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CartilaGen receives early-stage funding from Wellmark

CartilaGen, an Iowa City-based startup that is developing the world’s first preventative therapy for post-traumatic osteoarthritis, has received funding from Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The award will bolster CartilaGen’s development of its preventive solution for post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA) as the company is set to begin its first in-human clinical trial.

Medical startup incubator MATTER has also added its name to the growing list of CartilaGen’s partners. One of the September additions to MATTER’s community of over 200 healthcare startups and 60 corporate partners, CartilaGen, as a global member, will receive mentorship and guidance from MATTER that will propel it into the next stages of product development.

“CartilaGen is very excited to have the institutional backing of Wellmark. Their unique combination of both financial and advisory support will prove strong contributions to CartilaGen’s commercialization effort,” said Jaison Marks, CEO and founder of CartilaGen. “Additionally, we are very honored to join the MATTER community. Collaborating with MATTER’s network of healthcare innovators will certainly accelerate the development of CartilaGen and our novel therapeutic towards the fulfillment of a major unmet medical need.”

PTOA is a profoundly debilitating condition that affects approximately 3% of the entire United States population annually. It is an aggressive form of osteoarthritis that results from traumatic joint injury, has devastating effects on patients, and current treatment options are limited and ineffective before end-stage joint replacement. CartilaGen has the only solution that effectively targets and prevents the earliest stage of PTOA development by modifying the underlying disease mechanism in an easily performed, cost-effective manner.

CartilaGen’s technology has previously received funding from the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and the US Department of Defense.


Three finalists selected for John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Competition -Sept. 4, 2019

CartilaGen receives early-stage funding from Wellmark | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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