The juice industry faces a significant problem as it relates to shelf life and spoilage. Beverage companies are losing money on spoiled product, and many of these juices are highly priced.
New Brunswick’s Chinova Bioworks is developing a natural, safe, and effective antimicrobial agent to help solve this particular pain point. The company uses various formulations of a biopolymer called chitosan to target specific spoilage microorganisms within juice to enhance the beverage’s shelf life.
CEO Natasha Dhayagude says that while Chinova is starting with the beverage sector, the technology will be applicable to a range of industries including cosmetics and medicine.
Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke to Dhayagude on the eve of her recent Startup Canada Young Entrepreneur Award win.
ONB: Chinova is a spinoff of another New Brunswick business, Mycodev Group. What does that relationship entail?
Dhayagude: We purchase our chitosan from Mycodev, which means we use entirely non-animal chitosan. [Mycodev Co-Founder] David Brown serves as our COO, providing our team with tremendous guidance. He’s been through it before, having launched his own successful startup. David helps us with everything we need, and has been a great asset to our company.
ONB: You recently spent time in Ireland as part of IndieBio. Tell us about that.
Dhayagude: IndieBio is a three-month biotech accelerator, with a presence in San Francisco and Cork, Ireland. It’s an incredible program, connecting startups with a variety of mentors and scientists, as well as access to lab facilities. We had a researcher working on the technical aspects of our product, while I focused on the business side. The program involves a lot of pitch training, so I learned everything there is to know about honing your pitch. IndieBio is a VC accelerator so we’ve also received financial investment through them.
ONB: Do you have any early adopters?
Dhayagude: We are now working with two early adopters, both of whom are multinational beverage companies. They are testing various samples of our product, and we are working very closely with them to optimize our solution. It’s going very well so far.
ONB: How did this particular problem, juice spoilage, end up as your first target?
Dhayagude: There’s been a real shift towards natural products, natural diets, organics, etc. People are increasingly conscious of exactly what they eat and drink. When we checked out open innovation portals we saw postings from major multinationals, discussing the need for a natural solution just like ours. Everyone is looking for natural, safe, non-toxic preservatives for use with their beverages. That’s how Chinova realized this was the market to begin with; there was a need from both beverage makers and their customers.
ONB: You previously worked at Fredericton’s Planet Hatch as Entrepreneurial Services Coordinator. What did you take away from that year?
Dhayagude: Before Planet Hatch I had no idea this incredible entrepreneurial community even existed in Fredericton. It opened my eyes to what was possible here. I saw this large entrepreneurial scene coupled with the strong tech sector we have, and it was inspiring. In my role I watched entrepreneurs working hard every day on their ideas, and learned exactly what goes into starting a business. I had the biochemistry degree from the University of New Brunswick (UNB), and Planet Hatch taught me the business skills I would need moving forward. Now I get to mix both of my passions, science and business.
That’s also how Mycodev found me; they were part of Planet Hatch’s first cohort. When it came time to launch a spinoff, David reached out to me.
ONB: Would you say New Brunswick is a great place to launch a business?
Dhayagude: Absolutely. The support we’ve received from the community is intense. The network here for entrepreneurs is tremendous. Everyone is happy to spread the word about Chinova, connect us with the right people, and offer their mentorship. The support organizations here, like Planet Hatch/Ignite Fredericton are incredible. The same can be said for BioNB, which focuses on our sector. It’s a great place to live, and an excellent place to grow a business.
ONB: Is this a competitive space?
Dhayagude: There are natural preservatives on the market, but what sets Chinova apart is our ability to offer customized solutions. If a beverage maker comes to us and says they’re having problems with six specific bacterial strains, we can offer a customized solution that inhibits those specific strains alone. There is nothing else on the market that targets spoilage microorganisms so specifically.
ONB: What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Dhayagude: When I started this journey, much of it was very new to me, and made me uncomfortable. Sometimes I felt like a real fish out of water. My best advice is jump into it, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s great. That means you’re going to learn a lot more than you think.
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