Two McGovern Center startups graduate from incubator

With a pinch of pomp and circumstance, Cornell’s McGovern Center life sciences business incubator recently graduated two companies – Bactana Corp. and Conamix.

“Entrepreneurship is a part of Cornell’s founding mission as New York state’s land-grant university – [where researchers can] discover and disseminate knowledge for the benefit of people across the state and beyond,” Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff said Sept. 24 at the McGovern graduation ceremony.

Conamix’s Charles Hamilton speaks about his company at the McGovern Center’s graduation.

“With the aid of venture development and incubation, entrepreneurs are putting research and inventions to good use,” Kotlikoff said. “Conamix and Bactana were both selected by the McGovern Center for the excellence of the science behind their products, their potential for commercial success and the potential benefits to society.”

Bactana, steeped in Cornell veterinary research, is developing products for companion animals to improve digestive health and for livestock to increase feed efficiency and weight gain while reducing morbidity and mortality. The company originally explored the benefits of their naturally occurring bacterium by introducing them into livestock to stave off disease and promote healthy growth.

For decades, antibiotics have been used liberally to promote growth and prevent disease in livestock throughout the United States and around the world.

Rodrigo Bicalho, Ph.D. ’08, associate professor of dairy production medicine in the College of Veterinary Medicine and chief scientific officer at Bactana, said that because loading livestock with antibiotics contributes significantly to human antibiotic resistance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration implemented the Veterinary Feed Directive, created by the Animal Drug Availability Act of 1996. This bans antibiotics from being administered to livestock as a precaution.

John Kallassy, MBA ’03, Bactana’s chief executive officer, said as livestock producers seek new and cost-effective alternatives, Bactana’s breakthrough technology is ripe to fulfill this emerging demand.

In his remarks at the graduation ceremony, Kallassy said: “It takes a village to create a successful company. And if the McGovern Center was our village, Lou Walcer (director of the McGovern Center) is the mayor and he helped make important connections and navigate resources in and outside the Cornell community.”

Conamix produces advanced materials for rechargeable batteries – materials that can yield 30% to 50% more energy than current batteries. The company was founded by Charles Hamilton ’95, chief executive officer; Bart Riley, Ph.D. ’90, chief technical officer; and Tobias Hanrath, professor in Cornell’s Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and it runs in part on technology developed by Hector Abruña, the Emile M. Chamot Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

“Conamix simply wouldn’t exist in its current form without the partnership and support of Cornell and the McGovern Center every step of the way,” said Hamilton. “In fact, our very first funding was from the Cornell Technology Advancement and Maturation award.”

Conamix has garnered a $10 million investment from Volta Energy Technology Partners, Hegemon Capital, and from New York state’s Innovation Venture Capital Fund.