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Ag Biotech Showcase: There's money in manure, pet meds


May, 12 2017, 7:29 AM

​The possible investments stretched from sunflower rubber to poultry vaccines to crop boosters to pet meds.

A dozen ag biotech startups pitched their wares this week to a receptive crowd at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s 2017 Ag Biotech Entrepreneurial Showcase at the Cotton Room in iconic downtown Durham.

The presenters included five from North Carolina and others from Norway, Switzerland, Florida, California, Kansas, and Missouri. Hundreds converged on this event in the Triangle of North Carolina, affirming the global recognition that NCBiotech has successfully established partnerships and outreach to plunk North Carolina into the position of the premier magnet for cutting-edge agricultural technologies.

These young companies were vying for the interest of investors. That was evident. And the lure also included a cash prize of $10,000 and $3,500 in legal and financial advice. Event sponsors Smith Anderson, the Raleigh-based law firm, and Triangle accounting firm Hughes Pittman Gupton, provided those in-kind services.

The second-place winner stood to reap $2,500 in cash. NCBiotech announced the winners at the close of the two-day program. This year, neither of the top vote-getters was headquartered in North Carolina. And that's part of the ironic beauty of the event. NCBiotech is committed to the idea that ag tech genius lifts all boats. In the relatively nascent world of agricultural technology recognition, NCBiotech earns its stripes by welcoming all game-changers to experience this North Carolina "magnet."

PrairieChar, a Kansas company developing a system to convert animal manure into useful products, won this year's top prize.

Integrated Animal Health, also based in Kansas, which finds and commercializes medicines and foods for pets and farm animals, won the $2,500 second prize.

NC startups weigh in

Applied Life Sciences & Systems, of Raleigh, was the first of the N.C. startups to present. It's developing a poultry vaccine that the company says can deliver 99 percent protection against many chicken diseases while greatly reducing the use of antibiotics.

Current methods of vaccination are “all poor,” explained ALS-S CEO and Founder Ramin Karimpour.

Poultry production is a $200 billion industry and a major one in North Carolina. In response to the growing demand for antibiotic-free poultry and restrictions on antibiotic use, poultry producers are transitioning away from mass application of antibiotics. This is resulting in significant productivity losses.

Diseased chickens do not gain weight, leading to a poor feed conversion ratio, the number one metric in the industry. “Disease control is the industry’s greatest challenge,” Karimpour said.

The ALS-S solution detects, targets and delivers vaccines to each chick, ensuring effective vaccination. This boosts the natural immune response to diseases, improves overall flock health, provides for a cleaner, healthier chick, and safer meat quality.

Return on investment for effectively controlling one of the most common poultry diseases could save a hatchery.

The company received a Phase I National Science Foundation grant of $225,000 in December last year and expects to apply for a Phase II grant by the end of this year. Karimpour said the company sees a path to breaking even by 2027. It is seeking one or two professional investors.

Edison Agrosciences, of Research Triangle Park and Creve Coeur, Mo., is developing a technology to make natural rubber from sunflowers.

In the early part of the 20th century, carmaker Henry Ford asked inventor Thomas Edison to come up with alternative sources for natural rubber. He found more than 2,000 species of plants that make rubber naturally.

Natural rubber production is a $50 billion market, but current methods of producing natural rubber are becoming environmentally and economically unsustainable. Edison CEO Thomas Christensen explained that while there is currently a surplus of natural rubber on the market, within three to six years there will be a steep falloff into deficit territory.

He said the sunflower is an annual crop grown on 1.56 million acres in the U.S. It is especially attractive for development as a natural rubber producer because of its short growing season, relatively low water requirements and tolerance to stresses induced by both high and low temperatures.

Also, Chistensen said, “Farmers know how to grow it and it adapts to a wide range of climates, is capable of rapid genetic improvement, is drought tolerant and can grow on crappy land.”

The company is currently seeking an $800,000 seed round to transform plants into higher producers of natural rubber. It expects to close a $3 million round this summer and hopes to raise $4.5 million in 2018. The company plans a large pilot run in the field this year in Nevada.

Other North Carolina companies pitching at the 2017 event included:

(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center