Innovacorp has scoured the globe for the best cleantech startup anywhere and found it was located in its own back yard -- in a Dalhousie University lab.

Halifax-based SABRTech Inc. has won the $300,000 first prize in Cleantech Open, a competition open to green technology companies from around the world as long as they agree to establish their business in Nova Scotia.

SABRTech, formerly known as Marine Arctic and Antarctic Technologies, is developing a system to reduce the cost of developing biofuel from algae. Headed by Dalhousie PhD candidate Mather Carscallen, the company is pioneering a bio-reactor that can produce algae more cheaply and dependably that other methods. Scientists can now extract fuel from algae through three types of systems: bio-reactors, raceways or open ponds. Bio-reactors have the greatest quality control of the three, but they're also the most expensive to operate. What Carscallen has done is use natural sunlight for the bio-reactor and reduce the amount of water needed, thereby lowering the cost while surrendering none of the quality control.

The excellence of the proposal posed a quandary for Innovacorp. The organizers were surprised that they held an international competition only to find that the strongest candidate was a hometown entrant. The matter was decided when one of the external judges, Matthew Nordan of the venture capital firm Venrock of Boston, backed Carscallen. He told the others that he views hundreds of pitches each year and he just waits for an entrepreneur of Carscallen's calibre to walk through the door.

"There are a couple [of entrants] that would have been good safe options," said Thomas Rankin, the Innovacorp investment manager who organized the competition. "But when we got down to it and we looked at the people and who had the greatest potential, this was the one."

Carscallen has now won a $100,000 cash prize, which must be used to develop his business, and a $200,000 seed investment from Innovacorp.

According to his linkedin page, Carscallen expects to get his PhD in 2014, and his research has focused on the potential effects of disturbances (such as global warming, pollution, ice loss, etc) on species levels in police marine food webs. In August 2010, he formed Marine Arctic and Antarctic Technologies, which aimed to develop technologies that would reduce the human impact on arctic ecosystems. Previously, he served as an algal cultivation technician with the National Research Council.