Canandaigua firm's gadget may ease pain of allergy tests
SensiVida Medical Systems Inc. has technology aimed at making those painful stick tests for allergies a distant memory. With about 10 prototypes of its diagnostic gadget, it hopes to get them into allergists' offices by 2010. What the Canandaigua-based company does not have - and desperately needs - is the cash to make that happen. "The hardest thing (about the business) is to raise money," said co-founder and CEO Kamal Sarbadhikari. "There are a lot of clever ideas in this world - the question for investors is: 'Where do I put my money down?'" In May alone, SensiVida came in second in the Rochester Regional Business Plan Contest, which carried a $5,000 cash prize, and was one of 29 presenters at the SmartStart UNYTECH Venture Forum, a two-day affair before numerous potential investors held at the Riverside Convention Center. Finding money to operate is a common challenge for start-up companies that don't yet have their product or service on the market to generate income. Compounding that problem is the particular difficulty upstate New York businesses have in attracting investors as it is considered "fly over" territory by venture capitalists in major cities, said Peter Pritchard of the Center for Economic Growth, an Albany-based, nonprofit business development organization. Meanwhile, the Rochester area - until recent years dominated by a few large, healthy companies - is only now starting to build an entrepreneurship infrastructure, said SensiVida co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Jose Mir. "Things are beginning to happen, but still it's not Boston, still it's not Palo Alto," said Sarbadhikari. The company started in 2005 around microsystems technology developed at the Infotonics Technology Center, at a former Xerox Corp. inkjet printing plant in Ontario County. And while the company ostensibly is based there, Mir said, much of the work takes place in their homes and the homes of friends and in area coffee shops. Since 2005, much of the company's work has focused on developing the technology and prototypes while simultaneously analyzing market needs and coming up with a business plan. SensiVida's diagnostic device technology promises a pain-free allergy testing device using a disposable cartridge filled with tiny needles that can deliver 40 different allergen tests at once. According to SensiVida's pitch, the half-hour allergy test with patients receiving numerous arm pricks would be replaced with a 17-minute procedure. Thus far the company has existed off help from Infotonics, $450,000 from the U.S. Army to help explore using the technology for soldiers' health needs, $50,000 from venture capital advisory firm Excell Partners and $300,000 in sweat equity and out-of-pocket spending by Mir and Sarbadhikari. But that money is running out, while the two principals continue to work without paychecks.