Xconomy Announces Channel Focused on the Future of Education


Since its inception more than nine years ago, Xconomy has focused its coverage on the business of high technology—across information technology, life sciences, healthcare, energy, robotics, and much more. But underlying all that, in a sense, is education. We have long run stories about STEM education, educational technology, and more—and even put out a special Xconomist report on the future of education. It asked leading Xconomists the question: What should students be studying now to prepare for 10 years from now?

All this is to say that trends in education and edtech—and especially how education applies to the business of high tech—has long been something our editors have focused on. Now we are bringing that coverage even more front and center with the launch of a national Education channel. This dedicated portion of our website, featuring its own home page, will bring together all articles about education and edtech from across our 11-market network. It is our tenth such subject-specific channel, joining Startups, Health IT, Cleantech, Exome (life sciences), Xperience (consumer tech and society), Fintech, Robotics and A.I., Agtech and Food, and Cybersecurity.

We’d like to offer a big thank you to our launch sponsors/underwriters who have joined us to support this new channel: the Lumina Foundation and Alexandria Real Estate Equities.

Xconomy’s editors from across the county will be contributing to the education channel. Today, with the channel’s debut, we are running three articles. One, by Jeff Engel, is about the Massachusetts edtech cluster; it includes a table of companies that help represent the local scene. Xconomy San Francisco editor Bernadette Tansey has written an analysis piece looking at Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump on education and edtech. And finally, we have a story by Sarah Schmid Stevenson looking at Lessonly, an Indianapolis-based corporate training and education startup.

In the near future, we will have a feature piece looking at some of the San Francisco area’s biggest edtech startups, and how things have been going with them. From Boston, we’ll have a story on a coding academy that’s focused on training underrepresented minorities. And from Seattle, we will be reporting on a new tech apprenticeship program.

Our hope is that this channel will make it simple for readers interested in the future of education—and who isn’t?—to find all articles on this vital subject from across our network. All it takes is to go to the home page of the new channel or sign up for a dedicated e-mail newsletter.

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With Reverse Merger, Miragen to go Public, Get M Boost From Investors

Nasdaq Tower Nasdaq (Used with Permission Copyright 2014 NASDAQ OMX Group)

For privately held biotechs, IPOs are the most common road to the public markets, but they’re not the only way. Reverse merging with a shell company is an alternate path, and that’s how Miragen Therapeutics is headed to the Nasdaq.

Boulder, CO-based Miragen, a developer of drugs that utilize microRNA—small molecular regulators of gene expression—has merged with a diagnostics company called Signal Genetics (NASDAQ: SGNL) in a bid to go public. The combined company will be roughly 96 percent owned by Miragen stockholders, keep the Miragen name, be based in Boulder, and trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “MGEN.” Signal shareholders will own the remaining 4 percent of the combined company.

Carlsbad, CA-based Signal, whose shares closed at just $ 0.36 apiece on Monday, aims to sell off its main asset, a multiple myeloma diagnostic called MyPRS. The combined company will thus develop Miragen’s microRNA drugs for blood cancers, fibrosis, and other diseases. Miragen’s two most advanced experimental drugs, known as MRG-106 (for a form of lymphoma) and MRG-201 (fibrosis), are in Phase 1 clinical testing.

Both boards have approved the deal, which has to be sanctioned by a majority of Signal shareholders before it closes (owners of about 26 percent of Signal’s stock have already supported the merger). The new company will be run by Miragen’s current management team, led by president and CEO William Marshall, while Signal’s team, led by Samuel Riccitelli, will step down.

In a separate but concurrent transaction, a group of both new and existing Miragen shareholders—Fidelity Management and Research Company, Brace Pharma Capital, Atlas Venture, Boulder Ventures, JAFCO, MP Healthcare Venture Management, MRL Ventures (a venture fund of Merck), Remeditex Ventures, and others—will pump $ 40 million into the company. That’ll leave the combined company with over $ 50 million in cash at the deal’s closing.

Signal and Miragen will host a conference call this morning to discuss the merger.

The perception of reverse mergers is that they’re a way to back onto Wall Street without getting the extra scrutiny from regulators and investors that comes with registering securities in a traditional IPO filing. But they’re also much quicker and less costly to execute than IPOs, and are an alternative to traditional public offerings during a year in which the IPO market has been much more discerning of biotechs than in the recent past. A few examples of reverse mergers over the past few years include Tobira Therapeutics (NASDAQ: TBRA) (recently acquired by Allergan), Pulmatrix (NASDAQ: PULM), Retrophin (NASDAQ: RTRX), and Halozyme Therapeutics (NASDAQ: HALO).

Miragen was formed in 2007 and raised an $ 8 million Series A round from Atlas and Boulder a year later. The company inked a partnership with French firm Servier on a heart failure microRNA drug and a few other cardiovascular programs in 2011. In a statement, Marshall said the reverse merger and investment proceeds will help bring the company’s drugs into late-stage clinical testing.

Here’s more on the company’s founding, its strategy, and MRG-106 and MRG-201.

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And Then They Came for Me …

Yesterday was Halloween in the United States where children dress up and try to scare people as they “trick-or-treat” for candy. Yet the only horror I experienced was watching Peter Thiel stand in front of a national media audiences and re-endorse Donald Trump for President.

In his defense he made it clear that he didn’t agree with the all of the things Trump had said (or done?) but that, “The big things he’s right about” and Thiel continued to publicly support the unsupportable.

You don’t get to be “right” about policy issues when you have been a race-baiting, misogynistic, intolerant demagogue. Trump is not a normal politician who can be rationalized and accepting him is a Chamberlain level of appeasement.

You don’t get to pretend for 5 years that the first African American president in US history wasn’t born in the United States and then get a free pass on running for the presidency. This act was not only racist in and of itself but also gave air-cover to the most irrational conspiracy theorists and white supremacist groups in the United States. Peter, this racist act perpetrated over a 5-year timeframe was disqualifying, whatever you think of his other “policies.”

You don’t get to launch your campaign saying illegal Mexicans are “rapists and murderers and some, I assume, are good people.” That is racist and fear mongering and stoking the flames of those who want to vilify “the other” which has been done throughout our country to the Irish, the Polish, the Jews, Italians and yes — the Germans — and every other immigrant population throughout history. Racism is disqualifying. Immigration and assimilation are two of the unique features that have made America so great over its centuries.

You don’t get to call for a religious test to enter our country, potentially denying access to more than 1 billion Muslim people in the world including very large populations in Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. You don’t get to create a division between the 3.3 million Muslims living peacefully in the United States and “the rest of us” because that is called “religious intolerance” and was precisely the kind of governmental prejudice our Founding Fathers tried to protect against.

You don’t get to say out loud that you would kiss women against their will or grab them against their will. That isn’t “locker-room talk” it is sexual assault and you don’t get to normalize that talk and then be president of our country. There are now more than a dozen women coming forward saying that Trump actually did what he said he did and groped them or kissed them against their will. These cases haven’t been proven but it’s hard to discount them when the person who said that Trump did this was … Donald Trump, himself!

You don’t get to pretend that you “just don’t know anything about” David Duke especially when there is this pesky fact of public record that you DO know about David Duke. Legitimizing David Duke and his vile group of supporters in order to run up the score on your votes is disqualifying in running for the presidency of the United States. Yes, THIS David Duke, Peter. This one, from just this past week …

I’m guessing you can imagine but in case your mind doesn’t go there, Peter, that second image is trying to say “Hillary is like the Jews.” Perhaps that nose looks a bit like mine, Peter? Or maybe you need the more explicit comments in the Tweet above it to be convinced?

Trump didn’t say these things, but he legitimized them by looking the other way and pretending they weren’t said and that he didn’t know about David Duke. Peter, this is precisely what you’re doing in legitimizing Trump. You’re saying you agree with him on policy while saying the press is taking him too literally for his 5 years of racist “birtherism” or his anti-Mexican comments or his sexual assault comments.

Or how about if we take what Trump actually says, Peter? Perhaps you’re not as finely attuned as I am to the alt-right references to “international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in oder to enrich these global financial powers” but let me translate in dog-whistle to English for you — that’s referring to Jews. We are the global cabal who control finance, media and governments in the eyes of the conspiracy theorists.

But what about Trump’s policies, Peter, do you find attractive?

The fact that he called on nations like South Korea or Saudi Arabia to have their own nuclear weapons? Or that he would consider a first-strike nuclear policy for the United States? Or is that one of the things you can overlook because we shouldn’t take it so literally?

Are you for “bombing the shit” out of ISIS’s oil operations and then “taking the oil” as Trump says or pulling out of NATO as Trump has threatened? Or is that hyperbole? Do you think if we bomb the shit out of oil fields in Iraq and then take their oil we will create more terrorists who hate us or fewer?

Are you troubled that he hasn’t released his tax returns and we’re one week from the election? Or is this ok and you’re pro the tax dodges he has openly hinted at or the more dubious ones that are now becoming public?

I heard you speak eloquently yesterday about the need to have a competent government capable of building the interstate highway system or the Manhattan Project and the Apollo program. I agree! We need a government that invests in and completes big things like public schooling, infrastructure and scientific research. But how can we fund all of these if we don’t pay our taxes, Peter? Can you see the slightest hypocrisy in supporting a candidate who is a tax dodger and provides no transparency of what he has actually done with his taxes while also saying you want a government capable of completing big, important projects?


I have many friends on both sides of the aisle. I have rabid Bernie Sanders supporter friends — yet I was never persuaded he had the right solutions for our country. He is populist so I see why people find his policies appealing but I find them not to be realistic. You can’t put global trade back in a bottle and pretend all manufacturing jobs will return to the US. You must instead invest tax dollars in helping affective communities through education, retooling, infrastructure investment (like clean water) and job stimulation.

I have many friends on the right side of the aisle who may have policy differences with me on issues ranging from pro choice (which I am) vs. pro life or drug policies or tax structure or our penal system.

I happen to be very socially liberal and prefer our country to move towards tolerance and equality for all people regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race or religion. I abhor policies that make it difficult for low-income women to get reproductive care or that applies religious tests to the kind of care they can receive. I am pro liberalizing failed drug policies and incarceration policies and similar initiatives.

I happen to be fiscally moderate and believe in global trade, moderating the size and influence of government and being careful about the “laws of unintended consequences” of government tax policies and social spending programs. I am pro worker protection and a fair wage and am willing to increase the minimum wage but I also see some of the downsides of unions that make some industries or situations anti-competitive.

I know that there are policy nuances and that my positions aren’t “right” they are positions worthy of debates with my friends who disagree and at times I find myself persuaded and change my views.

I’ve sat in your house, Peter, eating dinner with a small crowd of thinkers and heard you advocate strongly for positions I hadn’t considered and found myself moved by your counter-intuitive logic on some key issues. I love policy debate with smart people because it forces me to figure out where my own lines are. I respect your willingness to advocate strongly for positions and forcing me to think harder about where I stand.

But on issues of racism, race-baiting, religious intolerance, misogyny, sexual assault, white supremacy and demagoguery — there can be no gray area, Peter. These are disqualifying issues and you are completely wrong to support Donald Trump.

If we accept leaders who embrace demagoguery, intolerance and groups of citizens who would turn on each other and vilify “the other” then eventually they will turn on us, Peter. I am the straight son of an immigrant father from South America whose parents on both sides are Jewish and who proudly thinks of myself as an American first and foremost and everything else second. You were born in Germany and an immigrant to the US at 1-year old and are gay and now proudly open about that as you said it on a national stage at the Republican convention.

We both have voices and megaphones and resources but if we appease leaders who have shown a penchant for supporting intolerance, hatred and racism — eventually they will come for us.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

— Pastor Martin Niemöller of Germany in reference to the Nazis


Thiel Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr

And Then They Came for Me … was originally published in Both Sides of the Table on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Entrepreneurship Blogs


Roundup: Techstars Leaves, U.K. Healthcare Firms Arrive, & Other News

Texas bluebonnets

Let’s get caught up with the latest innovation news from Xconomy Texas:

—Techstars Ventures and Texas-based angel investors have added $ 1 million to the $ 1.6 million previously raised by NuPark, an Austin startup with video technology to help schools and governments better manage parking. NuPark says its software can help customers manage permit sales, citation appeals, e-commerce websites, among other services.

Hangar, a startup that makes software to help businesses better collect and analyze data from drone flights, has raised $ 6.5 million in an early stage funding round. New York-based Lux Capital led the financing; the company reported that Fontinalis Partners, Haystack Partners, and several prominent angel investors also participated. Founder and CEO Colin Guinn says Hangar produces autonomous drone flight software that can be easily shared to business customers such as commercial and residential real estate or construction companies on a large scale.

Edition Collective, a men’s e-commerce startup, has been acquired by a brick-and-mortar retail company, Q Fifty One. The Houston-based retail chain owns and operates Q Clothier and Rye 51 stores in four cities nationwide. Matt Alexander, founder and CEO of Edition, now becomes CEO of Q Fifty One Digital, which will manage the company’s online shopping business.

SheHacks, a hackathon geared toward women tech entrepreneurs, hosted its first event in Houston where participants worked on eight projects. The New York-based group says its previous two hackathons have resulted in more than 100 women in technology pitching 23 new business ventures. Among the winners of the Houston event was EllieGrid, “smart” pillbox that allows users to scan medication labels so that an app can give them alerts about missed dosages or if a medicine needs refilling.

—Xconomy brings its Disruptors conference to Houston tomorrow in a daylong seminar at the Texas Medical Center’s TMCx accelerator. The event brings together innovators from across the state in healthcare, space, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and other sectors. Register here.

San Antonio:
—The 80/20 Foundation is giving Tech Bloc a $ 600,000 grant for an effort to construct a new high school focused on technology and entrepreneurship, called CAST Tech. Tech Bloc, a San Antonio tech-focused advocacy group, plans to seek a dollar-for-dollar match for the grant. A new foundation called TechBlock-4-TechEd will work to raise the funding from local businesses and the public. The new school will have a typical core curriculum, along with teaching skills in specializations such as cybersecurity, coding, or video game development, as well as business practices.

—After four years, Techstars has closed its accelerator targeting cloud computing startups in San Antonio due to declining activity in early stage cloud startup activity. Director Blake Yeager moves to Techstars headquarters in Boulder, CO, where he becomes vice president of engineering for the accelerator program overall.

—The British are coming—well, they did come to Texas last week. A contingent of healthcare companies based in the U.K. traveled to Texas’ largest cities scouting out business opportunities and potential customers with local companies, physicians, and institutions.

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