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Nidus Center chief leaving to form venture capital fund

Resource type: News



14 Feb 2008

By Rachel Melcer

Bob Calcaterra proudly presided over the Tuesday night graduation of three companies from the Nidus Center for Scientific Enterprise, a biotech business incubator he has run since its inception.

It wasn’t the first such ceremony in the Creve Coeur center’s eight years. But it was Calcaterra’s last as president.

He is leaving the center this spring to form a venture capital fund with a partner, Randy Weiss. They have begun fundraising and hope to launch the Startup Midwest Bio Seed Fund with $20 million — enough to invest in about a dozen very early stage life-science companies in Missouri and surrounding states, Calcaterra said.

He will devote half of his time to the fund, while remaining active in a number of civic ventures and seeking a part-time job. Likewise, Weiss will remain a locally based partner in Triathlon Medical Ventures, a Cincinnati venture capital firm that invests in companies more developed than the ones targeted by Startup Midwest.

“I’m doing this because I’m so excited about raising this fund. I’m really dedicated to it,” Calcaterra said. Still, leading the Nidus Center “is part of my legacy. I’m proud of it. And I think we’ve done a great job and accomplished everything we set out to do.”

The graduation proved his point. It marked the maturation of three firms: Divergence Inc., with technology to fight parasitic diseases in plants and animals; Apath LLC, which has a platform for discovering anti-viral drugs; and Graphic Surgery LLC, developer of software to help insurers and patients manage surgical decisions and expense.

The companies have common attributes that make them ready to move beyond the Nidus Center’s help, Calcaterra said. Each has hired an experienced executive to execute a well-honed business plan. They have developed and protected products or technology, and raised or earned enough cash to stay on track for a while.

Executives of each firm, in their turn at the podium, thanked Calcaterra and the Nidus Center for contributing to their success.

“It’s a very difficult, arduous process” starting a company, said Dr. Patricia Gelnar, founder of Graphic Surgery. “Even when no one else believed in the company and the vision of what we were doing,” there were advocates at the Nidus Center.

Nidus staff and fellow tenants served as free consultants, included with the rent, said Derek Rapp, chief executive of Divergence. Calcaterra used his right to observe companies’ board meetings.

“Rather than viewing that as an intrusion, I saw it as a plus,” Rapp said. “He gave good input at our meetings. And … he was well-informed so that when I stuck my head in his office one day soon thereafter, he was in a good position to help me.”

Paul Olivo, president and chief scientific officer of Apath, said he also welcomed the input of fellow tenants. “We could ask, ‘How did you screw up?’ So we don’t have to,” he said.

The three firms will remain at the Nidus Center until they find new homes. They all are considering space at a new commercial lab building being built across Olive Boulevard from the Nidus Center, which is expected to be complete next year.

That would keep them close to their roots — the Nidus Center itself will move into that building being built by Hanover, Maryland-based Wexford Science & Technology LLC, Calcaterra said.

In its new home, Nidus will be about 25 percent smaller with 15,000 square feet of tenant space. But that’s not a sign that its board anticipates slowing demand, Calcaterra said. Rather, the center will more quickly move tenants through the incubation process.

Apath, Divergence, and earlier Nidus tenants remained longer than necessary because there was a lack of commercial lab space for them to move into, he said. The Wexford building, which could grow into a three-structure complex, will provide it.

As for other changes at Nidus, those will be up to Calcaterra’s successor. He and the board are interviewing candidates, but haven’t yet made a decision, he said.

“Things always change. And it’s probably a good time for transition,” he said.

The center “needs to sit back and (recognize) we’ve accomplished everything we said we would, when we started. It’s time to say, ‘Where do we go from here?'”

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