Last fall, central Illinois-born entrepreneur/philanthropist Kim Blickenstaff announced significant investments in three startups with Peoria-area connections. In addition to a $500,000 investment in Natural Fiber Welding—the highly touted firm seeking to usher in a new era of plant-based textiles—the chairman of San Diego-based Tandem Diabetes Care invested $500,000 each in Enduvo, Inc. and Respiratory Motion Inc. (RMI).
Enduvo, a 2018 spinoff of Peoria’s Jump Trading Simulation & Education Center, develops virtual and augmented reality technologies for immersive workforce training in healthcare and other industries. Dr. Matthew Bramlet, pediatric cardiologist in Peoria, is its founder and top evangelist, while Steve Garrou, a graduate of Limestone High School, serves as CEO. With nearly 20 employees around the country, Enduvo intends to bring jobs to central Illinois through subsequent rounds of company fundraising.
Based in Massachusetts, RMI specializes in the production of non-invasive respiratory monitors. Its local connection is the company’s president, Dr. Bob Smouse, an interventional radiologist in Peoria and professor of radiology and surgery at the University of Illinois College of Medicine – Peoria. Blickenstaff, who joined RMI’s board of directors in December, believes there may be opportunities to do more with the firm in Peoria down the road.
While raising capital from a central Illinois base can be challenging, the low cost of living and doing business allows early-stage firms to scale their impact more quickly. Local fundraising also tends to look at the broader implications of a business, as well as its commercial potential. “There’s a lot more interest in a kind of civic-minded investment,” Garrou explains, “and doing things for the betterment of society.”
The Jump ARCHES endowment through OSF HealthCare and the University of Illinois places Peoria in a unique position, particularly in the field of healthcare. Not only does the partnership vet promising business concepts, it can fund those ventures much more readily. “That’s unheard of to have that access to funding without the competition you would usually see,” Bramlet notes.
If healthcare and the biosciences represent Greater Peoria’s next economic chapter, the involvement of Blickenstaff—who generated nearly $500 million in private venture capital during his career in medical devices and biotech—is a key connection. “We find his expertise, connections and understanding of building a company to be highly valuable,” Bramlet affirms.
“He brings credibility to our company,” Garrou adds. “It’s not every startup that gets to say they have a publicly-traded company chairman among their investors.” PM