Halifax- and Ontario-based GreenSage Prebiotics has been accepted into Charlottetown’s Emergence virtual incubator for life sciences companies and is raising a $700,000 angel round as it prepares to commercialize its fish food supplement in early 2024.
Founded by life sciences startup veterans Brad and Sandra Saville, GreenSage is developing a prebiotic — a substance that acts as a source of nutrients for the bacteria in an organism’s digestive tract — meant to increase the resistance of fish in aquaculture facilities to disease.
The prebiotic is extracted with the help of an enzyme from coconut flesh that has already been used for other applications, such as making coconut milk.
“(The coconut) is used. It’s been harvested, and all that’s left is the pressed, white flesh,” said COO Michael Berry in an interview. “And then we take that and break it down and create a new, high-value product.”
Operated by industry group the PEI BioAlliance, Emergence offers its resident companies both curriculum-based training and one-on-one mentorship, including business strategy advice and introductions to facilitate networking. Rather than offering cohort-based programming, it customarily works with companies over periods of years.
The strain of prebiotic used by GreenSage is called Mannan-oligosaccharide and has been in commercial use for about 20 years. Usually, though, it is extracted from yeast cells and tends to have low purity levels of around 40 percent. GreenSage says its process is novel because it extracts additional value from food waste and offers far higher purity levels at close to 100 percent.
Berry said GreenSage plans to target salmon and shrimp farms as its beachhead markets, with human applications coming later. In aquaculture, GreenSage’s main use case is to increase fishes' resistance to Piscirickettsia salmonis, or P. salmonis, a bacteria that commonly infects farmed fish.
Publicly available data about the prevalence of P. salmonis in aquaculture globally is thin on the ground. But in Chile, where the industry has been the subject of significant academic research, between 82 percent and 90 percent of all antibiotics used by fish farms are deployed with the aim of treating P. salmonis infections.
GreenSage plans to begin selling its product to shrimp farms in Ecuador in the first or second quarter of 2024, with the Chilean and Canadian markets coming the following year after Berry’s team has had additional time to navigate those more complex regulatory landscapes.
“Everybody down there (in Ecuador) is looking for the magical bean that improves survivability, because you're seeing in shrimp anywhere from 40 to 60 percent early mortality,” said Berry.
“If you improve survivability, you improve efficiency, you’re not wasting feed and the shrimp farmer has more product at the end of the harvest to sell.”
Initially, GreenSage’s manufacturing will be located in Cape Breton’s Verschuren Centre — a life sciences incubation facility with hard-to-find industrial fermentation equipment of the type needed for prebiotic production.
Then, in 2025, Berry expects GreenSage to open its own production facility in Atlantic Canada — probably Cape Breton — roughly concurrent with its Canadian product launch.
“Our work with the Verschuren Centre will … help with the knowledge transfer as we build our own facility,” said Berry. “If they’re completely familiar with our process and we were to build a facility right beside theirs, it does make sense.”
The GreenSage prebiotics are designed to be mixed with fish feed. Initially, they will be sold directly to fish farmers, but Berry said the team could also partner with major feed producers, citing Minneapolis agricultural services giant Cargill as one possible example.
So far, GreenSage has four full-time employees. And Berry plans to hire more with the help of the in-progress $700,000 angel capital raise, which he also expects to leverage for additional non-dilutive funding from public sector players.