By: Peace Aisogun and Chandana Haque
Since 2007, the life science industry has been accelerating in Utah but has been predominantly led by middle-aged men with the financial backing to fuel a startup. Now, incubators like Altitude Lab are enabling access to all, causing more than locals to pay attention. This year, over 60 investors across the coast traveled to Salt Lake City to see the growth in Salt Lake City firsthand.
Since enrolling its first cohort in November 2020, startups at Altitude Lab have raised $92M in seed funding.
Altitude Lab has also been growing its local and national influence, increasing its annual Demo Day attendance to over 250 attendees this year.
With Utah quickly becoming a hub for health care innovation and investments, we are bullish on an economic growth engine fueled by homegrown, diverse startups.
We see early evidence that centralizing access is incredibly important for founders who need to grow their entrepreneurial, industry, and investor networks.
We’ve also found that it empowers the growing number of local science and health care students preparing to launch themselves into the industry. Thus, Utah’s homegrown startup economy is retaining local talent and cultivating a unique entrepreneurial culture.
After each year, we take stock of the directional trends for Utah and our founders. Here’s what we’ve learned from 2022 and our capstone event, Demo Day.
Takeaway #1: Demo Day 2022 showcased the speed of progress in Utah
This year’s 13 presenting companies spanned the industry from cancer therapeutics, AI-enabled diagnostics and medicinal chemistry, and more. The variety in technologies and thought leadership was also telling of Utah’s transformation from a medical device hub to an emerging market across health care categories.
It also showcased how Altitude is investing its energy to bolster therapeutics, molecular diagnostics, and digital health categories.
Compared to Demo Day 2021, progress was immediately observable–six companies had closed partnerships (compared to two in 2021), three startups were earning revenue and closing large unit sales, and two were launching clinical trials. Notably, presenters attracted new customers, collaborators, and clinical partners after their presentations at Demo Day. Peel Therapeutics rounded-out the evening, winning the first-ever People’s Choice Award.
Takeaway #2: While most capital is from out-of-state, local investors are catching on to what they have been missing. Altitude Lab continues to centralize and improve access to capital for founders.
Altitude Lab also launched its first-ever investor summit, RISE, to give >60 investors and founders one-on-one time together. While, over 90% of health care startup funding still comes from out of state, centralizing entities like incubators make it easier for national investors to connect with founders, evening the playing field for underrepresented founders who frequently need more help connecting to investor networks.
RISE also provided an opportunity for local investors to understand the evolution of Utah’s economy and learn about rising companies founded by individuals outside of their networks.
The event convened angels, family offices, and major institutional teams like Lux, Obvious, Epic, and Intermountain Ventures.
Takeaway #3: Despite continuing economic instability, startups are finding ways to maximize cash runway and achieve milestones.
Incubators, like Altitude Lab, continue to prove themselves to be economic multipliers. By providing shared resources, essential networks, and community, we observe accelerated connection and creativity among first-time founders. The recent economic challenges have only pushed Altitude’s startups to build smarter alongside a more extensive national network.
Founders continue to maximize scrappiness in the current funding climate to stretch their cash by increasing discipline and focus and pursuing partnerships and co-development opportunities.
For example — 3Helix, Dock Technologies, and Rebel Medicine have closed various partnerships to develop and commercialize tech, improving their valuation and extending their cash runway.
Takeaway #4: With reduced barriers to entrepreneurship, diverse founders are increasing their ability to earn seed capital in Utah.
Altitude Lab’s founders demonstrated Utah’s trajectory in health care innovation at Demo Day by earning over 75% of all health care seed financings in 2022. Fostering this growth means more stimulating jobs to attract and retain diverse talent, locally and nationally, to Utah. As innovation expands, Utah’s founder demographics in the life sciences are also evolving. At Altitude Lab, 56% of our founders are underrepresented, and 73% of our resident companies are led by at least one underrepresented founder — many of whom transplanted to Utah. These underrepresented founders earned 30% of all seed financings in Utah. In comparison, 23% of all US venture dollars are earned by underrepresented founders.
Altitude Lab has always stood by community and connectivity as the path to eliminating barriers to entrepreneurship and accelerating Utah’s health care economy. Our first two years in operation show us positive indicators that by bridging network and infrastructure gaps for new and underrepresented founders, we can accelerate an economy to serve the state and patients across the globe. As we look forward to times of economic uncertainty, we remain steadfast in our belief that the momentum building in Utah is only just beginning, which is why we are continuing to focus our efforts on resourcing founders in Utah. Join our newsletter to stay up to date on the work we are doing, events we are hosting and how you can get involved on the ground floor with our startups.
About Altitude Lab
Altitude Lab is building a new, representative generation of founders to seed the next cycle of health care innovation in Utah's BioHive. Located in University of Utah Research Park, Altitude Lab is an incubator focused on early stage life science and health care companies. The initiative is part of a larger city plan and collaborative vision from Recursion and the University of Utah to foster socially-responsible entrepreneurship, job creation, and economic productivity. The Recursion Foundation, under which Altitude Lab operates, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Learn more at altitudelab.org or connect on Twitter.