The future of creating animal protein won’t need a drafty barn, but instead may reside in a toasty greenhouse: Forte Protein – a new startup that grows commercial animal proteins inside agricultural plants – has joined Cornell’s Center for Life Science Ventures business incubator.
The proprietary method that creates these nutrients and food ingredients has a propensity for quick growth and a sustainable, low-carbon footprint.
“We don’t use animals at all,” said microbiologist Kathleen Hefferon, Forte Protein co-founder and CEO. “Our carbon footprint is minimal. We’re not having to feed any animals and we don’t have animal waste. We are producing animal proteins with very near to zero carbon emissions.”
Rather than growing, feeding and maintaining livestock and then harvesting their protein, the company offers plant-based animal nutrients and food ingredients, ranging from the simple to the complex, grown affordably within days or weeks – and all without disturbing the environment.
“The concept of Forte Protein – this new business – remains absolutely brilliant,” said Lou Walcer, director of the Center for Life Science Ventures. “The company has figured out how to use plants to grow animal protein. It has potential to be plant-sourced material for use in feedlots, fish farms or commercial food ingredients – all without creating the need for a large amount land and all without creating methane or carbon dioxide.”
If a food company had a need for animal proteins, such as collagen, myoglobin, ovalbumin or casein, Forte Protein’s proprietary technology can grow it in plants using a technology with rapid duplication. The company can introduce the animal protein gene into a plant – such as lettuce – during a rapid-growth stage. The technology can be used for food, beverage, health and wellness, and other industrial applications. As an example, the system can produce casein – found in milk, the protein needed to make cheese – in about three days.
“In our system, the protein multiplies like crazy and then we harvest it,” Hefferon said.
Prior to the pandemic in 2019, Hefferon had joined the initial cohort of Women Entrepreneurs Cornell, known as W.E. Cornell, a program that helps women researchers develop and commercialize their own innovations into a technology-based business. She had sought to develop proteins for biofuels and create a sustainable economy, but as the pandemic progressed, she switched to developing proteins for food.
From there, Hefferon and Cornell filed for a patent, and she applied to develop her business at the Center for Life Sciences Ventures incubator. Hefferon brought on Tracy Kirkman as the chief operations officer and Deborah McConchie as chief revenue officer to develop a marketing strategy. Postdoctoral researcher Imran Kahn opened the Forte Protein laboratory in the Weill Hall incubator space in January 2023.
“There are a lot of people on the planet who are anemic, so I can see where we can help nutrient-deficient people or provide better access to high quality protein,” said Hefferon, who was a Cornell scientific researcher for more than two decades.
“I realize that my work, my ideas could help the world,” she said. “And that’s why I started this company.”
Amid war, Cornell faculty, staff support Ukrainian startups
In 2014, Charles K. Whitehead ’83, the Myron C. Taylor Alumni Professor of Business Law, was invited to lecture at a premier university in Ukraine – a country that many in the U.S., at that time, might not have been able to locate on a map.
But Whitehead found the country fascinating. As the son of a U.S. diplomat, he had visited Ukraine as a child, when it was part of the Soviet Union, and he returned in 2014 just after protesters had ousted a Russia-backed president and installed a new government.
It was a country in transition, Whitehead said.
“Ukraine was fascinating, a place where the historical dynamics were Russian, Soviet, but the people were looking to the West to develop a new economy, a new platform for business, and a new social infrastructure,” said Whitehead, who specializes in business and finance law at Cornell Law School. “I met Ukrainians all over the country who were clearly entrepreneurial and thoughtful, with new ideas and research, but what they lacked was an understanding of Western business and the ability to position themselves for investors.”
In 2019, after repeated visits to the country, including on a Fulbright grant, Whitehead founded eō Business Incubators with the help of Ukraine-born Felix Litvinsky, managing director of Cornell’s Blackstone LaunchPad, and a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Competitive Economy Program in Ukraine. With physical locations in Kyiv and Kharkiv and providing support nationwide, the incubator gives Ukrainian startup founders the skills and positioning to attract national and global investment.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic – and now the war – the incubator has supported more than 100 startups, valued collectively at close to $110 million. The teams have brought in approximately $10 million in investment and earn around $1.5 million in annual revenue. And incubator graduates have won every major Ukrainian national competition as well as numerous international contests, taking the $100,000 grand prize at the Dubai 2020 global startup competition and excelling at Web Summit (Portugal) and the Consumer Electronics Show (Las Vegas), two of the world’s largest technology conferences.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, the incubation program has expanded, pivoting back to the online format it used at the height of the pandemic.
“They’re committed,” Litvinsky said about the incubator teams. “Through thick and thin, they’re doing everything possible to grab that value, that knowledge, because they’re looking forward. The soldiers are on the front lines, and our teams are working so that when the war ends, we have a foundation, and we can rebuild.”
Building lasting relationships
The eō – Latin for “to go,” “to prepare,” “to advance” – incubation program typically spans 16 weeks and involves a six-day bootcamp covering the fundamentals of launching a startup, followed by weekly lectures, trainings and meetings with mentors, and a demo day where startups can pitch to each other, and to investors and potential partners. Teams are usually matched with two mentors, experienced entrepreneurs from all over the world – including many from Cornell – who can provide each startup with expertise tailored to their development stage and product.
Dan Matsui, Ukrainian founder of the startup CareTech Human, participated in the incubator last winter, just months before the Russian invasion. He said the program helped him clarify and describe the value of his product – an at-home device that aids in early disease detection.
“There are a lot of specifics: how people like information to be presented, how should we structure timing, how to pitch to present your value correctly,” Matsui said. “In describing our product, we can be super technical but the business presentation – that’s been our weak part.”
Matsui said the connections and mentorship have been essential and have provided specialized knowledge and contacts in the U.S., where he hopes to solicit investors and bring his device to market. He also hopes to deepen ties with Cornell; he visited the Ithaca campus in December to meet with Louis Walcer ’74, director of the Center for Life Science Ventures, for consultation on an application to Cornell’s incubator for life sciences startups.
“We’re super grateful to the United States,” Matsui said. “And my connections here are very helpful. From each meeting, we learn more about how to position a product, how to pitch it, where we can mitigate risks, and what areas to pay attention to.”
The relationships built in the incubator are meant to last, Litvinsky said. “We continue to support every single individual who went through eō,” he said. “And we have to give so much credit to the Ukrainians who are looking forward to victory and the opportunities ahead.”
Adapting to war
When the war began, Matsui, with his wife and four-month-old twins, fled Ukraine for Poland, but they returned to Kyiv in May. Aside from pauses due to blackouts, he said his team of about 10 people are working as fast and as hard as ever, while devoting time outside work to volunteer for the war effort.
Litvinsky and Whitehead spent the first days of the war frantically working from the U.S. to ensure their Ukrainian staff and teams were safe, providing information to those fleeing or in shelters and helping to procure medical supplies. Once the invasion slowed, they were able to pivot the incubation program online – they’d already made the transition once for the pandemic – and the cohort they’re working with now is the largest yet, with 32 teams initially enrolled.
Some things in the program have changed; frequent blackouts and air raids have required flexibility from the once-strict attendance policy. In online sessions, one participant keeps an AK-47 on hand in case of attack; others sometimes log in from dark rooms as they wait for electricity to be restored. Still more have left Ukraine and are logging in from different time zones. Whitehead visited Kyiv in October, when a Russian cruise missile struck just 300 meters from his hotel, and again in December during Russia’s then-largest missile attack since the start of the war.
Despite the dangers and complexities, the program’s success and flexible format have made it attractive to other countries as well. “For the same reason we’re able to pivot because of the war, we can also fairly easily move into other areas,” Whitehead said. “In Ukraine, eō’s success has shown others in the region who might think about a startup economy, and also global investors, that building this kind of ecosystem makes sense.”
Whitehead and Litvinsky have begun a program in Moldova, another nonNATO country bordering Ukraine, and have been approached by contacts in Georgia and Poland.
Back home, Whitehead used his experience developing the incubator to help design the Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship program at Cornell Tech in 2019. In 2020, he was selected by Ukraine’s Minister of Finance to serve on the supervisory board of a new national Ukrainian Startup Fund, which provides small grants to tech startups. He has also lectured across Ukraine, as well as worked with Ukrainian government officials to assist in setting up new financial and business platforms.
“Rarely do you get a chance to put into practice the things you research and lecture about,” Whitehead said. “Our work in Ukraine has given me that opportunity.”
Plans are also in the works for eō Business Incubators to launch a venture capital fund devoted to Ukraine even before the war comes to an end.
The incubation program may have even more impact in Ukraine in the years to come, Whitehead said. “It teaches a way to think differently, to build business, to connect outside of Ukraine. These were all good things before the war,” he said. “In post-war Ukraine, this will go from being valuable to becoming fundamental.”
Cornell life science incubator graduates three startups
It’s time for the real world: Three brand new robust companies – one turning carbon dioxide into jet fuel, another enabling a green hydrogen economy and a group creating next-generation microbial imaging technology – graduated Nov. 16 from Cornell’s Center for Life Science Ventures business incubator.
After spending years acquiring sound business practices through trade mentors, attending professional symposia and obtaining enough capital to weather sometimes-blustery commercial climates, Dimensional Energy, Ecolectro and Kanvas Biosciences earned a diploma from the center.
“We’ve been talking about ‘it takes a village,’ but it’s an ecosystem,” said Emmanuel P. Giannelis, vice president for research and innovation, speaking at the graduation event. “You really need to have several things that come together to give opportunity for companies to materialize out of these early-stage technologies – which [Cornell is] now pursuing a lot more aggressively – because we really believe in having an impact beyond the academy.”
Lou Walcer, the director of the center, served as the master of ceremonies. In addition to Giannelis, Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff; Tami Magnus, executive director of the Cornell Institute of Biotechnology; and Ying Yang, the center’s associate director, spoke at the event.
Since 2011, the Center for Life Science Ventures has helped create startups based upon Cornell research, and to create jobs and advance economic impact for New York state. Twelve companies have graduated so far and the center’s companies have received $73 million in raised equity investment during incubation. More than $400 million in equity has been raised by center clients during and after incubation. The center’s clients have received more than $30 million in product and services sales.
From left, Kristina Hugar, Gabriel Rodríguez-Calero, Jason Salfi, Matthew Cheng and Hao Shi proudly show their company diplomas given to them by Lou Walcer, right, director of Cornell’s Center for Life Science Ventures business incubator.
The graduation celebration focused on the companies:
Dimensional Energy turns carbon dioxide into sustainable hydrocarbon fuels with renewable energy. Last June, United Airlines agreed to purchase at least 300 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from the startup.
“When a company like ours walks into the door of an incubator like this, you know, we have dreams and people need to believe in us,” said Jason Salfi, co-founder and CEO of Dimensional Energy. “I want to thank all of you for believing in us to realize our dreams.
“To riff a little bit on [the importance of] this ecosystem thing,” Salfi said, “What allows a tree to grow and make its way around to a broader space? In our case, the world – it is roots. It is roots and they are here in Ithaca.”
Gabriel Rodríguez-Calero, M.S. ’12, Ph.D. ’14, CEO of Ecolectro, and Kristina Hugar, M.S. ’12, Ph.D. ’16, chief science officer, accepted the diploma on behalf of their company.
Ecolectro develops novel polymers designed for the energy industry and the startup’s alkaline exchange materials reduce the capital costs of hydrogen technologies, which enable businesses to have access to cost-competitive green hydrogen.
“What Cornell has done, what the center did,” Rodríguez-Calero said, “was provide all of the amazing mentors, advisors, investors and everybody who came around to the idea of making green hydrogen super cheap – so that we can move away from fossil fuels.”
Green hydrogen is the biggest market that nobody has heard about, he said. “If you eat, you use green hydrogen, because all the fertilizer in the world uses it. If you use steel … you use green hydrogen.
“When you think about disrupting industries like this, you need somebody to give you a shot,” Rodríguez-Calero said. “And I think about what the center did. This center was very important in getting this seed of an idea to start.”
Kanvas Biosciences is developing a next-generation imaging technology to revolutionize microbial research and infectious disease diagnostics. The company’s technology adds speed, breadth and flexibility by illuminating microbial life.
Matthew Cheng, the company’s chief operating officer, and Hao Shi, chief technical officer, accepted the diploma.
Cheng said that he was appreciative of the center’s mentorship. “It’s admittedly bittersweet to graduate today, because we wouldn’t have a successful company without the support of this incredible team.
Cornell startups get $3M from NYS to impede disease outbreak
Two Cornell startup companies – Halomine, Inc. and Inso Biosciences, Inc. – have received nearly $3 million in New York state grants to thwart future outbreaks of infectious disease, including COVID-19 and its variants, and to help fortify the state’s expanding life science industries.
In total, 18 grants for companies and educational institutions were awarded $15.3 million from the New York State Biodefense Commercialization Fund, via the Empire State Development agency.
The state’s biodefense program – which grew out of the pandemic – was created to accelerate the development and commercialization of life science innovations that tackle infectious disease threats.
“New York state was hit first and hit hardest by COVID-19, and even as New York continues its progress in combating this virus and building back stronger,” said New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. “We’re taking measures to ensure we’re prepared for the future.”
Laboratory sample prep is labor intensive, slow and prone to error, said Harvey Tian, Ph.D. ’17, the CEO and co-founder of Inso Biosciences. The biotechnology startup has developed an engineered microfluidic system, consisting of a benchtop instrument and consumable “chip” cartridges – roughly the size of the microscope slide – that can rapidly process samples to improve the sequencing sensitivity of novel infectious diseases.
The method provides a way to automate the handling of biological samples while maintaining precision, minimizing the use of manual pipettes and eliminate the need for more complex biochemical assays.
“What used to take hours in a laboratory, now can take minutes,” Tian said. “We’ve greatly accelerated the step in removing human material, which is critical in biodefense applications such as the sequencing and identification of novel infectious agents.”
This fall, Inso Biosciences will use the state funding to begin their product’s prototype development, as the company prepares to pursue and collaborate with potential partners in validation studies.
In addition to Tian, the Inso Biosciences co-founders are Adam Bisogni ’08, Ph.D. ’17, co-founder and chief scientific officer; and Professor Emeritus Harold Craighead, co-founder and scientific advisor, who is a veteran of technology commercialization with his co-founding of Pacific Biosciences (NASDAQ: PACB), a previous Cornell startup from his research group.
Halomine’s antimicrobial coating technology helps to maintain germ-free surfaces – such as stair rails, escalator handrails, food product conveyors and food preparation tables – by extending the life of chlorine-based disinfectants by days and weeks.
Normally, a chlorine disinfectant lasts up to 15 minutes, but the group’s main product, HaloFilm, is a spray-on, nontoxic chlorine extender that leaves a protective film, according to Ted Eveleth, MBA ‘90, the CEO of Halomine.
With the state grant, the company hopes to develop a new product, HaloAdd – an antimicrobial plastics additive – to create commercial food processing tools and medical devices such as catheters and ultrasound wands.
“Ideally, you want to make these plastic products embedded with antimicrobial properties,” Eveleth said, “but there are limited ways to do that. We think we have found the way.”
Pending regulatory approval, the product HaloFilm is nearly ready for commercialization, but the new HaloAdd has been proven-in-concept in the laboratory and the company looks to optimize the research, according to Eveleth.
In addition to Eveleth, Halomine officials are co-founder Mingyu Qiao, chief technical officer; and co-founder Minglin Ma, Cornell associate professor, biological and environmental engineering.
As the pandemic pomp and COVID circumstances dissipate, Cornell’s business incubators officially graduated five startup companies – formally known as the Class of 2021 – on June 7 and helped to put them on the fleet highway to success.
“Having incubators on campus is an important element of our innovation ecosystem. They take university discoveries and get them to have impact by turning them into products and by turning them into services from which society can benefit,” said Emmanuel Giannelis, vice president for research and innovation, in his keynote at the graduation ceremony.
Founded in 2008, the McGovern Center incubates Cornell life science startups, while the Praxis Center – which began in 2019 – focuses on developing and strengthening business plans for young engineering companies.
“Our incubators find ways to take these nascent technologies and early discoveries,” Giannelis said, “and nurture them through that very difficult path – which requires also the determination of entrepreneurs.
“I’m a passionate believer about the importance of Cornell not only being a top research university, but also to be a top innovation university,” he said, “since innovation is basically the other side of the same coin.”
The McGovern Center and the Praxis Center will graduate their Class of 2022 later this fall.
The 2021 graduating companies are:
Ava Labs, Inc. joined the Praxis Center in November 2019. Ava Labs is a blockchain platform developer that reduces the financial expenses related to deploying capital. Its blockchain provides higher transaction speed and simplifies trading of assets compared to older blockchain technology.
The company was founded by Emin Gün Sirer, CEO, a former Cornell associate professor of computer science, while founder Maofan “Ted” Yin, M.S. ’19, Ph.D ’21, is chief protocol architect; founder Kevin Sekniqi, M.S. ’18, is chief operating officer; and John Wu ’92 is the company president. Ava Labs products are based on research co-authored with Robbert van Renesse, professor of computer science in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.
Carrianne Fairbairn, executive assistant, accepted the certificate.
Exotanium, graduating from Praxis, develops cloud-resource optimization that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help other companies reduce spending – by as much as 90% – in the cloud.
Hakim Weatherspoon, professor of computer science (Bowers CIS), is the company CEO. He founded the company in 2018 with fellow Cornell researchers Zhiming Shen, Ph.D. ’17, the chief technology officer, and van Renesse, chief scientist.
Halomine develops novel disinfectant products that increase the longevity of chlorine-based disinfectants. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the company received Cornell’s permission to conduct research in the McGovern Center labs in Weill Hall to find ways to help alleviate pandemic-related problems.
The technology grew from collaboration between Minglin Ma, associate professor of biological and environmental engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and former postdoctoral researcher Mingyu Qiao.
In 2019, the researchers partnered with Ted Eveleth, MBA ’90, to launch Halomine. The company is graduating from Praxis. Qiao now serves as the company’s chief science officer.
Sonder Research X, a biotechnology company in the McGovern Center, develops therapeutics for the detection, monitoring and treatment of eye disease and cancer. The company is now held by Aufbau Medical Innovations.
Sonder uses biological ways to efficiently deliver recombinant proteins into the sensory tissue of the eye and the retina.
The technology was developed by John T.G. Pena, M.D. ’11, former assistant professor of ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medicine and principal investigator at Dyson Vision Research Institute.
Zymtronix is a company that stabilizes proteins for a variety of industries. When the company joined the McGovern Center in 2014, it stabilized enzymes and aimed to clean up toxic water leftover from fracking. Today the company, led by Stéphane Corgié, CEO and chief technical officer, develops proteins for the food, flavor and fragrance industries – where precision enzymes are needed.
Startups flourish in Cornell’s clean energy ecosystem
When Kristina Hugar was working on her Ph.D. at Cornell, she wasn’t just doing science for science’s sake.
“I care very deeply about the environment and climate change, and I wanted to figure out a way to focus my career and life on addressing the defining crisis of our time,” said Hugar, M.S. ’12, Ph.D. ’16, whose dissertation research improved alkaline exchange membrane materials to make alternative energy sources more effective.
She, like scores of other clean energy entrepreneurs, have found at Cornell an innovative, powerful ecosystem that supports the transition to a sustainable and decarbonized economy.
It was Cornell’s clean energy ecosystem that made Hugar’s vision a reality. As she was completing her Ph.D. in 2015, a Cornell colleague – Gabriel Rodríguez-Calero, M.S. ’12, Ph.D. ’14 – proposed they collaborate to commercialize her research. In June 2015, they founded Ecolectro to create a cleaner, cheaper and more scalable green hydrogen – a crucial step in achieving a decarbonized economy, Rodríguez-Calero said. “Hydrogen is a $150 billion market. Most people don’t realize that it’s used in the production of everything from fertilizer to peanut butter.”
The strong foundation startups have found in Cornell’s clean energy ecosystem has helped them attract significant outside funding.
Dimensional Energy, co-founded by two Cornell faculty members and alumni, won $3.1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) earlier this year – part of $7 million in federal grants awarded to Cornell researchers and startups to advance novel clean energy research. And in the agriculture sector, Capro-X, which upcycles dairy waste, has received $100,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and $1.374 million in National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research grants.
“McGovern provided us with the kind of collegial environment you would associate with being a part of a much larger company and exposure to vital connections,” Rodríguez-Calero said. “And participation in 76West gave us the opportunity to communicate the potential impact of green hydrogen to a larger audience.”
New resources for clean energy
Cornell’s clean energy ecosystem includes new programs designed to support entrepreneurs working toward climate solutions.
The 2030 Project: A Cornell Climate Initiative, launching this year and housed in the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, will harness Cornell’s strengths in collaborative scholarship and entrepreneurship and aims to mobilize investors and collaborators to accelerate the development of large-scale climate change solutions.
“With the 2030 Project, we aspire to translate transdisciplinary research and expertise across Cornell into solutions and actions for a safer, healthier, decarbonized world,” said Benjamin Z. Houlton, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a co-chair of the initiative. “As we respond to urgent climate challenges, entrepreneurs and innovators working on clean technologies and carbon dioxide removal are essential partners in our efforts to demonstrate and scale breakthrough solutions, with a focus on inclusive pathways for a better, brighter future.”
And in 2021, the College of Engineering hired David Putnam, its first associate dean for innovation and entrepreneurship.
“Our aspiration is to be the first college of engineering that consistently comes to mind when people talk about who does entrepreneurship right, including in the clean technology space,” said Lynden Archer, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering. “Our faculty are involved in a range of groundbreaking initiatives, including researching wireless charging for electric vehicles, developing cost-effective batteries that use earth-abundant materials like aluminum and zinc, and pioneering photocatalytic processes that convert carbon dioxide emissions from power plants into a low-carbon, synthetic jet fuel.”
Offering support to emerge from the lab
In 2016, two Cornell engineering professors each applied separately for funding from NEXUS-NY, a clean energy business accelerator funded by NYSERDA. NEXUS-NY recognized the similarity of their ideas and introduced them.
From there, the professors – David Erickson, the S.C. Thomas Sze Director of the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Tobias Hanrath, the Marjorie L. Hart ’50 Professor in Engineering in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering – co-founded Dimensional Energy with NEXUS-NY mentor Jason Salfi ’92.
Dimensional Energy uses its innovative reactor, based on Cornell research, to harness sunlight and hydrogen produced through electrolysis to transform captured carbon dioxide into energy-dense synthetic gas. This “syngas” can be converted into products typically reliant on fossil fuels. The startup’s first offering is a low-carbon and high-performing jet fuel.
As Dimensional Energy gained traction and hit technical milestones, Cornell offered the support it needed to emerge from the lab, says Salfi, CEO and co-founder. “McGovern provided space on campus to do catalyst research and safely test our reactor, allowing us to accelerate our growth and ability to pilot our tech in the field – a pilot funded by a seed round largely filled in by our extended Cornell family,” he said. “Having coworking space at Rev that is networked nationally signals Ithaca and Tompkins County’s commitment to building a vibrant startup community.” The startup also received valuable support from the Academic Venture Fund through Cornell Atkinson.
That strong foundation has attracted strong funding opportunities. Dimensional Energy has received over $6 million in grants from the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and Solar Energy Technologies Office, closed a $3 million seed round and competed as a finalist in the $20 million Carbon X Prize competition. The startup plans to use its most recent $3.1 million in funding from ARPA-E to 3D-print ceramic components for its reactors that can run on low-carbon electricity sources.
Meanwhile, Capro-X, co-founded by Juan Guzman, M.S. ’14, Ph.D. ’17, and Largus T. Angenent, a former Cornell associate professor, is working toward elevating sustainability in the dairy industry by upcycling a byproduct of Greek yogurt.
Capro-X’s fermentation technology is based on research conducted in Angenent’s Cornell laboratory. WheyAway, the startup’s biotech solution, uses naturally occurring nonGMO microbes to turn the waste into clean water and environmentally friendly chemicals used in consumer products.
Each cup of Greek yogurt produces three cups of acid whey waste that needs to be trucked – increasing greenhouse gas emissions – to other farms for feed and fertilizer or wastewater treatment plants for processing. New York is the largest producer of yogurt in the country, and its producers create 300,000 gallons of acid whey waste daily.
The company projects that by treating just 10% of the acid whey waste produced in New York, it can yield 500,000 gallons of environmentally friendly chemicals annually and prevent 10,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions caused by trucking the waste to other sites. Capro-X won a $250,000 prize in the 2019 Grow-NY food and agriculture competition, administered by Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement.
“Looking back, the opportunities and experiences that I was afforded as a student gave me a strong foundation to build a science-based startup from scratch,” said Guzman, CEO. “Cornell’s entrepreneurship ecosystem really makes this area ideal for growing a new company.”
The company is now fundraising to continue growing its team with the goal of marketing their green chemicals later this year, and installing its first commercial system in 2024.
Ecolectro’s new funding will advance the commercialization of its next-generation technology, which eliminates the need for the rare metals found in today’s fuel cells and electrolyzers, making green hydrogen production cheaper and reducing reliance on rare metals.
Its technology illustrates the power of Cornell’s clean energy ecosystem. The tech grew out of collaborative research in the College of Arts and Sciences in the laboratories of Héctor D. Abruña, the Emile M. Chamot Professor of Chemistry, and Geoffrey W. Coates, the Tisch University Professor of Chemistry, with whom Hugar completed her graduate research. Both professors are scientific advisors to Ecolectro – Coates is also a scientific co-founder – and Cornell Atkinson fellows; their laboratories are part of Cornell’s Center for Alkaline Based Energy Systems.
“I am a big believer in the power of Cornell’s networks,” said Rodríguez-Calero. “We have leveraged these to find investors, development partners and employees, many of whom attended or are affiliated with Cornell.”
Ag genetics startup Meiogenix joins the Center for Life Science Ventures
Meiogenix, a next-generation technology startup that helps agricultural crops – through chromosome editing – find their own genetic solutions, has joined Cornell’s Center for Life Science Ventures business incubator.
The company aims to help plant breeders increase the speed and precision by helping crops boost yield, repel pests, thwart disease and strengthen quality traits. The new home in the McGovern Center will provide a U.S. base for the company, which is headquartered in France.
“We are speeding up nature’s work,” said Luc Mathis, CEO of Meiogenix. “Agriculture must adjust to climate change and move away from adding chemicals to fields. In the case of what we do, there is no foreign DNA in the final products, and even no mutation – it’s completely natural.”
Joining Mathis at the company is Gagan Sidhu, Ph.D. ‘11, who leads the genomics and traits group at Meiogenix. It was her Cornell doctoral research on cell biology and recombination in maize that earned the attention of Meiogenix scientists.
In the mid-19th century, Gregor Mendel experimented with peas to find desirable characteristics by “crossing” them – a biological tool that was in use for almost 200 years. Then, over the last two decades, genetic engineering technology shortened Mendel’s process.
Now, Meiogenix focuses on the molecular and recombination process. Rather than manipulate individual genes, it allows the meiosis – a cellular reproduction process – to rapidly guide superior traits.
“Plants already have the genes to solve the problems,” said Wojtek Pawlowski, professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who is a research adviser to Meiogenix. “They just need help accessing them.”
While gene editing techniques like CRISPR focus on small changes by editing DNA in a gene, Meiogenix uses chromosome editing to enable targeted breeding for complex traits like yield, disease tolerance, health and quality.
“We want to help bring sustainable, diverse and economically viable healthy food to the market with this new style of plant breeding,” Mathis said.
In early 2020, Meiogenix began working with Bayer, the crop science giant, to develop plant breeding and genome editing technologies. Around the same time, the company partnered with Cornell to improve maize. As the company joins the McGovern Center, they will focus on advancing tomatoes and other field crops.
“Meiogenix’ technology has the potential to achieve the same – or better – fast plant improvements that can be produced by genetic engineering, without the genetic engineering. Using natural meiotic processes, they’ll be able to help feed the future world,” said Lou Walcer, director of the McGovern Center. “We are thrilled to have them here at Cornell.”
The European unit of Meiogenix is focused on basic research, collaborating with academic groups at CIRAD, the Curie Institute and Hamburg University. The Meiogenix U.S. operation – based at the McGovern Center incubator, which will give the company access to Cornell academic and research resources – will focus on commercial development.
With its new patents and strong investor support, the company starts fresh.
“For Meiogenix, it’s a restart,” he said. “Which is why we joined the Cornell campus. McGovern is a life sciences incubator within the world’s top agricultural university. We are getting access to a unique network and it is the perfect environment for us. It also builds trust with our partners.”