Abilitech, MHTA, startup, Angie Conley, Minnesota, medtech, interview

Abilitech made quite the splash at Startup Week’s MN Cup this year, taking home not only the coveted Startup of the Year Award but the Top Woman-Led Startup prize as well.

The woman behind that honor is Angie Conley. With a background at Medtronic and a passion for medical devices and improved mobility, Conley has all the right attributes of the ideal startup leader.

With excitement still high for its recent win, Abilitech is already revving its engines in pursuit of the Medtech Award at the 2019 Tekne Gala this November.

The Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA), host of the Tekne Awards, had the privilege of speaking with Conley to ask her about Abilitech’s recent success, the resources they used along the way and what advice she has for others within the startup field.


First off, congratulations on your huge MN Cup win at Startup Week! What can you tell us about the journey Abilitech has taken to get here? How does it feel to have come this far in only a few years?
Conley: The Minnesota Cup is an important milestone to me because our company developed under the structure and mentorship that it provided. I joke with our team that we are the “MN Cup baby!”  When I entered MN Cup, it wanted to explore an idea: how to build a sustainable solution for an unmet problem and start a profitable company. Within six months of entering the competition, we were able to raise $2.3 million of funding to assemble a team and start on the build of our product. Less than three years later, we are now preparing for clinical studies and commercialization. Winning the grand prize is great validation that we are on the right track, executing on our mission and business plan.

So many entrepreneurs are traveling this road with their heads down, working long hours and weekends, sacrificing time with family and friends. It can be a real grind. Fortunately for many, like Abilitech, there is an amazing mission to keep you motivated. The MN Cup award is a wonderful opportunity to step back, take stock of our progress, and celebrate.  The fundraising climate in Minnesota is challenging and the competition is strong – many companies are well into a few years of revenue – so this is incredibly validating for Abilitech Medical!

Talk to us about your work with Minnesota Small Business Innovation Research (MNSBIR). Apart from the award funding that Abilitech received, what did you take away from that experience?
Conley: Pat Dillion and MNSBIR are terrific!  They have advised us on our grant funding opportunities and we’ve been fortunate to land a few grants as a result. While it can be an incredibly difficult process, it’s a wonderful way to get non-dilutive funding and engage meaningful clinical relationships.

Abilitech’s products help people with neuromuscular conditions, restoring motion and independence through wearable assistive devices. What is something about this branch of medical technology that might surprise people? Or perhaps, what’s something you feel everyone should know about it?
Conley: It surprised me that it’s actually easier to make a device that is fully robotic than one that is not. What we have accomplished here is to work with patients’ existing strength so that they don’t become dependent on our technology and lose strength. We hope that, in fact, some patients may actually regain some strength to gain function.

As a startup on the rise, Abilitech takes its talent acquisition very seriously. Apart from hosting your own internship program, you’ve also hired two interns through the MHTA’s SciTechsperience. Talk to us about what interns bring to your company and why you invest in them.
Conley: SciTechsperience is a terrific way for companies to get a helping hand, and augment a student’s education with real-world experience. The talent pool has been incredibly strong and brought new ideas and enthusiasm to our company. It’s helpful when interns can draw CAD, build a test fixture, research new parts, and help keep us organized.  It’s been awesome to have enthusiastic partners to hand off projects and watch them eagerly join our mission to restore independence.

Since the startup’s founding in 2016, Abilitech has achieved great recognition and success. What advice do you have for fellow medtech startups looking to get their solutions out there so they too can help change the world?
Conley: Mission is everything. It has helped us build a very special culture that unifies our team. Our goal is to get in front of a patient or clinician every week to continually test our concepts and get feedback. Make sure, as you hire, that candidates understand their work is more than a job. This creates a culture that motivates everyone to dig deep when things get tough, support each other, and keep their eyes on the horizon. Startups are a rollercoaster ride for all involved — recognize that sometimes there will be bumps. When you anticipate them, it’s easier to move quickly to problem-solving and resolution by testing, testing, and testing again.


Abilitech will be attending the Tekne Awards on November 20th. Get your Gala tickets today for a fabulous night of networking opportunities with innovators like Conley and the Abilitech team, as we celebrate Minnesota’s innovative tech community.