A Guelph-based start-up with plans to bring mobile genetic testing to agriculture was the winner of the second annual University of Guelph Gryphon’s LAAIR pitch competition, held online May 27.
Harvest Genomics will use its $10,000 prize to develop and bring to market a portable DNA system that will make testing capabilities currently only available in lab settings more widely accessible.
“The longstanding model has been that if you have samples for testing, you send them to the lab, which takes time, but we’re seeing a lot of transformational change now in the field of genomics,” explains Harvest Genomics’ CEO and co-founder Chris Grainger.
Why it matters: Genomics technology boosts the speed and accuracy of plant and animal breeding, as well as detection and monitoring of new pests and diseases, making it critical to the future of food security and food production.
One of the impacts of COVID-19 has been that people in general have a better understanding of how important genetic testing is, he adds, which makes the timing ideal for this type of technology deployment.
Harvest Genomics is focusing its efforts on developing genetic testing capabilities for 45 economically important food species in Ontario and making that technology more widely available in the agriculture sector.
“Our target market is seed companies and small to medium agricultural companies that don’t have access to this type of technology or aren’t able to bring it in-house from a cost perspective,” he says. “A mobile testing service is the vision first and foremost that would be available to a seed company, a cannabis facility or a grower who needs diagnostic testing on-site.”
With the win, the company is now able to accelerate its plans with hopes of being up and running by the end of the year – barring any unforeseen pandemic-related delays.
Grainger is also a research associate and genomics lab manager in the University of Guelph’s Department of Plant Agriculture, which is what helped drive the creation of Harvest Genomics. His co-founders are Dr. Davud Torkamaneh, Dr. Soren Seifi and Remi Maglione.
“Portable genetic testing is the future and we’re a made-in-Ontario company for Ontario agriculture,” Grainger said as part of his pitch to the three-member judging panel.
Neophyto Foods won the people’s choice award at the competition, receiving $7,000 to invest in the growth of their plant-based cheese business.
The pitch contest was hosted by Guelph’s Research Innovation Office in partnership with the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance (a collaboration between University of Guelph and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs).
Other pitch participants included emendWELL, Green Feet Ecosystems Services and Psigryph Inc.
The Gryphon’s LAAIR program was started in 2014 and has funded more than 70 projects and more than 60 industry partner collaborations.
“The goal is to transform agri-food innovations at University of Guelph into innovations people want to buy and use,” stated Dr. David J. Hobson, manager of Technology Transfer & Entrepreneurship at the Research Innovation Office during the virtual event. “We don’t take it to market, we help others take it to market. Our funding goes to researchers who have already invented things.”
The program’s star alumnus to date is Mirexus, which received $125,000 in product development funding in 2014 and now employs 17 people and has built a manufacturing plant in Guelph. Mirexus’ product is a plant-derived glycogen used in personal care and cosmetic products that was discovered by University of Guelph researchers.
Compostable coffee pods now used by the President’s Choice brand were also an early funding recipient.
Funding of $420,000 for five new Gryphon’s LAAIR projects was also announced as part of the online competition.
These include breeding stress-tolerant beer yeast strains, immunity-boosting colostrum for better calf health, umbilical cord blood-derived treatment for improving the health of horses, nanotechnology for better anti-aging skin care, and a regenerative hyperchlorination system for greenhouse waste water.