Award competitions are one thing – the excitement, the nervousness of contenders, the ecstasy of the winners, the disappointment of the runners-up, the “grip ‘n’ grins” photos of winners holding up over-sized cheques.

Reviewing the state of the industry – the innovation support system of Alberta – is another.

That’s perhaps the true magic of the annual TEC VenturePrize Dinner and Awards, held May 7, 2014.

The evening has the pizazz and energy of an awards show, and at the same time has evolved into an annual check-up on the health and evolution of Greater Edmonton’s innovation support system – a system in which both government and industry, at all levels, has become increasingly interested

Alberta Premier Dave Hancock didn’t show up just to wave the flag. The veteran cabinet minister has been a keen participant in Alberta’s long-term solutions to maintain and grow the province’s competitive advantages.

Hancock took the opportunity to announce a comprehensive review of Alberta’s innovation systems and processes, to “open more and bigger doors.”

“The great thing is we aren’t starting from scratch. We have decades of experience to build on. TEC VenturePrize is opening those doors. I’d like to thank TEC Edmonton for its services to innovation. This is where the rubber hits the road.”

TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb suggested the innovation support system of Greater Edmonton has come of age in the past few years, “in outcomes, recognition, community development, demand for services and delivery capability.

“We’re seeing outstanding results in new growth and successful new companies. The numbers are creating recognition, creating more commitment by all players – government and industry – to innovation. Our corporate sponsors like TELUS (sponsor of the TELUS ICT Award) and AIMCo are showing a strong commitment to innovation. In its last three budgets, the federal government has produced more programs for entrepreneurship. The University of Alberta’s E-hub (student entrepreneur centre) is a reality. Startup Edmonton contributes to Edmonton’s innovation reputation. TEC Edmonton is helping other Alberta communities put up their own business accelerators.

“Alberta is doing the right things,” said Lumb. “Compared to where it was 20 years ago, the innovation system is almost unrecognizable. And that’s a wonderful thing.”

Keynote speaker Dianne Buckner, host of the popular CBC Dragons’ Den TV show, suggested all nine finalists in the three categories could easily present on Dragons’ Den. “You’re all in the same business of ideas, of thriving entrepreneurship.”

“It’s not about bricks and mortar anymore,” said Premier Hancock. “Our resources are finite. Our ideas are not.”

 

 

It was an overnight success, 13 years in the making.

Radient Technologies was incorporated in 2001.

On June 4, 2014, with the grand opening of its new manufacturing plant on Edmonton’s South Side at 4035 101 St, the progression of Radient’s Microwave Assisted Processing (MAP™) from laboratory to full-scale commercial production was complete.

MAP, dreamed up in a lab long ago by scientist Jocelyn Pare, then commercially championed by Radient’s now Chief Technology Officer Steven Splinter, uses a patented microwave system to cause instant, pressure-driven extraction of natural compounds from various bio-masses – a system that’s faster, more environmentally friendly and produces high yields of higher purity compounds compared to its competitors.

Led by the venture capital firms AVAC and Foragen Technologies, Radient’s extraction system has attracted some $14 million in investment in the last 15 months. A recent initial offering as a publicly-traded company was fully subscribed. Foragen’s Armand Lavoie is Radient’s board chair, and AVAC itself has invested $4.7 million in Radient to date as one of its lead early-stage investors.

Using its unique technology, the company currently extracts speciality natural compounds from various plant products such as flax, rosemary and vanilla beans to the specifications of its customers in cosmetics, nutrition and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Already, Radient has 27 employees and will, within 12 months, have 50 to 60 employees. When the new 20,000 sq. ft., $7 million facility is at peak capacity, it should produce a minimum of $20 million of product per year.

Perseverance has underscored the Radient saga.  The technology was developed in British Columbia, taken over by a team in Ontario, and then brought to Alberta thanks to the investment interest of AVAC and Foragen.

Yes, financing a company that was just coming out of its prototype stages into full commercial production was a challenge, says Radient CEO and President Denis Taschuk. “But the most anxious moment was commissioning the microwave extractor back in January. It was a leap of faith, firing up the only machine of its kind in the world. Everything worked fine.”

Along the way, partners have  included  the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation, Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, TEC Edmonton, Alberta Agriculture & Rural Development, the University of Alberta, McMaster  University, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Business Development Bank of Canada and Environment Canada.

TEC Edmonton has long worked with Radient on developing its business side. In fact, CEO Taschuk began his relationship with Radient as TEC Edmonton’s Executive-in-Residence advisor to the company.

Business is never certain, but with the plant now fully operational, Radient’s current and potential future business possibilities have never looked better.

Already, the company is planning to produce its own branded health product in addition to supplying compounds to customers.

Equally intriguing is further research into the technology’s capabilities outside plant extract – i.e. in other industries such as bio-fuels.

Lavoie isn’t showing his hand, but he does say Radient is seeing interesting results in other industrial sectors, “which suggest that the platform has greater applicability than initially anticipated.”

Chalk it up to coincidence, serendipity … or the entrepreneurial startup environment that permeates Northern Alberta.

Edmonton-based Ceapro Inc. is a biotechnology company that uses its proprietary technology to extract natural ingredients from oats and other plants, ingredients used by major players in the personal and health care industries.

Ceapro was challenged, as were most other companies in the natural extraction business, by a simple problem.  It’s very hard to dry down the water based-natural biopolymers – the active ingredient from within natural sources – to a dry form.

It often takes heat to dry, and heat tends to weaken or kill the most important ingredient Ceapro seeks to extract from its specialty oats.

“Everybody in the industry faces the same problem,” says Ceapro’s Corporate Affairs, Planning & Development Director Dr. Megan Lee. Consequently, Ceapro must currently ship all its product in liquid form – which works for its personal care and health care customers, but is a barrier for Ceapro to move into pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products – products that need to be dried or powdered to be made, for instance, into tablets, pills or supplements.

Then Ceapro recruited Dr. Bernhard Seifried, a researcher who’d just finished his PhD at the University of Alberta, working with Dr. Feral Temelli a professor of food process engineering.

And what had the two of them developed in their lab just across the North Saskatchewan River from Ceapro’s downtown Edmonton office?

A novel moderate-temperature spray-drying technique for water-soluble biopolymers such as Ceapro’s core value product, oat beta glucan, which is already well known for its cholesterol lowering properties.

Ceapro wasted no time entering into a partnership with Dr. Temelli and the University of Alberta, for its part undertaking the research necessary to cost-effectively “scale up” the spray-drying process from laboratory to industry quantities.

That work completed, opportunities now abound for Ceapro, especially as the company will be moving into new manufacturing space this summer, with the consequential opportunity to install new processing equipment using Dr. Temelli and Dr. Seifried’s “PGX Technology” to make powdered oat extract products. Products that, because they can be powdered, will attract interest from the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries.

TEC Edmonton has long supplied business expertise to Ceapro from its Business Development division.

And as the commercialization agent for University of Alberta technologies, TEC Edmonton Technology Transfer officer Darrell Petras negotiated the terms of the licensing agreement giving Ceapro the right to use PGX Technology. News of the licensing deal was considered of sufficient interest to warrant coverage in the Association of University Technology Managers weekly newsletter.

Already, multi-national food and natural drug processors have approached Ceapro with interest in sub-licensing PGX’s drying technology. It represents game-changing commercial technology, which “could also attract investments from large pharmaceutical industry players for Alberta,” added Dr. Lee.

“This partnership between Ceapro and the University of Alberta is a great example of translational research, from lab to the marketplace,” says Ceapro President and CEO Gilles Gagnon.

TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb, for his part, is thrilled to see University of Alberta technology being licensed locally … to a TEC Edmonton client to boot.

“This project exemplifies the high level of innovation happening at the University of Alberta,” says Lumb. “The agreement will create jobs and export revenue in the Edmonton region. It demonstrates the importance of local licensing as a way to develop economic diversity, and to increase linkages between universities and their communities.”

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