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Firm has roots in Longmont, Montana

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — There’s some interesting genealogy behind one of the city’s newest start-up companies, with ties stretching way from Longmont to Bozeman, Mont.

In the late-1990s, the husband-and-wife team of Dr. Phillip Cory, a physician, and Joan Cory, who has doctoral degrees in microbiology and immunology, discovered and patented a new form of nerve imaging technology that allows doctors and anesthesiologists to detect and mark the positions of nerves without any type of invasion into the body. The technology can be applied for diagnostic, treatment and monitoring purposes, using a device smaller than a computer mouse.

Soon after, the Montana residents launched CKM Diagnostics Inc. as a client company of TechRanch, a business incubator located on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman.

But as often happens with start-ups, the founders of the company were experts in their field but not necessarily experts at running a business.

What does any of this have to do with Longmont?

“We saw a management hole there that needed to be filled,” said Gary Bloomer, the development director at TechRanch who was formerly with the Boulder Technology Incubator, now CTEK. “That’s why we set out searching for a CEO for that company.”

Bloomer worked for BTI in the mid-1990s when it was based in Longmont.

His ties to this area led CKM — now known as Nervonix Inc. — to be headquartered in Longmont.

In the hunt for a new CEO for Nervonix, Bloomer contacted Paul Ray, a 35-year veteran of the medical device industry in Colorado who had previous experience running a medical imaging company.

A veteran of six start-ups and a member of the boards of several companies, Ray said it is common for start-ups lacking management with business expertise to find themselves where Nervonix was: technology with amazing potential, but struggling to raise necessary capital.

The Corys, said Ray, the former director of the state Office of Life Sciences and Biotechnology, “had taken the company, not unlike many (start-up) companies, about as far as they could.”

Ray agreed to join Nervonix, but not without hesitation.

“I had not really been wanting for something else to do,” Ray said. “I really looked at it like, ‘At this stage of my life, do I really want to jump off the cliff again?’”

He decided the answer was yes.

To “re-start” Nervonix, Ray raised seed money from investors and put some of his own in. He brought in a law firm and engaged Ohio-based Battelle Corp. to do Nervonix’s manufacturing when the time comes.

Having the Corys in Bozeman and the company’s headquarters here isn’t a problem, Ray said, since Nervonix is still in the development stage.

“The actual product is still being defined,” he said. “We expect the first prototype to come late summer.”

Ray also persuaded Jerry Donahue — who was executive director of BTI for almost eight years and whose background included work with neurological companies — to join Nervonix’s board.

Bringing in Donahue was only fitting, given the ties between Bozeman and Boulder.

“I was very involved in starting the incubator in Bozeman,” Donahue said. “It was patterned very much after the charter that we had at BTI.”

For Bloomer, who attended school in Boulder from kindergarten through graduate school, taking a job at TechRanch in Bozeman was appealing because the city reminded him of the way Boulder used to be — quieter and more laid back, with a high-tech community that was really starting to blossom.

“There are 50 software development companies in the Bozeman area right now,” Bloomer said, ranging in size from two employees to 50.

For one of them, Nervonix, the Boulder/Bozeman ties came in handy.

“You can’t help but know Paul Ray’s name if you’re doing any sort of early-stage or seed-stage investing,” Bloomer said. “He was an advisor to the BTI when I was there, so I had known him since the early ’90s.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.