Lisa Pfister, centre, with Calvin Milbury and NBIF Chair CathySimpson

Lisa Pfister, centre, with Calvin Milbury and NBIF Chair CathySimpson

Pfera, which is developing technology that can accurately predict when a pregnant horse will give birth, has captured the $375,000 first prize in the New Brunswick Innovation Agency’s Breakthru competition.

Pfera CEO Lisa Pfister claimed the award in an exceptionally strong field in the six-month competition. While four winning companies last night shared more than $1 million in cash and in-kind services, Foundation CEO Calvin Milbury said his organization plans to back all seven finalists in the contest.

“We were blown away by the ideas they presented,” Milbury told the Breakthru Gala in Fredericton. “We loved their passion. We loved their traction. We all agreed it was the best group of contestants we have ever seen. … All seven finalists will be working with NBIF.”

The panel of judges awarded two runner-up prizes worth $176,000 each: One to WEnTech, which has produced software that helps engineers select a method of converting waste to energy; and the other to SomaDetect, whose technology helps dairy farmers detect diseases in their herds quickly and inexpensively.

For the first time this year, NBIF also had a national competition, which offered $301,000 to companies from anywhere in Canada that agreed to develop their business in New Brunswick. The winner was Newpy of Prince Edward Island, which has developed an app for posting photos of products that are hidden inside digital packaging.

Quber, whose mobile app helps people to save money, claimed the People’s Choice award, which mean its team will fly to Toronto to pitch to CBC’s Dragons’ Den.

The big winner was Pfera, which addresses a huge problem in the equine industries. Horses require constant monitoring when they are about to give birth, and estimates of when mares are due can vary by several weeks.

What Pfera does is check the chemistry of fluid drawn from a pregnant horse, and predict fairly accurately when she is due to give birth. The system is now accurate to within 24-48 hours, and Pfister hopes to refine it further, to a 12-hour span. An accurate prediction of when a horse will give birth can save an owner tens of thousands of dollars. Even more important to a horse-lover like Pfister, it can make the birthing process more comfortable and safer for the mare and her offspring.

“I’m extremely humbled and shocked and now it’s time to get to work,” said Pfister after the win. “This will definitely help us build out the team.”

The next stage in the company’s development is to undergo a pilot project this year with three farms in P.E.I., who together have 11 pregnant mares, one of which is Pfister’s.

One interesting note is that Pfera emerged from the Technology, Management and Entrepreneurship program at the engineering school of University of New Brunswick. The TME program also produced the other recent Breakthru winners, including Castaway Golf in 2015 and TotalPave in 2013.

The national competition winner, Newpy, helps brands to promote their products on social media. Founded by sisters Erin and Alana O'Halloran, Newpy lets people post photos of something they’ve purchased and present it inside a digital wrapper. Working  with brands, which pay Newpy for the service, it provides users with a high-quality photo of what they bought and the ability to share the wrapped image on Newpy and Instagram. The company is now in a pilot project with three brands.

A complete list of the seven finalists in this year’s Breakthru competition is available here.