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Accelerate Michigan win sets stage for DeNovo Sciences future success

Welcome to the Year of the Gazelle, an exploration of the fastest-growing startups in southeast Michigan by the Startup team and the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan (NEI). Not only will we identify the local gazelle companies that are perfecting innovative new products, creating jobs, and generating lots of revenue, we will give you a full accounting of each one. The stories behind the entrepreneurs that build these businesses. The investors that back them. The resources they leverage. How they have all worked together to build Metro Detroit's new economy, and how they plan to do it in the future. In return we will only ask you to do one thing: keep up.

DeNovo Sciences rise from aspiring entrepreneurs with a dream to venture-based startup has become the stuff of legend in local startup circles.

The life sciences company's humble beginnings started with a trio young co-founders carrying water for established tech entrepreneurs and investors. It then started to collect business plan competition wins, recruited a top-flight CEO, and raised millions of dollars in seed capital.

The turning point came when DeNovo Sciences won the top prize at the 2011 Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, Michigan's premier business plan competition for startups.

"It put a stamp of approval on us that this is a company that can rise above," says Kalyan Handique, CEO of DeNovo Sciences.

DeNovo Sciences is developing a fully automated system to detect cancer, primarily breast and colon cancers. The Plymouth-based firm's automated microfluidic systems detect, analyze and provide imagines of Circulating Tumor Cells as a companion to or in some cases a possible replacement to cancer biopsies. The technology gives healthcare professionals more time to focus on their patient’s therapeutic treatment and outcome.

The 5-year-old company got its start in Ypsilanti. The trio of co-founders, led by Priya Gogoi, volunteered at the first Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition as a way to make inroads in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. It worked.

DeNovo Sciences took first place in the New Business Idea category of the Great Lakes Entrepreneur's Quest business competition in early 2011. It then recruited Handique to serve as its CEO. Handique earned his PH.D. in Bioengineering at the University of Michigan and went on to co-found HandyLab, a molecular diagnostic start-up in Ann Arbor that was acquired for a couple hundred million dollars in 2009.

That set the stage for DeNovo Sciences to win the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition in the fall of 2011. The headline highlighted the $500,000 purse for the winners, but it came with much more than that.

"The company wouldn't have gotten far without that win," Handique says. "It really helped attract the angel investors."

Denovo Sciences secured $2.25 million in a Series A round. It also landed a coveted spot in the Michigan Life Science Innovation Center, a wet lab space that once served as a laboratory for Pfizer. Denovo Sciences is also getting traction with its technology, deploying its cancer-detection systems to a handful of medical centers both domestic and international.

"We're beginning to see that now," Handique says. "Our product is going out and we are supporting customers around the world."

DeNovo Sciences has also built out its team. It has a staff of 16 employees (both full-time and part-time) and one intern after hiring three people over the last year. It has added some high-profile people to its Board of Directors. They include Tim Mayleben, president and CEO of publicly traded cardiovascular firm Esperion Therapeutics, and Walt Young, a former member of the board of directors for Accuri Cytometers, an Ann Arbor-based started acquired for more than $200 million a few years ago. That team is now gearing up to raise a Series B worth $6 million to $8 million this summer and continuing to commercial DeNovo Science’s technology.

"The team is very committed to getting the best product out there," Handique says.

Handique also serves on the board of directors for a couple of Ann Arbor-based life sciences startups, such as 3D Biomatrix and PHASIQ. He participates in the annual Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition to help coach the next wave of aspiring entrepreneurs.

"Without that we couldn't have gotten as far along as we could have," Handique says.

- Written by Jon Zemke

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