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Companies Put on Charm at ‘Annual Ball’ : Biomedical Entrepreneurs, Potential Investors Court at Conference

Times Staff Writer

It is, in a way, like a debutante ball--held in a posh hotel, the participants primping for a circle of would-be suitors, doing what they can to show off their attributes to best advantage.

But it is a business, not a personal, relationship that the “debs” at the annual Emerging Medical Technologies-West conference are looking for.

For many of the 40 companies presenting themselves to potential investors at the conference, the object is to find a partner, preferably one with a lot of money, to help them break into the elite ranks of biotechnology companies that not only have come up with a good idea, but have brought it to market.

Robert Harshman, for instance, is looking for at least $750,000.

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His company, Injet Medical Devices Inc. of Irvine, has developed a needle-less injection system and needs the capital “to get phase No. 1 going. We need to do the engineering to transfer it from steel to plastic and to do the clinical trials.”

Presentation Scheduled

The conference, produced by Biomedical Business International in Tustin, is 7-month-old Injet’s coming-out party. Harshman, scheduled to deliver his 15-minute presentation during the final session today, said he has high hopes of catching the attention of either an outside investor or a major medical company that would like to get in on the ground floor with a distribution or licensing agreement that would provide needed funding.

He said the firm needs $750,000 to $1 million initially and hopes to raise $10 million through private and public stock offerings to get the gas-powered injection device into the marketplace.

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And there is easily $10 million in capital--and probably 10 times that--represented in the audience of 110 corporations, investment bankers and venture capitalists who paid about $1,000 each to attend the 2-day conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach.

Frank Buono, director of new product suggestions for Becton, Dickinson & Co., the New Jersey health-care products giant, is just the kind of guy whose eye--and imagination--Harshman would like to catch.

Buono regularly attends BBI’s seminars and is always searching for new ideas and products that might fit into the businesses of Becton, Dickinson’s 15 divisions.

“I’ve been coming to these meetings since 1981, and they are at the top of my list,” he said. “I listen and collect information and then I circulate that information to all our divisions.”

At first glance Buono and Harshman seem made for one another--one of Becton, Dickinson’s major product lines is syringes and needles.

But in business, as in romance, perfect matches aren’t all that easy to come up with.

Buono said he is interested in hearing Harshman’s presentation this afternoon, but cautioned that in the 8 years he has attended BBI seminars, “I can think of only one thing that I’ve looked at that we’ve licensed. The yield is very low.”

But the yield is low no matter what the source of information, he said, and seminars such as this still provide “information that is valuable to our divisions because it lets them know what is going on in the small companies that are out there on the frontier.”

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That, said Diane Tucker, conference director for BBI, is the goal of the annual EMT sessions. The Tustin-based company, a unit of Macmillan Healthcare Information, began the conferences 10 years ago in Orange County--partly because that is where BBI is headquartered and partly because the county is the nation’s biomedical industry hot spot.

The sessions have become so popular, she said, that BBI began an annual East Coast conference several years ago and this year added a third session in Tokyo--held last month--and plans a fourth in Germany in November.

To investment banker Larry Haimovitch of the San Francisco office of Swergold, Chefitz Inc. of New York, the BBI conferences “are an incredibly efficient use of time. They give me a window to look in on emerging but relatively unknown companies and technologies and I can begin building relationships with the best of these new companies so when they decided its time to raise $5 million in a private placement several years from now, they’ll think of me.”


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