Drinkable Water Solutions on Thursday took home the $55,000 prize in the annual BioInnovation Challenge, which will help finance the commercialization of its consumer-friendly water-testing device.  

Halifax-based Drinkable has developed a device that is smaller than a smartphone and tests water for about a dozen common contaminants, such as lead, arsenic and uranium. CEO Matt Mizzi explained that the product’s initial application will be to help the millions of people with wells to test their water in an easy and affordable way.

He said it will be “the world’s first effortless, affordable and accurate water-testing device.”

Now in its twelfth year, the BIC pitching competition was held during BioPort Atlantic, BioNova’s annual conference for life sciences and biotech in Atlantic Canada. The finals were held in-person this year with three finalists pitching before a judging panel and audience at Pier 21 in Halifax. The other finalists were Charlottetown-based Tunistrong Technologies and Halifax’s Hollo Medical.

The BioInnovation Challenge has a history of launching some of the leading life sciences and medtech companies in the region. The eight semi-finalists from 2020, for example, raised over $1 million in funding over the following year. And in 2019, former BIC winner ABK Biomedical raised a banner US$30 million funding round.

This year’s winner, Drinkable Water, aims to produce a device that would cost about $150, and will encourage users to test their drinking water periodically, with each test requiring a $15 cartridge that fits into the device.

The company, which is working with a research team at Cape Breton University, has raised $160,000 in equity investment, and $300,000 in non-dilutive funding. Mizzi said it needs a further $390,000 in equity.

The long-term goal is to increase manufacturing enough that economies of scale will drop the production cost significantly, then use the technology to help reduce water-related illnesses in under-developed countries.

“This is about more than just wells,” said Mizzi. “Today, water-related illnesses lead to half the world’s hospitalizations and it’s heading in the wrong direction.  . . . If we want to keep civil society, we have to sort out water safety today.”

Hollo Medical

Co-Founded by CEO David Hodgson and COO Sara Fedullo, Hollo Medical has designed a delivery device for compressed gas asthma inhalers that is smaller and more portable than existing products.

The problem they are addressing is that children with respiratory illnesses often have to lug around a massive holding chamber and other attachments to use their inhalers properly. They’re cumbersome, awkward and often hard to clean. Hollo is developing a smaller, easy-to-clean “spacer” to replace the holding chamber to make life easier for these children and their families.

“Anyone can carry it conveniently,” said Hodgson, adding that the market for such a product is about US$3.3 billion in North America and US$8 billion worldwide.

Hollo plans to sell the device for about $50, and Hodgson said it can extend the life of inhalers that often cost $300 or $400. It plans to have the product in market by the end of 2023 and is targeting $1 million in sales in 2024.

The company has raised $300,000 in non-dilutive funds and is now working on a $750,000 round of equity funding.

Tunistrong Technologies

Tunistrong is a young P.E.I. company working on a process to convert an invasive species afflicting the mussel fishery into a building material.

Incorporated earlier this year, Tunistrong Technologies is developing a nano material made from tunicates — aquatic invertebrates and an invasive species — that can be added to composite materials to strengthen them.

The company came together when Ian Lucas, a retired executive with Ocean Nutrition Canada, linked up with scientist Matthew Dunlop, one of the world’s leading experts on tunicates. Tunicates have invaded ocean ecosystems, including mussel farms, around the world and fishermen spend untold hours and dollars removing them from their gear.

What Tunistrong plans to do is take tunicates from marine environments and convert them into a nanomaterial that can be used in composites, such as a zero-emission replacement for wood or concrete. The material is made up of long nanoparticles that provide exceptional strength.

The company has partnered with Prince Edward Aquafarms, one of the world’s largest mussel producers. Aquafarms has signed a long-term agreement to supply tunicates and invested in Tunistrong’s recent $1.2 million funding round. The company plans to raise a further $3 million and it is hoping to construct a pilot plant with a capacity of 25 metric tonnes per year.

Said Lucas: “We’re going to market in 2024 and we’re going to be the only company in the world offering this valuable material.”