SEPT. 14, 2018
The city’s newest startup accelerator, Ad Astra Ventures, has inducted three new companies into its program, venturing into the biotech arena for the first time by seeking out life science startups.
Launched in January of this year, the accelerator first focused on startups building software and consumer products. But for its second act, Ad Astra has tapped into the region’s life science talent. The new recruits are Cooler Heads, Hydrostasis, and Vivid Genomics, but more about them later.
Ad Astra will take the three companies through a 12-week boot camp (specifically designed for women founders) to build out their business models, boost revenue, and give them the skills necessary to achieve fast growth. The cohort companies get a $20,000 infusion of cash from Ad Astra to get the ball rolling in exchange for 3 to 5 percent equity.
Ad Astra is addressing a sore spot among San Diego entrepreneurs, who have been known to grumble about the lack of accelerators in town that offer funding. Unlike well-known San Francisco accelerators like Y Combinator and Techstars, local accelerators have traditionally not offered seed funding. Instead, groups like EvoNexus and Connect offer space, mentorship, and some business services, among other perks.
Ad Astra’s co-founder, Allison Long Pettine, a longtime investor in San Diego, said she started the accelerator after observing significant differences between female founders and their male counterparts. She dove into research on the subject and discovered that women face unique challenges that could hold them back from success.
“Women have been socialized to follow the rules, and there are certain skills women don’t get the opportunity to pick up,” said Long Pettine.
The program is designed to make female founders aware of unconscious biases, teach them how to combat them, and give them tools to be strong leaders.
Along with Long Pettine, Ad Astra was co-founded by well-known local leaders Silvia Mah, executive director of female-focused accelerator Hera Labs; and Vidya Dinamani, longtime Intuit and Mitchell International executive.
Neal Bloom, chairman of Startup San Diego and founder of Fresh Brewed Tech, says Ad Astra is the latest in a long line of local startup groups that have advocated for women in business and technology.
After all, San Diego was the first city to have a female-focused co-working network (Hera Hub). The city is also home to UC San Diego’s women’s accelerator, mystartupXX, Athena San Diego, and it has seen strong local turnout for meetings hosted by groups like Women Who Code and Girl Develop It.
Bloom added that San Diego Startup Week also saw a “nearly equal” gender turnout last year, “which is unheard of for tech conferences.”
“San Diego has been building out the resources for women at an above-average, if not extraordinary way, compared to other ecosystems,” he added.
As for Ad Astra’s latest life science cohort, here’s what we know about the new recruits:
Cooler Heads – This startup is developing cold caps for chemotherapy patients, which cool the scalp in an attempt to prevent hair loss. The company is founded by Kate Dilligan, a graduate of Stanford University and former vice president of a neural technology company KnuEdge. Cooler Heads was the winner of San Diego Startup Week’s Pedi Cab Pitch event.
Vivid Genomics – Bringing her experience in genomics, molecular diagnostics and life science tools, Dr. Julie Collens co-founded Vivid Genomics, a diagnostic company developing non-invasive ways to identify neuro-degenerative disease pathologies, drug response, progression rate and tools to facilitate enrollment in clinical trials.
Hydrostasis – A former imaging/data scientist at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, Dr. Debbie K. Chen is developing a personalized hydration monitor for athletes to reach and maintain peak performance. She graduated from Hera Labs’ program, Scale Intensive, this spring.