Highlight: Dr. Michael Dixon, President and CEO of UNeMed

Dr. Dixon is the President and CEO of UNeMed corporation, a graduate of Leadership Omaha Class 32, and a 2011 recipient of the Midlands Business Journal “40 under 40” award. He holds a doctorate in Pathology and Microbiology from UNMC and currently serves as an ex-officio board member for Invest Nebraska.

1)    Tell us a little bit about UNeMed and its goals.

UNeMed is the technology development and commercialization arm of UNMC, UNO and Nebraska Medicine.  We help advance research and commercialization of new inventions. Our mission is to improve healthcare by fostering innovation, advancing biomedical research and engaging entrepreneurs and industry to commercialize novel technologies.

UNeMed has developed a diverse portfolio of intellectual property assets that represent significant advances in biomedical and clinical technology areas such as therapeutics, diagnostics, medical devices, research tools and software, and we work with industrial licensing partners to enhance the development of its technologies and foster scientific breakthroughs at UNMC.

Biomedical and translational research at UNMC has grown significantly over the past decade.  In 2018 more than $150,000,000 (US) in research expenditures led to 111new inventions from University faculty, students and staff.  UNeMed evaluated each invention for patent and market potential.  We work with inventors to get the data necessary to file US and international patent applications.  Through web-based and direct marketing contacts we run international marketing campaigns for each technology to help identify the right commercial partner.  Out-licensing and/or new company creation is two of the many methods we may employ to encourage development and ultimately the sale of new products based on the new technology.

At UNeMed our partnering approach is based upon customizing our services to meet industry needs; we believe that each partner and partnership is unique.  We create value for our industry partners by connecting them with University of Nebraska researchers who help them develop new products or solve challenging research problems. We also link entrepreneurs and investors with researchers who have cutting-edge technologies with startup potential.  We match researchers with industry partners who have the resources and commitment to commercialize their technologies. Importantly, once the connection is made, UNeMed supports the partnership to ensure results are realized.

The UNeMed team has the expertise and the skill to help facilitate the production of high quality ideas, innovative products, and elegant solutions that meet our clients’ needs. Please feel free to reach out if you’d like to learn more about the benefits of partnering with the University to accomplish your research and development goals.

2)    Why are you passionate about Nebraska entrepreneurship and high-growth businesses?

As a scientist, I pay a lot of attention to research studies and data.  The research by Gallup and others is clear that the majority of new jobs are created by small businesses. Drilling down into the data deeper, in biotechnology, those jobs typically pay close to twice the average salary. So, by promoting entrepreneurship and helping nascent companies start and grow, we are helping to create the future for our State.  Selfishly, as a father of three (currently 11, 8 and 4 years old), I have a strong, vested interest in the State of Nebraska!  In a decade when they are ready to enter the workforce (high expectations for the 4 year old), I want to make sure we have a diverse economy with a variety of exciting, high paying jobs.

  

3)    In your opinion, what advantages do companies have starting up in Nebraska?

Nebraska entrepreneurs get better access to the resources and innovation at the University than any other state in the US.  In addition, with the Business Innovation Act, NE Angels, and Invest Nebraska, there are programs and funds designed to help early stage entrepreneurs get started.  Furthermore, an investment in a Nebraska startup goes further than an investment in a Valley startup because the cost of space and resources is less.

 

4)    How has the Business Innovation Act impacted Nebraska’s high-growth businesses?

When the Business Innovation Act was passed in 2011, Nebraska was dead last in the country with zero venture capital deals. The Business Innovation Act created programs that helped vault Nebraska to 25th in 2015 with 13 venture deals that infused more than $120 million into high-growth startups.  In addition to growing our own startup companies—like Virtual Incision, Radux, Prommune and Shannon Pharmaceuticals—Nebraska is also starting to attract new companies.  Companies such as Centese and Orion, which bring in new biomedical technology and west coast venture capital as they establish headquarters and begin to grow their businesses here in Nebraska, often collaborating with researchers and clinicians at UNMC.  The leaders of both companies have told me explicitly that Nebraska's entrepreneur-friendly climate was the primary draw. There is no denying that the Business Innovation Act has been a critical component to help create that climate.

According to a report from SRI International in 2016, one of the challenges of the Business Innovation Act is that the funding available under the programs needs to be higher for accelerated growth.  While appropriations for Business Innovation Act programs have stayed at approximately $7 million annually, this funding level is less than our peer states’ investments in innovation programs on a GDP basis.  For example, according to SRI’s report, Nebraska’s 2014 investment equated to $62 per $1 million state GDP, compared to $98 for Oklahoma (OCAST), $154 for Utah (USTAR), and $225 for Ohio (Third Frontier).  An increase in support for the Business Innovation Act programs, which support the pursuit of high-tech, high-growth business development and university-industry collaborations, will have a continued positive impact on the Nebraska economy.

An independent analysis by Dr. Eric Thompson has found that for every dollar the state spends on the Business Innovation Act to support high-grow Nebraska startups, the state generates almost $5 in revenue.  These companies have raised more than $100 million in outside capital and have generated more than $100 million in revenue.  In addition to increased tax revenue, the economic impact of the jobs created by these companies is significant.  These are jobs that often pay double the average salary in Nebraska and provide an opportunity for Nebraska to reverse brain-drain and keep its best and brightest. 

As reported by the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education recently, Nebraska ranks 10th worst in the country for the departure of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher.  For our economy to grow, we need to find cost effective strategies that motivate our best and brightest to build high-growth, high-wage companies here in Nebraska.  The early results show that is what the Business Innovation Act is doing.  The Business Innovation Act programs have helped businesses raise significant private sector funding and generate significant economic impacts.  However, the impact could be greater if more funds were available to support these high growth endeavors. 

 

5)    You are the former Board Chair for Invest Nebraska and currently serve as an ex-officio board member. In your opinion how has entrepreneurship in the state changed over the past 10 years and what is your vision for the next 10 years?

I think there has been a significant shift in entrepreneurship in Nebraska over the past 10-15 years.  Before Silicon Prairie News started to shine a bright on entrepreneurial ecosystem, there were not many programs supporting entrepreneurs.  Publicity, entrepreneurial champions, and the development of supportive programs have made a significant impact.  Not only are we seeing more Nebraskans starting companies – we’re starting to recruit highly successful entrepreneurs like Evan Luxon (Centese) and Dr. Josh Sestak (Orion) to grow their biotech companies in Nebraska. Ten years ago there were no venture capital dollars invested in Nebraska (50th place).  Today we’re hovering between 25th and 30th in the national with close to $100M/year invested.   

As I look/dream of where Nebraska will be in 10 years, my expectation is that we’ll continue to build and grow on the progress of the past decade.  I think Nebraska’s advantages, including the strong work ethic of its residents and a world-class University system, will allow us to continue to outpace national growth standards and build a strong and diverse economy.  In addition, I believe that many of the entrepreneurs building companies today will be on their second or third venture in 10 years and the they will be the mentors of the next generation of entrepreneurs that will be building and growing more companies here in Nebraska.