Recent News

August 31st, 2021:

Dalhousie University’s Lab2Market Program Prioritizes Commercialization Growth for Women in Research

(Halifax, NS) Applications for the Winter 2022 Lab2Market Halifax cohort are now open. The 16-week program will equip graduate and post-doctorate researchers with the skills required to assess the commercial opportunity for their research and translate it beyond the doors of university laboratories.

Led by Dalhousie University and the I-INC Network, Lab2Market is part of a suite of programs offered through Dal Innovates that help deliver innovation and entrepreneurial skills and attitudes to students, faculty, and alumni. Participating teams in Lab2Market’s Halifax cohort are also provided support from Mitacs and Springboard Atlantic.

In addition to the program’s curriculum, the Winter 2022 cohort will offer a stream focused on developing women in research with tailored program delivery and mentorship. Applications will be open to all Atlantic Canadian graduate students, PhD’s, and post-doctorates, with priority given to women in research.

“At Lab2Market, we work with students and academics to help them better understand the commercial potential of their research,” says Dr. Alice Aiken, Vice President, Research and Innovation at Dalhousie University. “We know that in Atlantic Canada, just 14 percent of startups are female-led, this is disproportionate to the number of women in graduate programs who have ideas that are suitable for commercialization. Dal Innovate’s Lab2Market program is intended to help bridge this gap.”

Teams will consist of three members, a student in the role of Entrepreneurial Lead, an academic supervisor in the role of Technical Lead and an Industry Mentor, who will work together to validate their ideas through customer discovery to find commercial value in market, supported by $15,000 in funding.

The Winter 2022 Program kicks off on February 1, 2022.  Interested applicants from Atlantic Canada are invited to apply at lab2market.ca/apply before October 18, 2021.

About Lab2Market

Lab2Market supports researchers who foresee impact and potential commercial value in their deep tech research, by providing opportunities and exposure to help commercialize their intellectual property. The program is developed and led by Dalhousie University, Memorial University, the University of Manitoba and Ryerson University, and leverages the national I-INC network. Learn more at www.lab2market.ca.

About Dalhousie University

Dalhousie University is Atlantic Canada’s leading research-intensive university. Located in the heart of Halifax, Nova Scotia, with an Agricultural Campus in Truro/Bible Hill, Dalhousie is a truly national and international university, with more than half of the university’s 20,000-plus students coming from outside the province. Dal’s 6,000 faculty and staff foster a diverse, purpose-driven community, one that spans 13 faculties and conducts more than $194 million in research annually. Part of a cluster identified as one of the world’s top international centres in ocean research, the university proudly celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2018.


June 17th, 2021:

Pivoting to an Ocean of Opportunity  

Tharindu-Senadheera-Ph.D.-2021At a seafood processing plant, overlooking colourful fishing boats, Tharindu Senadheera, a PhD student at Memorial University, holds a squishy, unassuming creature that might just be the key to unlocking a multibillion-dollar ocean industry.  

Even though Tharindu grew up in Sri Lanka, an island country surrounded by ocean, she, like most of us, assumed the sea cucumber was a plant. “I thought it was a vegetable, like seaweed,” said Senadheera. The sea cucumber is a slimy, tubular invertebrate that lives on the ocean floor.   

Big Appetite for Sea Cucumbers in Asia  

Unfamiliar to Canadian consumers, sea cucumbers are highly prized in Asian countries. Demand from Asian markets is estimated to be $60 million a year and growing. In China, the sea cucumber’s meaty muscle bands and dried body walls are considered a delicacy. They are also believed to have healing properties, treating ailments from arthritis to impotency.  

While these wild Atlantic sea cucumbers fetch about $60 per pound after processing, close to 50 per cent of the animal’s gut material is being discarded as a waste byproduct or used as fertilizers. This is where Tharindu saw opportunity. “There is so much waste in food processing,” said Senadheera. “I’ve always been passionate about using technology to maximize our precious food resources.”  

Can Sea Cucumbers Fight Wrinkles? 

Using her expertise in food chemistry, Tharindu set out to find a way to upgrade these byproducts. Working alongside her supervisors, Dr. Deepika Dave and Dr. Fereidoon Shahidi, at the Maritime Institute’s Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development, she began analysing the bioactive properties of the little known North Atlantic sea cucumber.  

The researchers discovered a range of novel compounds, including collagen, that could become value-added ingredients to nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, and cosmeceutical products. “When I learned that collagen makes up more than 70 per cent of the sea cucumber’s body wall, I began to focus on whether this collagen could be used in anti-aging creams,” said Senadheera.  

Collagen is a protein made up of peptide molecules, and is an essential building block for healthier skin. The benefits of using a marine collagen, over bovine or pork collagen, is the sea cucumber’s peptide molecules are smaller, making them slightly more absorbable. There are also many consumers who are looking for alternatives to using beef or pork products. 

Applying to Dal Innovates – Path2Innovation and Lab2Market  

Armed with the knowledge of the unique bioactive properties of the North Atlantic sea cucumber, Tharindu applied to Dal Innovates’ Path2Innovation and Lab2Market programs. “With the sea cucumber’s high levels of collagen, I wanted to explore the untapped cosmeceutical opportunities.”   

It is estimated the burgeoning cosmeceuticals market will reach US$81 billion by 2027.  As such, major cosmetic companies — including L’Oréal, P&G, Shiseido, and Clarins — are very interested in cosmeceutical products with bioactive ingredients.  

Joining Tharindu in her entrepreneurial pursuit were Dr. Dave and her mentor, Dr. Ellen Crumley. This dynamic team had a single-minded focus, to find out if the cosmeceutical market would be interested in using North Atlantic sea cucumber collagen in their products.  

Thumbs Down from Cosmetic Companies 

As part of her customer discovery, Tharindu contacted cosmetic companies from Australia, China, France, and the United States to pitch the use of sea cucumber collagen. “Unfortunately, they told me the volume of collagen that could be extracted from a sea cucumber harvest is low compared to what can be extracted from cow hides and pig skins,” said Senadheera. Tharindu and her team quickly realized, even after scaling up the collagen extraction process, they wouldn’t meet the commercial quantities required by a cosmetics company.   

Feeling dejected, Dal Innovates coordinators, Mike Carew and Spencer Giffin, encouraged them not to give up. With their guidance, Tharindu adjusted her customer discovery. She speculated, “Maybe other bioactive sea cucumber compounds could be a viable and natural substitute for the synthetic products currently on the market?”  

Pivoting to Pharmaceutical and Nutraceutical Opportunities 

In addition to collagen, the team identified a range of valuable compounds – phenols, flavonoids, and chondroitin sulfate – with diverse medicinal functions including anticancer, antioxidant, antihypertensive, and anti-inflammatory properties. These novel compounds could be the building blocks for new drugs or functional foods, both of which are multibillion-dollar industries.   

More customer discovery work was needed to gauge the interest of the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries. Dal Innovates instructors Gillian McCrae and Permjot Valia helped Tharindu reach out to professionals from around the world through LinkedIn and Facebook. “Initially, I was reluctant to conduct interviews, but the people I spoke to were open to helping me as a student. They even gave me referrals.” 

In explaining the bioactive properties of the sea cucumber, Tharindu learned that industry was very interested in developing natural, marine-based products. “They even asked us to conduct in vitro studies to see if we could grow the bioactive molecules from cell cultures in our lab,” she said.  

Dal Innovates Motivates 

“As a scientist, I’m trained to narrow my path and focus my discoveries on specific bioactive properties,” said Senadheera. “In just three months, Dal Innovates taught me to expand my focus and look at what the real-world needs.”  

Tharindu has also broadened her career focus. She has moved to Toronto and is looking for post-doctoral opportunities in industry. “I feel I have a lot to offer industry,” she said. “The boundaries are limitless.”   

The Key to Getting a Slice of Multibillion-Dollar Industries 

Researchers at the Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development plan to partner with sea cucumber processors to develop scaled-up extraction procedures. Not only does recovering high-value compounds from byproducts result in added revenue for a processor, it offers a solution for their waste disposal too.  

 Tharindu is thrilled with the progress she and her team have made. “We are taking another step closer to using all parts of the sea cucumber and optimizing our valuable marine resources,” she said. 

 The unique bioactive properties of the North Atlantic sea cucumber could also pave the way for new cancer treatments or health food supplements. “It not clear whether we’re going to be a supplier of raw materials or whether we will produce a product for resale,” said Senadheera.  

 What Tharindu is sure of is, in order to get a slice of these multibillion-dollar industries, collaboration will be the key. “I’ve learned to think outside the box, understand what potential customers need, and then figure out what we could provide.” 

For the downloadable version of this story, click here.

About Lab2Market

The Lab2Market Program is a 16-week program to help researchers validate their ideas with the purpose of finding business/commercial value. The program is supported by the Government of Canada through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Dalhousie University and Mitacs, and is delivered by Dal Innovates. Lab2Market is based on similar programs that have found success in other parts of the world, but with a Canadian twist.


June 15th, 2021:

Meet Permjot Valia, Your Summer 2021 Path2Innovation Facilitator

Permjot Valia

Applications are now open for the Summer 2021 Path2Innovation program. In preparation, we caught up with Permjot Valia, an experienced investor, and dynamic leader in the start-up space. Permjot will be our facilitator for the program and is guaranteed to pique your interests on core subject matter and spark lively discussions with the group. You won’t want to miss the chance to learn the value of entrepreneurial thinking from a mind like Permjot.

 

Tell us a little bit about what brings you to Path2Innovation

I started investing in start-ups about 20 years ago. Through investing and a long career in working with start-ups, I’ve learned lots of lessons about the fundamentals that companies based on research, coming out of universities need to learn. I’m an Economist by background and sit on the board of some great companies in both Nova Scotia and in my place of birth, London. I’m the co-founder of Flight and Partners, a London based fund manager, with $50m under active management. I’ve worked with universities around the world, and I assure you, my passion and enjoyment for working in this space will become clear within the first 10 minutes of our meeting.

What do you enjoy most about facilitating the Path2Innovation program?

I love working with very smart people. I love working with people where I get to learn just as much as I am teaching. Path2Innovation allows me to do that. The inventions and ideas many of the participants are working on is simply awesome and very exciting to learn from. I also like the intense nature of the program. It enables great relationships to develop even over a medium like Zoom.

What topic do you most look forward to exploring with the Path2Innovation cohort?

I like the first topic which looks at the factors that can drive your idea to become successful. It starts everyone thinking about the big picture and where their idea fits in and how they can ‘pitch’ the idea as part of an answer to a macro trend.

In your experience, what does it take to be successful in the Path2Innovation program?

I hope to find individuals who approach the course with enthusiasm and a willingness to learn new things. I try to make the course as interactive as possible and having a high level of engagement makes it great fun for everyone.

Path2Innovation is supported by the Government of Canada through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and delivered by Dal Innovates. Applications for Path2Innovation are now open and will remain so until July 19th, 2021.

Apply now: https://dalinnovates.ca/programs/nnce/path2innovation/

 


June 8th, 2021:

Dalhousie University Announces Second Ready2Launch Cohort

Four participants from the Ready2Launch program are featured with the words Meet the Cohort.

Dal Innovates is excited to introduce you to our Summer 2021 Ready2Launch cohort. 12 teams with representation from each of the Atlantic provinces have been accepted to accelerate and refine their tech-enabled, research-driven ventures.

Read more: https://www.dal.ca/research/ResearchIntheNews/mediareleases.html


May 18th 2021:

One Team’s Story – Pivoting in Real-Time  

Sabiha Antora started her master’s program with a big dream, to help the world produce more food.  

As our global population continues to rise, the amount of food we produce falls alarmingly shortBy 2050 there will be nearly 10 billion people to feed. That means we have 29 more growing seasons to figure it out. 

While the scale of this challenge is epic, Sabiha and her pioneering team that includes Dr. Young Ki Chang and Ryan Cobb, want to be part of the solution.  

Helping Farmers with a Health Checkup for Crops  

Growing up in the farming town of Teligati, BangladeshSabiha saw first-hand how labour-intensive it was to manage crops. “My grandfathers and uncles spent long days in the fields growing paddy and vegetables, like spinach, squash and bitter gourds,” said Antora. 

“I wanted to develop something to take some stress off the farmers,” she saidRather than relying on manual labour to scout out areas in the field in need of fertilizer or pest control, Sabiha and her team felt that a drone could do the job faster and better.  

Using advancements in digital imaging and processingSabiha’s team proposed that drone could be engineered to scan and process data in real-time. They wanted to develop a lighting-fast system that could analyse a field and prescribe steps for the farmer to take to maintain healthy cropsIt would be like a health checkup for crops.   

Applying to Dal Innovates’ Lab2Market 

Working out of the robotics lab at Dalhousie University’s Agricultural CampusSabiha, Young and Ryanapplied to Dal Innovates’ Lab2Market program. “I had no idea about commercialization,” Antora said, “but I knew if we could help growers care for their crops quicker, we would be helping them to improve crop yields.” 

A key part of the Lab2Market program was customer discovery. While Sabiha excelled at market research, her instructors saw that she was avoiding contacting future customers directly. “I was afraid growers wouldn’t understand me because of my accent,” said Antora, “and that I wouldn’t find the right words.” 

Facing Her Fears 

To face her fearsDal Innovates instructors, Dr. Michael Carew and Permjot Valia suggested Sabiha start by contacting agriculture customers in Bangladesh. Of thBangladeshicontacts she said, “They gave me lots of ideas for how to relate to farmers in North America.  

Sabiha may have even landed a new jobAfter contacting the Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute, she hinted, “A senior scientist was so impressed by my dedication to developing digital agricultural systems that he offered me a research assistantship after I finish my master’s.”  

Pivoting from Farmers to Service Providers 

With new found confidence, Sabiha contacted farmers, CEOs of companies, agronomists and analysts. She and her team assumed their idea of crop assessment drone would be embraced by farmers. However, it wasn’t long before she felt the sting of rejection. “The feedback I got from farmers was negative,” said Antora. “The farmers said things like that’s too expensive, I don’t need that, and I won’t be able to run a drone.”   

Sabiha and her team had to shift their mindset. They had to redefine who would be interested in their technology. “I moved on to contacting service providers,” she said.  

Through this outreach she learned several companies were already processing images, but it was taking them a week to deliver an inspection report on field conditions. These companies were focused on automation. They wanted to have field analysis in real-time because certain crop diseases can destroy whole crop in a matter of days. “I now understood their pain, said Antora. 

How Many Acres of Farmland Can We Analyse?  

With a shared vision to help farmers produce more food, more sustainably at lower cost, Sabiha’s software aligns with the industry’s push toward automation. Equipment like self-driving tractors that work day and night is just the beginning.  

While Sabiha received a warmer reception from industry service providers, they weren’t really interested in their team’s drone hardware applications, like how the scanners worked. “The CEOs and company founders wanted to know about our system’s field level capabilities, like how large of an area can our system scan,” explained Antora.  

Dal Innovates Motivates 

“Lab2Market allowed me to refocus my research,” said Antora. “I’m now back in the lab and more motivated than ever because I can see what the market needs.”  

To stay a step ahead of the market, the research team is focused on designing software that pinpoints where a crop is under stress and delivers a prescriptive map in real-time. Having a prescription map frees up the grower’s time,” said Antora.  By caring for crops more quickly and precisely, she envisions farmers no longer needing to crop dust entire fields and instead, focusing on optimizing production. 

Feeding the World Starts with Optimizing One Field of Potatoes 

This summerSabiha and her team are planning to test their field assessment softwareCommercial farmer Scott Newcombe is keen to get a crop checkup on his potato field. “We’re hoping to scan his large field and compare the real-time processing of our data to our manual images,” she said. “We will also provide Scott with a prescription map and a productivity estimate of what his crops will yield.”  

Will this new field assessment software be integrated into tractors or dronesSabiha’s not sure which is the better fit. That’s something for manufactures like John Deere or Kubota to decide. What she does know is that Lab2Market helped her understand the value of her crop assessment system and that she’s doing her part to help farmers get ready to feed the world 

For a downloadable version of this story, click here.

About Lab2Market

The Lab2Market Program is a 16-week program to help researchers validate their ideas with the purpose of finding business/commercial value. The program is supported by the Government of Canada through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Dalhousie University and Mitacs, and is delivered by Dal Innovates. Lab2Market is based on similar programs that have found success in other parts of the world, but with a Canadian twist.


May 11th 2021:

Halifax’s Winter 2021 Lab2Market Cohort by the Numbers

Halifax’s Winter 2021 Lab2Market cohort has had a busy 16-weeks. 22 research teams from 10 universities were invited to join the program to validate their ideas through customer discovery with the purpose of finding business or commercial value. Congratulations to the graduates, we look forward to following your success as you move on to incubators and accelerators (like Ready2Launch), complete research initiatives and further develop your company.

Learn more about the Halifax’s Winter 2021 Lab2Market cohort by the numbers:

About Dalhousie University:

Dalhousie University is Atlantic Canada’s leading research-intensive university. Located in the heart of Halifax, Nova Scotia, with an Agricultural Campus in Truro/Bible Hill, Dalhousie is a truly national and international university, with more than half of the university’s 20,000-plus students coming from outside the province. Dal’s 6,000 faculty and staff foster a diverse, purpose-driven community, one that spans 13 faculties and conducts more than $181 million in research annually. Part of a cluster identified as one of the world’s top international centres in ocean research, the university proudly celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2018.

About Lab2Market:

Lab2Market supports researchers who foresee impact and potential commercial value in their deep tech research, by providing opportunities and exposure to help commercialize their intellectual property. The program is developed and led by Dalhousie University, Memorial University, and Ryerson University, and leverages the national I-INC network. Learn more at www.lab2market.ca.