Rochester Entrepreneurial Spotlight: COVR Medical

Mayo Clinic spinout and Rochester-based COVR Medical aims to protect patient privacy and dignity during surgical procedures. Driven by a passion to fulfill an unmet medical need, COVR was founded by husband and wife team Dr. Bruce Levy, MD, a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon, and Heather Levy in 2014. With three medical garments currently on the market, COVR is facilitating patient dignity one surgery at a time.

Dr. Levy’s “passion for improving the patient experience” ultimately moved him to become an entrepreneur. During one particular surgical case, he requested a blue towel be used to cover a patient to avoid patient exposure to the entire operating room staff during the procedure. However, the towel kept dropping to the operating room floor during the surgery as the patient was moved, leaving the patient naked and exposed for the majority of the operation.

Distressed by the situation, Dr. Levy searched the market for possible solutions to remedy this problem. Finding none, he decided to create his own solution, a medical garment that could cover and protect patient dignity during surgeries in the groin area while allowing adequate access for medical staff.

In 2014, Dr. Levy utilized Mayo Clinic’s Employee Entrepreneurship Program (EEP) to license the intellectual property for the garment line from Mayo to launch his startup, COVR Medical. Two years later, Dr. Levy presented his idea at the Walleye Tank business pitch competition hosted by the Office of Entrepreneurship at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. COVR Medical won first place.

Since that time, COVR has grown to a five-person team including Dr. Bruce Levy, Cofounder and CEO; Heather Levy, Cofounder and President; Romeo Catracchia, Chief Commercial Officer; Thomas Pavilon, US National Sales Manager, and Donald Cilley, Manufacturing Manager.

COVR, Dr. Levy explains, is a pioneer. The company is not bringing a better product to the market but is instead creating a whole new class of products, which can come with unique challenges. However, he says COVR continues to gain momentum with leading US medical institutions, demonstrating the value of their products.

As a Mayo Clinic surgeon, it felt natural for Dr. Levy and wife Heather to grow their company in this city.

“Understanding and overcoming the challenges of starting a business is no easy task and we are extremely grateful to find a thriving, helpful, and welcoming entrepreneurial climate in Rochester, Minnesota,” Dr. Levy explained.

Through the EEP program, COVR connected with several local consultants and organizations that assist Rochester startups including the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator, Medical Alley Association, and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“I remained amazed at how many people unselfishly dedicated their time and expertise in guiding us towards making the right decisions for our company,” he said.

Dr. Levy thinks that “success breeds success” in the Destination Medical Center (DMC) entrepreneurial climate, where thriving startups will allow more startups to launch and grow. He sees the DMC vision to make Rochester a premier medical community of extreme value, especially for healthcare focused startups.

“It’s very much a symbiotic and synergistic relationship between successful entrepreneurs and the supportive organizations that help make them successful,” he said. “I think we can all work collaboratively and mutually benefit from our combined efforts.”

 

New Parking Option in Downtown Rochester

When is a parking ramp more than just a functional structure for stacking up cars? That question has found an answer with the city of Rochester’s new “Parking Ramp #6,” which opened March 26.

This $31.4 million, 630-stall municipal project has indeed been designed as much more than just a parking ramp — although in that simple role alone it is a much-needed improvement as Destination Medical Center (DMC) creates more growth, energy and vibrancy downtown.

And to be sure, merely as parking ramps go, it’s something special. Ramp #6 has several cutting-edge design features such as a space guidance system to help parkers more quickly find available stalls, license plate recognition to speed entry and exits, and a mobile app to help locate parked vehicles.

In addition, a landscaped plaza to the east along First Ave. NE will provide bicycle storage options and feature backlit art walls to create a welcoming public space.

But as one of the earliest infrastructure projects to receive financial support from the DMC, the city has always had bigger goals in mind for Ramp #6 than simply providing additional downtown parking.

One aspect of that vision is its strategic location which leverages other DMC-backed efforts. Situated on 1st Avenue SE and between Center Street and 1st Street SE, it’s on the same block as two important lodging amenities: Titan Development and Investments’ Hilton Hotel, which is preparing for an April 16 opening, and the Broadway Plaza. The ramp will provide them with new skyway access points, thus greatly enhancing pedestrian connections.

The parking ramp has also been designed to accommodate up to 10 stories of residential development atop its easternmost section. The City and DMC are actively seeking proposals to construct mixed income or affordable housing units on the site.  

A grand opening for the new ramp is being planned for summer.

Five Questions with Virginia Kaczmarek, Executive Director, Rochester YMCA

Virginia Kaczmarek, Executive Director, Rochester YMCA

Every day, The Rochester YMCA works side-by-side with its neighbors to make sure that everyone, regardless of age, income or background, has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive.  As Executive Director of the Rochester YMCA, Virginia Kaczmarek knows that lasting personal and social changes comes about when we all work together.

DMC recently chatted with Kaczmarek, a 20-year employee with the YMCA and 5 months in her role as Executive Director of the Rochester YMCA, about some of her priorities and what path brought her to Rochester.

DMC: What path brought you to your current position with the Rochester YMCA?  

Kaczmarek: As a young single mother, the YMCA played an important support role in my life and since those days, I have always wanted to give to others the support I received when I most needed it. My fiancé grew up in Rochester and after spending the last 11 years in Northfield, MN (where we raised the needed funds to open a brand new Y in 2014) it was time for me to move on to a new adventure and challenge.

DMC: What are some of the top priorities for the organization in the coming year?

Kaczmarek: Partnerships, Partnerships, Partnerships.  In today’s world, community impact is most powerful when people, groups, organizations and businesses come together to meet the needs of our community.  

DMC: What do you feel sets Rochester apart from other cities?

Kaczmarek:  It is an amazing ”big/small town” with so many amazing people working together to make a positive impact on those around us.  There isn’t much complacency here and I love that.

DMC: Why is the Destination Medical Center initiative so important to the future of Rochester?

Kaczmarek:  The DMC initiative provides amazing opportunities for growth and the YMCA is very proud to work together to make good things happen in our community.  

DMC: What advice would you give to someone thinking about building a life, starting a career, and/or raising a family in America’s City for Health?

Kaczmarek: Reach out and ask questions. Connect with your neighbors.  There is an abundance of important opportunities to connect and share in the movement towards ensuring we all have a healthy opportunity to grow and thrive.

 

Private Investment Doubled in the DMC District in Rochester, Minnesota Exceeding a Quarter Billion Dollars in 2018

(Rochester, MINN) March 21, 2019 – The Destination Medical Center Corporation (DMCC) today announced that private investment in the Destination Medical Center (DMC) district totaled $262 million in 2018, a 100 percent increase over 2017.


The 2018 private investment will release approximately
$13.5 million in state public infrastructure funding. Since 2013, DMC has generated more than $690 million in private investment for development in Rochester.


“This is good news and is demonstrating that the DMC model is working,” said DMCC Board Chair R.T. Rybak. “Investors and developers are supporting the DMC vision.  Their investments in Minnesota’s largest economic development initiative will benefit the entire state.”


“The downtown we envisioned just a few short years ago is becoming a reality,” said Lisa Clarke, DMC Economic Development Agency executive director. “The infusion of capital that is transforming
Rochester is creating new living and hospitality choices as well as opportunities for startup businesses.”


Private investment in 2018 exceeded all previous DMC single-year investment totals.  Among the highlights were:

  • Mayo Clinic investments totaling $126.5 million, the largest single-year total and a year-over-year increase of $40.5 million (+47 percent)
  • Non-Mayo private investments of $135.4 million, the largest single-year total and a year-over-year increase of $90.4 million (+201%)
  • Private investment in 2018 qualified DMC for $13.5 million in 2019 state aid

To release state funding over the span of the initiative, DMCC must present the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) with an annual accounting of qualified private investments in the DMC district. DEED is then responsible for certifying the investments and qualifying DMC to receive state funding for public infrastructure projects.

Nine project grand openings are scheduled in the DMC district in 2019.

Prototyping for the Future

First Avenue: curbless design & pedestrian friendly

Heart of the City is part of the Destination Medical Center initiative to revitalize downtown Rochester to reflect the city’s diversity and vibrancy and solidify it as a global destination for health and wellness.

As part of the Heart of the City public space design process, First Avenue in downtown Rochester is being designed as a curbless, pedestrian-friendly street. Recently, the future of First Avenue was prototyped, which showed the new design of the street, curb, and sidewalk.

Members of the Heart of the City design team were present to answer questions and collect feedback from business owners and the public.

One of the goals of Heart of the City is creating opportunities for year-round use of public spaces. At the wildly successful SocialICE event in February, produced by the Rochester Downtown Alliance, DMC tested heated benches, which were very popular. Other ideas included adding winter-friending programming, wind buffers and using heated benches or site features to create additional ways to keep people warm outdoors.

Warming benches at SocialICE

“Heart of the City is an important community gathering place. The feedback we receive from our public engagement is valuable as we continue to create experiences in Heart of the City for everyone to enjoy,” noted Patrick Seeb, director of economic development and placemaking for Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency.

Rochester Rated Top 5 Best Places to Live in the Country

Rochester, Minnesota continues its high ranking in Livability’s 2019 Top 100 Best Places to Live, placing 5th and a jump up four spaces from 2018.

The publication notes: “While Rochester may be best known for its famous hospital, which draws patients, doctors and researchers from all over the world, this city is so much more than that. There’s a growing food scene and plenty of community events to keep residents entertained. And for a relatively small city, Rochester has a great public transportation system. Its bus system has 40 weekday routes. Skyways and pedestrian subways connect buildings downtown. If you’re car-free, Rochester has 85 (!) miles of interconnected trails that are available for pedestrian, bike, wheelchair and stroller use.”

Livability also acknowledges the community for being incredibly civic-minded.

“It’s no surprise that Rochester is consistently listed in the top 10 of Livability and many other rankings,” notes Lisa Clarke, executive director, Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency. “High quality of life, a growing, innovative business climate, and top-notch healthcare, are just a few examples of what makes Rochester special.”

Rochester is in good company. WalletHub says Minnesota ranks first when it comes to the best place for women to live in the United States.

 

Business Innovation with an “Eye” on Improving Vision

If eyes are the window to the world, Timothy W. Olsen, M.D. is building high performance window frames. With a passion for restoring vision, the ophthalmologist set sights on developing and bringing to market a first-of-its-kind device for treating age-related macular degeneration. The synergies around the Destination Medical Center economic initiative and Mayo Clinic’s research and practice community prompted him to move his business and clinical/surgical practice from Atlanta to Rochester, Minnesota.

“The business environment is second to none. Mayo has made a statement through Destination Medical Center that it wants to be an innovation center for medical technology,” says Dr. Olsen.  “That combination of business, technology and connection to Medical Alley bio businesses in Minnesota makes this is a really good place to develop and commercialize medical devices.”

Destination Medical Center is a 20-year, multibillion dollar public-private partnership to position Rochester as a global destination for health care, biotechnology and life science discoveries. The money supports public infrastructure and does not go to Mayo Clinic. The convergence of entrepreneurship, medical expertise and regulatory support, Dr. Olsen says, is the perfect place for a successful product launch.

“Destination Medical Center is the City of Rochester, Olmsted County and the state of Minnesota. With those components, hopefully there will be private sector support as well as the opportunity for engaging with people involved in funding early stage start-up companies, including venture capital funding opportunities,” says Dr. Olsen.

A new device for age-related macular degeneration

Macular degeneration affects more than 3 million Americans and is the leading cause of vision loss for people over 50. There is no cure or treatment in the early stages. Patients with end-stage macular degeneration may be suitable for monthly eye injections, but that is expensive and inconvenient. The disease process usually progresses despite the injections.   

That’s where Dr. Olsen’s business comes in. His team is advancing research on a surgically implantable device, using a technology that was first conceived at the University of Minnesota and patented through Emory University. That device acts as a window or picture frame holding regenerative tissue in place to support the macula at the back of the eye, potentially reversing vision loss and preserving the function of the macula.  

The National Institutes of Health/National Eye Institute awarded a Small Business Technology Transfer grant for a one year, phase one feasibility study. The grant goes directly to Dr. Olsen’s company, located in the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator, with sub grant funding for pre-clinical research at Mayo.

“The goal of this research grant is to support scientists launching commercialization of a product rather than the researcher studying technology from an outside company, in an effort to speed the movement of a product from the research lab into the marketplace,” says Dr. Olsen.

Five Proposals Received for Chateau Theatre Management and Operations

Five proposals have been received by the City of Rochester in response to the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the initial operations and management of the historic Chateau Theatre. The submissions included: Entourage Events Group, Exhibits Development Group, Arcades are Awesome!, Threshold Arts LLC, and Arts Trust Minnesota.

“We are pleased with the number of proposals received. It is always encouraging to see a mix of local applicants with those outside of the area,” said Aaron Parrish, Rochester deputy city administrator. “We look forward to moving this process forward in a thoughtful and timely manner.”

Of the five proposals, three are from local entities and two are from Twin Cities organizations. City of Rochester and Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency (DMC EDA) staff are currently reviewing the submissions and will be bringing forward a review process in the coming weeks. Community engagement will be a part of the selection process.

“The interest in the Chateau Theatre has been and continues to be strong. This is reflected in the five proposals received,” noted Patrick Seeb, director of economic development and placemaking with DMC EDA. “All five proposals are diverse in their approach to use and activate the space.”

The Destination Medical Center Corporation Board of Directors and the Rochester City Council approved $1.1 million in DMC funding for the renovation. All initial renovation work to the building is anticipated to be completed by mid-June 2019.

 

New Energy Benchmarking Program Available to Rochester Businesses

At the close of 2018, Rochester, Minnesota was awarded the state’s first LEED Gold City designation by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), in recognition of the City’s effort to achieve significant municipal sustainability and resiliency goals. Kevin Bright, energy and sustainability director for the Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency (DMC EDA) and City of Rochester is excited for the next chapter, which includes a new voluntary energy benchmarking program for Rochester businesses.

The Rochester Energy Benchmarking Program provides a platform for Rochester business and building owners to track their energy use and identify ways to save money on utility bills.

“The creation of the benchmarking program is an important first step to help businesses identify ways to reduce their operating costs by saving energy,” says Bright.

On April 24, 2019, the Benchmarking program will host a training session for interested organizations at Rochester City Hall in Room 104 from 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. This session will help organizations create and efficiently complete a benchmarking profile which is the core of participation in the program.

Another educational resource for Rochester businesses and the public is the DMC EDA’s monthly sustainability series, now in its second year. The series, in partnership with the USGBC, is held the second Wednesday of each month at the Rochester Public Library from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. and is free to attend.

Five Questions with Nate O’Reilly, President, Southeastern Minnesota Building & Construction Trades Council

The Southeastern Minnesota Building & Construction Trades Council is comprised of 16 local skilled trades unions. The Council is dedicated to educating and training workers in the skilled trades that can provide stability of employment and economic security for organized construction workers in the Southeast Minnesota area. Nate O’Reilly, President of the Southeastern Minnesota Building & Construction Trades Council, has been involved in the construction industry for more than 20 years in various roles and recently shared more about his career and the Council’s priorities.

DMC: What path brought you to your current position with the Southeastern Minnesota Building & Construction Trades Council?

O’ReillyAfter High School and joining and serving in the Army Reserve, I began working in construction, and after a few years, I was exposed to and joined the Ironworkers. I worked several years as an Ironworker in many roles, from starting out as worker and welder in a crew to foreman, general foreman, and other leadership and project management roles. I became active with the Ironworkers Union and was appointed and then elected as Business Representative in 2014. I have served as Ironworker delegate to the Building Trades Council, elected by trade affiliates as V.P. of the Council in 2017, and elected as President in 2018.

DMC: What are some of the top priorities for the organization in the coming year?

O’Reilly:

  1. Continue working with stakeholders to expand opportunities for workers in the construction industry in Southeast Minnesota.
  2. Provide the education and training for the next generation of skilled craftspeople to meet the high and increasing demand in the construction market.
  3. Advocate for and support conditions and policies that ensure a level playing field for businesses and contractors that result in maximizing economic benefits to Southeast Minnesota and our state, including: prevailing wage, local hire, and female & minority inclusion.

DMC: What do you feel sets Rochester apart from other cities?

O’Reilly: Rochester and Southeast Minnesota have one of the best pools of potential workers possessing the drive and work ethic found anywhere.  The DMC initiative undertaken by the City of Rochester, Olmsted County, State of Minnesota, and Mayo Clinic is the largest public-private partnership in the state’s history and could serve as the model to be used throughout Minnesota and the rest of the nation.

DMC: Why is the Destination Medical Center initiative so important to the future of Rochester?

O’Reilly: Positioning Rochester as the premier place in the world for health and wellness has ripple effects in all sectors of the economy throughout our region and will ensure economic prosperity and stability for generations to come.

DMC: What advice would you give to someone thinking about building a life, starting a career, and/or raising a family in America’s City for Health?

O’Reilly: Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work and spend significant time in 44 different states. I am proud to have been to those places and some have great things to offer, but none, in my humble opinion, offer the entire package of the best place in America to work, live and raise a family as the Rochester, Minnesota area. And don’t let the cold winters scare you. We have fabulous changes of seasons and weather.