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Healthcare attracts most of South Florida’s VC funding

South Florida companies reeled in the lion’s share of the state’s venture capital financing in the first quarter, and most of the investments were in healthcare-related companies.

Venture capitalists invested $89.7 million in Florida-based companies, and $70.9 million of that fueled companies based in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to the MoneyTree Report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association released Friday.

The biggest financing rounds went to YellowPepper of Miami, a fast-growing mobile banking and payment network for Latin America that raised $19 million, OrthoSensor of Dania Beach, a maker of smart orthopedic devices, also with $19 million, and Pure Life Renal of Hollywood, a dialysis company that raised $10.5 million, according to the report.

Healthcare companies, including biotech, medical devices and medical technology services, grabbed $45.2 million in South Florida. In addition to OrthoSensor and Pure Life Renal, other investments included $7.3 million in Brickell Biotech, an early-stage biotech company focusing on skin diseases; $5 million in Vigilant BioSciences of Miami, a company developing a test for oral cancer risk, and $3 million in USARAD of Fort Lauderdale, an early-stage medical device maker.

Interest in the life sciences is on the uptick and a national trend, said Bruce Booth, partner in Atlas Venture, which specializes in early-stage biotech and last year seeded a company out of Scripps Research Institute called Padlock Therapeutics. Booth has been seeing a big increase in platform companies and virtual biotech companies that don’t have their own labs but instead partner with research organizations around the world.

“The environment has never been as strong as it is now for putting together new companies and being able to attract financing to scale them over time,” said Booth. “We’ve had eight or nine quarters now where we have had the best IPO environment in the 40-year history of biotechnology. We also have a really strong M&A environment.”

Investors in Florida are taking notice, too. Part of OrthoSensor’s funding came from Tullis Growth Fund, part of the Tullis family of private equity funds that invest in emerging healthcare companies. Tullis, based in Connecticut, established an office in Palm Beach Gardens about five years ago.

“We are looking at more investments in Florida right now — we’re finding the opportunities here,” said Jim Tullis, the fund company’s founder, who lives in Palm Beach County. “This is a terrific area with a very promising future. The local research base coming off the universities is exceptional and probably under-recognized by venture capital at this point. … The tax situation doesn’t go unnoticed by CEOs looking for their next effort, there is an increasing talent pool available and there is good local capital in Florida in terms of angels and, increasingly, funds. It’s a nice combination of technology, people and money.”

OrthoSensor, founded in 2008, has already raised about $53 million in financing, bringing its total funding to about $72 million.

Vigilant BioSciences’ financing included investments by venVelo, based in Central Florida, and the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, which provides seed funding and support to early-stage companies commercializing university technology, as well as a group of private and angel investors committed to the life sciences.

Of the 19 investments of the New World Angels, one of South Florida’s well-established angel groups, more than a third are in healthcare-related industries. And in a recent interview, John Sculley, the former Apple CEO who is now an angel investor and startup mentor in Palm Beach County, said he sees healthcare and specifically health-tech startups as a huge opportunity for the tri-county area and the state: “Healthcare is a $3 trillion annual spend, it’s incredibly inefficient, its rules are fought by special interest groups and there is a legacy of incumbent large customers and government institutions that don’t change quickly.”

To be sure, Florida grabbed only a teeny slice of the national venture capital pie — two-thirds of 1 percent — in all industries. Even though Florida is the third largest state by population, it was No. 28 in the first quarter for venture investments, according to MoneyTree’s data. Florida’s total of $89.7 million in 14 deals is down from $129.6 million in 19 deals in the first quarter of last year and way down from last quarter’s $581.2 million, which included the $542 million Google-led investment in Magic Leap.

Nationally and in all industries, venture capitalists invested $13.4 billion in 1,020 deals in the first quarter of 2015, according to the MoneyTree Report, based on data provided by Thomson Reuters. Quarterly VC investment declined 10 percent in terms of dollars and 8 percent in the number of deals, compared to the fourth quarter when $14.9 billion was invested in 1,103 deals. However, the first quarter is the fifth consecutive quarter of more than $10 billion of venture capital invested in a single quarter.

Ride-sharing company Uber and highflying SpaceX drew the highest investments — $1 billion each — while Lyft was No. 3, receiving with $530 million.

Nationally, the software industry continued to receive the highest level of funding — $5.6 billion — of all industries, despite being down for the quarter. The biotechnology industry captured the second largest total during the quarter with $1.7 billion. Overall, first-quarter investments in the life sciences sector (biotechnology and medical devices combined) received $2.2 billion going into 193 deals nationwide, including nine in Florida.

MoneyTree Report results are available at www.pwcmoneytree.com and www.nvca.org.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Top deals

In South Florida, these were the top deals in the first quarter, according to the MoneyTree Report.

YellowPepper: $19 million

OrthoSensor: $19 million

Pure Life Renal: $10.5 million

Brickell Biotech: $7.3 million

VirtualWorks: $6.7 million

Vigilant BioSciences: $5 million

USARAD: $3 million

AviseNA: $517,000

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