and increase the chances for success!

What to Expect

This article outlines what to expect from a relationship with an agency like us: 7 Things to Expect from Any Outsourced Marketing Agency You Hire

You might also like:

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A Cool HubSpot Feature I Got to Use!

I used HubSpot's app throughout the event to manage relationships on the fly, and I thought it was really cool and easy. Since Project MedTech provided the list of attendees before the event, I uploaded everyone to HubSpot beforehand. Then, after I talked to people at the event, I immediately put my notes on the contact record from my phone.

I also realized I could take pictures directly from the contact record, which was a great idea for helping me remember the event and the people I talked to. I can use the photos as post-event conversation starters—or articles like this!

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Special Offer for Investors

HubSpot has a unique program for investors: the companies they invest in can get HubSpot software for 75% off in year one and continue to get hefty discounts in years 2 and 3, which is totally awesome.

This offer allows startups to use HubSpot's full program (beyond the free features) to build a strong foundation in year one and continue growing during those critical first years.

Check it out: HubSpot for Startups

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If You Are Interested in HubSpot

If you decide to check out the platform, please contact us first! We are a HubSpot partner and will be the point of contact for your exploration. If you have any questions or want to brainstorm ideas for launching your innovation, we are here to help.

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