Reazent, an agtech company that has moved to Nova Scotia under the Startup Visa program, has been accepted into the IndieBio accelerator in Silicon Valley.
Startups in the prestigious accelerator receive a US$250,000 (C$350,000) equity investment, which will provide initial development capital for its bio-stimulants – organic fertilizers and pesticides that protect plants against disease and increase plant yield per acre.
It plans to use the money to conduct trials for the prototype at the Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment at Cape Breton University later this year. The goal is to position the products for larger-scale trials.
“We have done what you would call proof-of-concept work and we have demonstrated the technology in the lab, as well as demonstrating it in actual greenhouse farms,” said Founder and CEO Sumit Verma in a phone interview from Mumbai.
“We are testing the efficacy of our product … and we want to develop our technology for the future. At CBU we are doing exactly that.”
Verma has spent his career in the chemical industry and has worked around the world – mainly in his native India but also in the U.S. and Africa. His recent work included marketing and innovation in a large company, so he spent a lot of time meeting the chemical company’s clients, and talking to them about their problems.
“One of the themes that kept coming up was the need for an organic replacement of synthetic chemicals, and it was across the market, in agriculture and cosmetics,” he said. “In all those markets, sustainability was the big unmet need. I found there are very few good solutions for that need.”
Verma began working with scientists to develop fertilizers and pesticides using natural ingredients, with the goal of selling them in Canada and the U.S. Working with two academic advisers at U.S. universities, he began to consider where to base the company and settled on Halifax.
Innovacorp, the Nova Scotia government’s early-stage venture capital agency, became a sponsor for Reazent in the federal government’s Startup Visa program. It allows foreign entrepreneurs to move to Canada in the hope that they will develop their businesses in the same province as their sponsor.
Innovacorp has been working with Verma, introducing him to the Verschuren Centre and helping him to plot a path to market.
“Reazent’s technology is very attractive as it improves growth, yield, and stress resistance in plants for a wide range of fungal diseases such as bacterial soft rot, phytophthora blight, [and] anthracnose in leafy fruits and vegetables,” said Paul Richards, Innovacorp's AgTech Sector Lead.
At present, Verma is stuck in India, which is preventing outbound travel due to the COVID-19 lockdown. He has begun to attend the IndieBio program through online curriculum, and said he’s already benefitting from the program and the other entrepreneurs going through the accelerator. (Reazent is actually the second Atlantic Canadian company to attend IndieBio, as Fredericton-based Chinova Bioworks went through the program in 2016.)
Once he returns to Halifax, Verma wants to begin the trials at CBU and work toward gaining regulatory approval. The products will have to be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. and the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency. He hopes to have a product on the market within 18 months.
As the interview wrapped up, Verma wanted to stress how important the support from Innovacorp was for his company.
“Things changed for our startup when we connected with Innovacorp because they understand early-stage startups,” said Verma. “When we met them, we just had a dream. . . . “Once you have some support from this sort of organization, things start falling into place. I think our selection into Innovacorp was one big milestone for us, and the other was the acceptance into IndieBio.”
Disclosure: Innovacorp is a client of Entrevestor.