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Venture-backed exit in Appalachian Ohio shows strength of higher ed, state-backed economic development for rural areas

April 01, 2021

For those looking for examples of the impact state investment, university involvement and tech-based economic development can have in rural parts of the country, one can examine news from Appalachian Ohio that Stirling Ultracold reached a definitive merger agreement on March 22 to be acquired for a reported $258 million by publicly-traded BioLife Solutions. The original lead investor in Stirling Ultracold is TechGROWTH Ohio, one of Ohio Third Frontier’s regional entrepreneurial service providers. BioLife intends to keep the Stirling Ultracold brand intact and maintain existing staff in Athens, Ohio. The 160 employees in the rural Southeast Ohio county is the equivalent on a per capita basis to more than 11,000 employees in Cook County, Illinois (the county Chicago is located in).    

TechGROWTH provided multiple rounds of follow-on funding during the company’s startup and growth stages. Lynn Gellerman, executive director of TechGROWTH Ohio and Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs’ associate dean of innovation partnerships, said the size of the acquisition makes it the largest venture-backed exit in southeast Ohio and one of the larger exits in the state.

“Bringing together higher education, state and private sector resources for sustained investment of services, capital and talent were paramount to this outcome,” Gellerman said. “The return on investment not only includes financial proceeds, but very importantly, many high-wage technology manufacturing jobs and another big step forward in the entrepreneurial and technology startup culture of Appalachian Ohio.”

Gellerman also said that the merger highlights the role that higher education and the state can play in building tech-based economic development in rural communities. In a release regarding the acquisition, Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis said, “After nearly 12 years of sustained investment, services and talent from TechGROWTH Ohio and the Ohio Innovation Fund, Stirling Ultracold's success story is an outstanding example of how Ohio University and our regional partners are assisting local companies and expanding regional economic opportunity."

Ohioventure capital

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