Competition finds innovation

The finalists in the US$1 million growth-stage category:


All the pieces fell into place for a young ag innovator to win US$1 million.

“It’s been an incredible process and the timing couldn’t be more perfect,” said Karn Manhas, founder and chief executive officer of Terramera, which emerged victorious Oct. 2 in the first ever Nutrien-Radicle Challenge Canada.

The Vancouver company develops high-performance natural alternatives to synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers and has pioneered a method to target active ingredients to cellular delivery.

Manhas said one of the major challenges in farming is that 50 to 90 percent of inputs don’t get to the right place, is not absorbed and gets washed away into the soil or water.

“A lot of the times what we’re doing with agri-chemicals is we mix them into formulations and then we’re either spraying them on-farm or applying them into irrigation or fertigation and hoping that enough of the right material gets taken up to the right place that it can be effective,” he said.

The company has developed a proprietary green chemistry technology it calls Actigate, which increases absorption and availability of active ingredients by delivering them directly into target cells where they can be effective.

The technology can be used for natural and organic materials to increase performance, as well as improve the efficiency of conventional chemicals by reducing the amount of synthetic chemistry needed.

“It’s a win-win for everyone. It’s a win for the crop protection inputs (manufacturer) that can produce a more efficient material. It’s a win for the farmer that makes what they’re using more efficient and more sustainable,” he said.

It’s also a sizable opportunity for the eight-year-old company in the crop chemistry market, valued at about $50 billion worldwide annually.

Venture capital fund company Radicle Growth selects innovative ag and food tech start-ups for investment.

“We have about 1,000 companies a year that apply for funding from us and it’s not just about the funding, it’s really the company- building aspects that we bring to bear,” said Kirk Haney, managing partner of Radicle Growth in San Diego, California.

He said innovation and technology is the best way to feed a growing world population and accelerate bringing it to market.

“We created this concept called the Radicle Challenge where in a very short time frame we can leverage our capital, our ecosystem and partnership and specifically our partnership with Nutrien to attract the best entrepreneurs in a specific geography or a specific vertical where we think that it needs more attention,” said Haney.

This is the first time that Radicle has partnered on a headline basis with another corporation.

As the world’s largest fertilizer producer and ag retail business, Nutrien is playing a key role in growing more food.

“I think the end goal ultimately is to bring technologies to bear on the farm faster and more efficiently here in Canada and also create successful entrepreneurs and technologies in agriculture that can be scaled all across the world because of the global platform that Nutrien has,” said Mark Thompson, vice-president and chief corporate development and strategy officer at Nutrien.

The other big winner from the contest was Livestock Water Recycling of Calgary, which won the $250,000 prize in the early stage or seed stage category.

Its technology concentrates manure nutrients into solid and liquid fertilizer products while recycling 75 percent of it into potable water.

The lighter and less expensive solid manure can be precisely applied to field crops and has all of the phosphorus contents while the liquid nutrient can be applied to growing corn through drip irrigation or centre pivots.

It is working with dairy and hog farmers in the United States, as well as Lebanon with further potential in Kazakhstan and Ireland.

Both Terramera and Livestock Water Recycling plan to use the money to scale up production and expand into new markets.

“Our goal is to reduce 80 percent of this synthetic pesticide load that’s being used in agriculture by 2030,” said Manhas.

“We started with doing crop protection first and I think they’re (Nutrien) very interested in helping to partner to see how we may be able to leverage this technology in the years ahead for increasing the efficiency of nutrition and fertilizers as well.

“We’re in discussions with big crop protection companies in utilizing this technology as well as some of the small organic crop protection companies that are doing biological, either plant-based or microbial crop protection materials.”

Haney said the two winning companies have a leg up over other organizations because of the platforms that Nutrien and Radicle offer.

“It’s really transformative in the way that we can accelerate the development of these two young companies. It’s not just the capital. That’s kind of the structure and the strategy to attract the best entrepreneurs, but then the best entrepreneurs quickly see if they can get access to Nutrien’s global reach, how will that help them accelerate their time to market?” he said.

More than 100 of Canada’s agriculture and food technology innovators competed, with eight finalists pitching to a panel of judges in Saskatoon Oct. 1-2.

The finalists in the U.S. $1 million growth-stage category:

  • FarmLead, Ottawa
  • Renaissance Bioscience, Vancouver
  • P&P Optica, Waterloo, Ont.
  • Terramera, Vancouver

The finalists in the U.S. $250,000 early-stage category:

  • First Pass Technologies, Calgary
  • Livestock Water Recycling, Calgary
  • Motorleaf, Montreal
  • Precision.ai, Saskatoon

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