Healdsburg biotech pioneer Howard Leonhardt invented medical technology that made millions of dollars for Medtronic Inc., the world's largest medical device maker.
Now he's launching a Santa Rosa tech incubator designed to give new medical technologies a chance to take off.
He's partnering with the University of Northern California in Santa Rosa, a small private institute that focuses on biomedical engineering.
"In this recession, it's hard to find markets that are growing," said Leonhardt, who also founded Bioheart, a Florida biotech company.
Demand for medical technology is growing rapidly as the world's population ages. Heart-related technology is especially hot. "This market will double in five years," he said.
Leonhardt invented the Talent stent graft system, a technology for repairing life-threatening aortic aneurysms. Now owned by Medtronic's Santa Rosa vascular division, the Talent platform generates millions of dollars in sales each year.
The startup program, called Leonhardt's Launchpads, lets early-stage biotech companies leverage the facilities at the UNC, which occupies a 50,000-square-foot former Medtronic complex in southwest Santa Rosa.
UNC's Science and Technology Innovation Center has test labs and clean room facilities that are certified for medical technology manufacturing.
Startups will be able to use incubator space for as little as $500 a month, Leonhardt said. The incubator isn't backed by a technology venture fund, but promising companies will get help finding capital, he said.
The program also will offer coaching from entrepreneurs who have grown successful companies, he said. "We work on the individuals to keep them motivated when times get tough."
The goal is to make Sonoma County a world-class center for medical technology, said Y. King Liu, a biomedical engineer who founded UNC in 1993.
"This is one of the best places in the world to do this," said Liu, who taught at the University of Michigan, Tulane University and University of Iowa. "We want to fill up this building with entrepreneurs."
Medtronic's Santa Rosa-based vascular business generates nearly $2 billion in year in revenues. In recent years, Sonoma County has become home to other medical technology companies, including TriVascular, Direct Flow Medical, Medlogics, Osseon Therapeutics, Oculus Innovative Sciences and Sonoma Orthopedic Products.
Osseon is a spinoff of UNC, which also has stakes in two other early-stage medical technology companies.
Leonhardt is a serial entrepreneur who also owns restaurant, publishing, travel and other businesses. He owns Leonhardt Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley and this year launched Wine Country Baseball, an independent league with 12 teams in Sonoma and Napa counties.