Last year, Eden Prairie-based StemoniX, led by CEO and cofounder Ping Yeh, was named MN Cup’s Grand Prize winner. The company converts human cells, such as those for skin, fat, and blood, to stem cells, which are then used to create “micro-organs”—a product that could hold great value for pharmaceutical companies.

The technology allows companies to find out not only whether a drug has harmful (or even lethal) side effects, but also whether it does the job of improving a given condition—all without putting a human subject at risk. It has the potential to make medicine more individualized, with less guesswork needed for each patient. It also could reduce pharmaceutical companies’ expenses for research and development while allowing them to streamline their testing process, so they can bring life-saving medicines to market sooner.

StemoniX, which Yeh cofounded in 2014, currently can create “micro-organs” for the heart and brain, but has plans to expand into other parts of the body.

Besides the $81,000 in prize money, winning the MN Cup has brought many tangible benefits to StemoniX, including new investors and customers.

More than that, however, Yeh says, the MN Cup competition has been integral to the company’s success, because it forced Yeh and his cofounders to refine their pitch over the course of three years.

“It allows people to try—and more important, to fail. This was our third try. The first time, we were only a few months old, and we didn’t get past the first round,” says Yeh, who speaks with a clear, rapid-fire delivery, almost as if he’s in a race to articulate all the ideas that keep occurring to him. “The second time—didn’t get past first round. The third time, we did it.

“They existed to allow us to answer their questions. They taught me how to explain the company. The months of refinement we spent learning to communicate—how to pitch and repitch and craft and recraft—was invaluable.”

He likens the process to the proverb about giving man a fish to eat for a day versus teaching him to fish so he can eat for the rest of his life: “They didn’t teach me how to fish. They taught me how to pitch.”


What's your big idea? Apply now for the Minnesota Cup 2017.