Cardiac startup may have saved VC’s life while pitching for cash

AUM Cardiovascular

Steve Kiemele got a taste for what early detection of coronary heart disease means – not at the doctor’s office, but in an attorney’s office in downtown Minneapolis during an investor presentation.

Kiemele, the CFO of the North Dakota life sciences fund Linn Grove Ventures, was in Minneapolis in January to listen to a pitch by Marie Johnson, the founder of AUM Cardiovascular.

The Farmington, Minn.-based company is developing a non-invasive handheld device to assess risk of coronary heart disease.

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At the January investor meeting, Kiemele was one of three to get screened for coronary heart disease. Two others tested were fine. Kiemele tested positive for the left anterior descending blockage the AUM device detects.

“She had this sick look on her face at the meeting,” said Kiemele, recalling Johnson’s demeanor when she delivered the results of the test. He had 60 to 70 percent blockage, according to the test.

The blockage was later confirmed by a cardiologist in North Dakota. Results of a stress test were normal, prompting the nurse practitioner to ask Kiemele to return in two years. But Kiemele had already told his cardiologist that, irrespective of the results, he wanted a CT scan.

In the end, the CT scan revealed the blockage, though at a slightly lower level than what Johnson had told him. It was enough to shock the 51-year-old, whom Johnson described as athletic and not overweight. Kiemele says while he exercised regularly before, he is more “militant” about daily exercise and has cut all red meat from his diet.

“I am biased; if we had the money, I would say we should invest in [AUM Cardiovascular] tomorrow,” Kiemele said in a phone interview last week.

Johnson is trying to get more believers in the VC community like Kiemele. Having quit her post as director of the University of Minnesota’s Medical Devices Center Fellows Program in mid April to work on AUM full time, Johnson is now looking to finish raising $2.5 million. Angel investors have pumped in $700,000 and Johnson is now talking with venture capitalists here and in the West Coast.

The money is needed to move the device – called CADence – through a 510(k) application which she hopes to file in November with the Food & Drug Administration. She is confident of being able to raise the money, although since founding the company in March 2009, Johnson has had to adjust expectations. Originally she was looking to raise $5 million.

She said the product will need $15 million to be able to ramp up to commercial scale. Johnson is encouraged by her interactions with physicians who will use CADence.

“I have three cardiologists that have placed an order with me,” Johnson said. “They said that when you are done with the FDA, I want one. So I have three customers already.”

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