Rhode Island life science entrepreneurs with breakthrough research they hope will conquer the marketplace have a new ally.
Ocean State Angels, a new seed-stage investment group, convened for the first time last month to connect Rhode Island’s top medical minds with capital.
The new angel group is a father-son creation, bringing together the medical expertise of Dr. Michael G. Ehrlich, chief of orthopedics at Rhode Island Hospital and chairman of orthopedics at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School, with the venture-capital background of his son Timothy Ehrlich, a partner at Waltham, Mass., law firm Gunderson Dettmer LLP, which represents emerging technology companies and investors.
The group’s mission is to launch Rhode Island life sciences companies and grow the industry here. It has committed to investing only in life science companies that agree to remain in the Ocean State for at least five years.
“I have a lot of people in my lab who are doing amazing biotech research and I have tried to encourage them over the last year or two to patent their ideas and make them into some kind of worthwhile company that would bring these ideas into the market,” said Michael Ehrlich in a recent phone interview. “I started looking around for a mechanism to help them do it and there really wasn’t any great mechanism.”
Ehrlich noted that Rhode Island Hospital’s orthopedic department was one of the top five in the nation over the last five years in federal National Institute of Health grants, pointing to a strong volume of quality research.
At the same time Michael Ehrlich was thinking about biotech startups from the research end, his son, Timothy Ehrlich, had been mulling the same thing from the investment end after a dinner conversation with Slater Technology Fund Managing Partner Thorne Sparkman a little over a year ago.
“I knew that there was a lot going on but that it is critically important to be able to raise capital,” Tim Ehrlich said. “When I thought about it, I realized what we could do is combine what I know, and my firm’s national reputation with successful startups, and put them in touch with my father’s history in Rhode Island and access to that network.”
When the Ehrlichs floated the idea, they found encouragement beyond the medical community from diverse groups such as Brown University’s Technology Ventures Office, The Rhode Island Foundation, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and the former venture-capitalist General Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo, Michael Ehrlich said.