Nakia Melecio to lead Innovation Lab effort at Enterprise Innovation Institute

Headshot off Nakia Melecio.
Nakia Melecio head’s Innovation Lab at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. (PHOTO: Péralte Paul)

Nakia Melecio, senior research faculty and director of the Center for MedTech Excellence at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, will lead a new effort focused on economic development support for life science companies and bioscience commercialization and ecosystem building.

Melecio, who has also served as the deep tech catalyst in the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s ATDC startup incubator, will lead Innovation Lab, which encompasses new business development efforts in the life sciences and biosciences sectors. It will also include his current program work and the Innovation Lab initiative centers on three core activities:

  • Grow healthcare research, innovation, and workforce development practice
  • Expand EI2 Global’s international footprint
  • Support VentureLab’s National Science Foundation I-Corps activities

“Nakia has been instrumental in helping to expand Georgia’s life sciences community and ecosystem,” said David Bridges, vice president of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, which serves as Georgia Tech’s chief economic development arm. “Leading Innovation Lab already builds on a foundation he created since joining us in 2019 and further supports our broad economic development mission.”

He’s already leading in the healthcare research practice expansion with his work in with the MedTech Center and running the ScaleUp Lab Program for deep tech innovation.

Under Melecio’s leadership as founding director, the MedTech Center, which has the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership and Global Center for Medical Innovation as partners, has worked with and evaluated the innovations of more than 200 companies. Since launching in 2021, the MedTech Center’s 66 active startups have raised $13.1 million in investment capital and an additional $6.4 million in federal, non-dilutive funding grants.

In 2023 the MedTech Center was selected to join the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health’s ARPA-H Investor Catalyst Hub to accelerate the commercialization of practical, accessible biomedical solutions.

He is supporting Georgia Tech’s efforts to collaborate with Atlanta University Center schools — Spelman College, Clark-Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and the Morehouse School of Medicine — to collaborate with those minority serving institutions as they build out capacity for their scientists and researchers to create more life sciences technology companies, following an award from the Economic Development Administration.

Similarly, Melecio is working with the University of Alabama at Birmingham in a collaborative project in the biologics and medical device areas to move more of its researchers’ innovations out of the lab and into commercial markets.

As Innovation Lab lead, Melecio, who has secured more than $5.76 million in federal grants and awards to Georgia Tech, will also work to develop biomanufacturing partnerships for Georgia Tech.

With EI2 Global, the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s program that fosters economic opportunity through collaborations with universities, innovators, governments, and nonprofit organizations worldwide, Melecio will serve as an instructor on Lab-to-Market and CREATE-X programming for entrepreneurs. He will also create and provide educational content for EI2 Global’s university and ecosystem partners.

More regionally, his Innovation Lab work includes ongoing projects as a principal in VentureLab, a program of Georgia Tech’s Office of Commercialization. In that capacity, he will work on VentureLab’s National Science Foundation-related Innovation Corps (I-Corps) programming. Those efforts, overseen by Commercialization Vice President Raghupathy “Siva” Sivakumar, includes the NSF I-Corps Hub Academy where Melecio will serve as director.

“Our efforts with Innovation Lab are really centered around finding new opportunities, new markets, and new industries by leveraging our areas of expertise at the Enterprise Innovation Institute and Georgia Tech to build economic development capacity in the life sciences and biosciences space,” Melecio said.

“We’re looking to take a broader perspective away from being hyper focused in one or two niche areas in life sciences to ensure that we maximize opportunities to support new ideas, build stronger practice areas in this space, and secure funding to bring those innovations to scale.”

NIH awards $2.9M grant to Annoviant for heart disease technology advancement

Annoviant co-founders Ajay Houde and Naren Vyavahare, CEO and chief technology officer, respectively.

ATLANTA — Annoviant Inc. a health technology company and member startup in the Enterprise Innovation Institute‘s Center for MedTech Excellence, is receiving a $2.99 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to further scale the development and commercialization of its TxGuardTM pulmonary-valved conduit for pediatric heart disease.

The award follows two Phase I NIH grants the company received, the most recent being in 2021.

Annoviant’s patented TxGuard™ stands at the forefront of technological innovation in conduit replacements for treating congenital heart disease (CHD), the most prevalent birth defect globally and a leading cause of birth-related mortality, the company said.

CHD encompasses a broad range of abnormalities that disrupt blood flow to and from the heart. It affects approximately 40,000 newborns annually — or 1% of births in the U.S. — and 1.35 million worldwide. With an estimated 2.9 million CHD patients in the U.S. alone, the need for advanced solutions is paramount.

“This marks a significant milestone for Annoviant as we accelerate our pursuit of impactful innovation to save lives,” said Annoviant CEO and co-founder Ajay Houde, Ph.D. “It validates our hypothesis and shows the NIH’s confidence in our ability to make good progress. Because we are a small startup, it gives private investors the confidence to invest with us and more companies working with us across the broader ecosystem.”

Addressing critical shortcomings observed in current commercial devices, TxGuard™ offers clinical advantages, notably its resistance to calcification, thrombosis, infection, and the host cell integration. This cutting-edge technology marks a new era in pediatric cardiac interventions, providing durable pulmonary valved grafts that adapt and regenerate alongside patients, minimizing the need for multiple re-operations over their lifetimes.

“Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women in the U.S. and is the most common birth defect in our newborns,” said Center for MedTech Excellence Director Nakia Melecio, who worked with Annoviant to help it scale and reviewed its federal funding submissions.

The Center for MedTech Excellence, which launched in 2022, works with early-stage life sciences startups that have specific obstacles that young tech companies in other sectors don’t face.

“This is a critical milestone for the company, and validates its research and work, thus far,” Melicio said. “Annoviant’s technology is tackling several challenges that the market currently faces and elevating the possibility for better patient outcomes in management of congestive heart failure.”

Pediatric patients with CHD often undergo multiple cardiovascular surgeries throughout their lives, with associated costs totaling billions for the U.S. healthcare industry. TxGuard™ offers a transformative solution to this ongoing challenge, promising extended durability and reduced healthcare burden for patients and providers alike.

He credited the company’s work with the Center for MedTech Excellence and being a health tech startup in the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s startup incubator, as being pivotal in Annoviant’s growth.

ATDC SBIR/STTR Catalyst Connie Casteel, who works with the incubator’s portfolio companies to help the prepare for these federal, non-dilutive funding grants, had worked with Annoviant on its federal funding approach and strategy.

“We went through the 16-week program with the MedTech Center and it really helped us think through the various aspects of the commercialization process and operational challenges we would face,” Houde said. “Greg Jungles at ATDC was also instrumental in helping us.  I’m really thankful for Nakia and his work with the MedTech Center and Greg and the team at ATDC.”

Center for MedTech Excellence Host SBA Leaders for Summit on Local Startup Ecosystem

Visit to gather information on challenges startups face from government support

When the Center for MedTech Excellence launched in the fall of 2022, it sought to tackle the challenges that early-stage medical device and biotech companies face in successfully getting to market.

Nakia Melecio, MedTech Center of Excellence director, addresses the SBA officials visiting the Tech campus to hear from startup founders. (PHOTO: Chris Ruggiero)

Since then, the MedTech Center, a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, has worked with and evaluated 208 companies. It has 66 active startups in its portfolio and helped them to get $9.5 million in venture capital funding, and $3.5 million in non-dilutive grants from the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer federal programs. Those portfolio companies have created a total of 174 jobs.

Dilawar Syed is the deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration. (PHOTO Chris Ruggiero)

“We’re bringing the best of the resources together to make sure that we’re creating an innovative ecosystem that supports our scientists,” MedTech Center Director Nakia Melecio said at a Jan. 9 meeting with Small Business Administration (SBA) Deputy Administrator Dilawar Syed.

Syed and officials from the SBA were in Atlanta as part of a multi-city tour to hear from entrepreneurs, their challenges, and what the agency could do better to help them succeed.

“There is so much focus on driving innovation in the present administration,” Syed said during his visit at Georgia Tech. “This program is a successful program. We want to make sure it becomes relevant for the next generation of entrepreneurs, especially in communities of color, especially in regions like Atlanta that often have not been at the forefront of driving innovation.”

SBA officials met with several MedTech Center portfolio companies and heard what their main challenges were, chief among them being timing for grants and what’s considered too early in a startup’s lifecycle when it comes to seeking funds from federal agencies.

Nikhil L. Shah, CEO and co-founder of Nephrodite, shared some of the pain points his company had after getting initial funding for its fully implantable continuous dialysis device for patients with end-stage renal disease.

Even though the company had received a $1.8 million grant from a German government agency, it faced several hurdles with U.S. federal funding agencies.

“We applied for the NSF [National Science Foundation] at first and we had that conundrum where they said, ‘you know, this is really early technology. It’s too early,’” he said. “We applied to NIH [National Institutes of Health], but they said, ‘you haven’t done animal studies. We really need animal studies.’ I said, well, I need money to do all that.”

Mason Chilmonczyk, is CEO and co-founder of Andson Biotech, a MedTech Center of Excellence portfolio company. (PHOTO: Chris Ruggiero)

It was similar to the experience of Mason Chilmonczyk, CEO and co-founder of Andson Biotech, a company focused on accelerating the discovery, development, and manufacturing of advanced cell-based therapies.

He and his team sought out program officers with the agency to get guidance before pitching or applying for funds. But he said they were told they were not far enough along in product development, or they were too advanced in the company’s lifecycle.

“You’re too early, this tool is too experimental, or you have too much traction,” he said. “It’s like, it’s too developed almost.”

He and other founders who met with SBA officials welcome support from federal agencies and appreciate the rigorous evaluations process for medical device and life science companies. But the founders who spoke said it would be helpful to know exactly what federal agencies want and more specifics on why a given grant application was rejected.

“I only get a couple pages of feedback…one of the things we need is to just have better education, so you choose to invest your time or not.”

It’s a message that Syed said he would take back to Washington.

“It just strikes me every time we hear from founders how much more work we have to do to drive awareness,” he said, noting it must be an interagency effort. “It’s the entire federal government and SBA’s job is to coordinate that for everyone — better coordination, better communication, make sure people understand whether they’re ready to apply for this or not.”

Center for MedTech Excellence Named Inaugural Member of ARPA-H Investor Catalyst Hub Spoke Network

MedTech Center joins a national network focused
on accelerating transformative health solutions

ATLANTA — The Center for MedTech Excellence announced today it has been selected as an inaugural spoke for the Investor Catalyst Hub, a regional hub of ARPANET-H, a nationwide health innovation network launched by the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H).

Center for MedTech Excellence Director Nakia Melecio. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)

An economic development program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, the Center for MedTech Excellence boasts a robust track record of pioneering innovation and fostering collaboration within the medical technology industry, making it a prime candidate for a strategic partnership as a spoke partner.

Its deep industry expertise and commitment to advancing cutting-edge solutions position it as an asset for any collaborative endeavor.

Based in the Greater Boston area and managed by VentureWell, the Investor Catalyst Hub aims to accelerate the commercialization of practical, accessible biomedical solutions. It utilizes an innovative hub-and-spoke model designed to reach a wide range of nonprofit organizations and minority-serving institutions, with the ultimate aim of delivering scalable healthcare outcomes for all Americans.

“I consider it a privilege to be a part of the ARPA-H network,” MedTech Center Director Nakia Melecio said. “Not only do we have the opportunity to contribute our capabilities to this influential network, but we also gain access to valuable resources, opportunities, and a transformative investor catalyst hub that will significantly impact our region.

The Center for MedTech Excellence joins a dynamic nationwide network of organizations aligned to ARPA-H’s overarching mission to improve health outcomes through the following research focus areas: health science futures, proactive health, scalable solutions, and resilient systems.

The Investor Catalyst Hub spokes represent a broad spectrum of expertise, geographic diversity, and community perspectives.

“Our spoke network represents a rich and representative range of perspectives and expertise,” said Mark Marino, vice president of Growth Strategy and Development for VentureWell and project director for the Investor Catalyst Hub. “Our spokes comprise a richly diverse network that will be instrumental in ensuring that equitable health solutions reach communities across every state and tribal nation.”

As an Investor Catalyst Hub spoke, Center for MedTech Excellence gains access to potential funding and flexible contracting for faster award execution compared to traditional government contracts. Spoke membership also offers opportunities to provide input on ARPA-H challenge areas and priorities, along with access to valuable networking opportunities and a robust resource library.

The spoke network will continue to grow as the Investor Catalyst Hub expands its efforts, with applications being selected on a rolling basis. Interested organizations can visit investorcatalysthub.org to learn more or submit a membership application.

About the Center for MedTech Excellence
We catalyze the development and commercialization of breakthrough biotechnology, medical devices, life science, and therapeutic innovations. As program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, we serve as trusted partners and deliver a complete toolkit to enhance the odds of success for an early-stage biotech company. To learn more, visit medtech.gatech.edu.