Promoting Canadian agri-technology to the world

Since 2002, Guelph, Ont.-based Bioentreprise has been shining the limelight on Canadian companies developing innovative products and process by bringing them to investors and, subsequently, to market.

“Our objective is to search in Canada for new innovations that would have global applicability, innovations that could raise the profile of Canadian agriculture on the global stage,” says Bioentreprise President Dave Smardon.

“The longterm objective is to get Canada more focused on high-value agricultural products and steer us away from commodities (where global competition is high), to seek out these innovations, get them to the marketplace, and to contribute to a growing and sustainable agricultural sector for Canada.”

To understand the work done by Bioenterprise is to understand the limitless potential of agricultural technology, which can be defined as two distinct areas: technology derived from agriculture and technology derived for agriculture.

The former uses technology founded in agriculture such as crop science or, more frequently, the use of agricultural products like oils, fibres and enzymes in the application of neutraceuticals, cosmetics, natural health products and bio-oils for plastics and fuels.

The latter pertains to finding technology to apply to modified seed types, seed coatings, natural pesticides and herbicides, etc.

“Agriculture is no longer just what makes it to the kitchen table,” says Smardon. “It is now going to be used in fighting cancer and other diseases, what is used to fuel your car as well as what you have in your home. What that means is the size of the marketplace available to whoever is making that product has increased a thousandfold.”

Since its inception, Bioenterprise has seen 500 companies whose work in agri-technology is contributing to the global acceleration of the science. Of those, Bioenterprise has worked very closely with about 12 companies a year, connecting them to investor rounds, offering a mentorship program, assisting with patents, financing, regulatory issues, and everything else it takes to get a startup off and running, leaving the company with the ability to concentrate on developing its product.

With many years of experience in executive roles with some of the biggest corporations in the U.S. (notably with Apple Computers), and having started up three businesses, Smardon is uniquely qualified to help guide these companies.

“We call ourselves a business accelerator and commercialization agent,” he says. “When we identify an opportunity we do an assessment to determine how unique it is in the world, is there a global interest, and whether it could be a real winner for Canada? If it passed various tests, we then identify the top half a dozen to a dozen things that this company must do to be successful and we bring in a team and we start doing those things. We work hand in glove with the management team, put our own support team in place, and one by one knock off these things so the company can be successful. The end game is to make sure the company has its product or technology in the marketplace being sold in Canada and outside.”

Bioenterprise allows companies access to its “vibrant, active network of over 900 investment groups, and 65 former executives who act as coaches and mentors for these businesses,” and connections to most of the biggest corporations — all very interested in the latest innovation in green and bio technology — such as General Motors, Dow Chemical Company, Syngenta etc. 

“We have developed tools and disciplines that are invaluable when working with early stage companies,” says Smardon. “This is, in some ways, a way to give back to the entrepreneurial community.”