Small Firm Takes on the Big Hitters
BioForest Technologies Inc. has only nine full-time employees, but it has massive potential in an industry dominated by multi-nationals
November 02, 2012 — Sault Ste Marie, Ontario
EcoJect System and TreeAzin
In a biotech industry led by multi-billion dollar chemical companies like Monsanto, it’s nearly unheard of for a company the size of BioForest Technologies Inc. to gain a seat at the table. Yet thanks to the support of the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), this growing firm is a player, and its growth potential is significant.
BioForest makes an organic pesticide that it calls TreeAzin, a substance produced from extracts of neem seeds. (Neem is a tree in the mahogany family, Azadiracta indica. Growing in tropical and semi-tropical regions, its fruits and seeds are the source of neem oil.) The product alone sets BioForest apart in the marketplace—but if TreeAzin is the cake, its EcoJect System is the icing. EcoJect is BioForest’s unique micro-injection method for applying the pesticide.
BioForest was launched by a small band of government forestry scientists after leaving their jobs with the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) in the mid-1990s. Among them was Joe Meating, now president of BioForest.
At first, Meating and his colleagues offered forest health consulting services to various levels of government and other clients. By 2001, the firm had begun to explore the idea of adding a product to the company’s offerings to increase its revenues. Investing considerable revenues in test and trials, Meating worked with a CFS research scientist who had been developing a promising new organic pesticide. BioForest ultimately signed a license agreement with Natural Resources Canada and CFS to register, market and sell the new pesticide, which they named TreeAzin.
In the United States, the product is fully registered and routinely sold for professional use. The company expects to achieve full registration in Canada this year, but until then, the product can only be sold through a special “emergency registration” to help Canada cope with emerald ash borer infestations. (It is currently in use to protect ash trees on National Research Council property.) Meanwhile, there is interest in TreeAzin and EcoJect in Australia and the Middle East. Worldwide, the company is looking at considerable potential once regulatory hurdles are cleared.
Activating the ITA network
"Without NRC-IRAP support, the research and development that helped us become what we are today would have been beyond our capability."
President, BioForest Technologies Inc.
Since its inception, BioForest has engaged in four projects with NRC-IRAP. The first focused on testing and developing the neem-based insecticide. The next two were research and development (R&D) projects focusing on developing the EcoJect deliver systems and determining TreeAzin’s efficacy. The fourth focused on intellectual property protection for the “home and garden” EcoJect system.
Meating credits NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) John Hatherley for being instrumental in the company’s success. Hatherley, who has worked with the firm for the past three years, played a key role in supporting the research for design improvements of the EcoJect system, helping to resolve pump issues in a prototype model.
Hatherley's help with the prototype model made a lasting impression on Meating. "I just mentioned to John that we would like to do a bit more research on some of the components of our EcoJect system," he says. "Literally within days, we had emails streaming in from all over the country from other NRC-IRAP ITAs offering all kinds of suggestions and other contacts."
Most recently, Hatherley worked with the firm on a consumer product that would come pre-loaded with TreeAzin and be sold at home and garden stores. "It's a total redesign of their injector that could open up the entire U.S. consumer market," he says. Hatherley is now also discussing a larger R&D project that would combine reformulation research for improved shelf storage and usability as well as a decision support system to better assess when, where and how TreeAzin is most effectively applied.
BioForest is currently in a significant expansion phase:
- Its sales of TreeAzin have grown from $180,000 in its first year to nearly $1 million today.
- Sales of TreeAzin and the EcoJect system now represent 75 per cent of the firm’s revenues, up from just 20 per cent in 2008.
- It expects to have more than 80 service providers in Ontario and Quebec in 2012.
- It is receiving inquiries from all over the world, with particular interest from the United States, Australia and the Middle East.
Meating is unequivocal in his appreciation for how NRC-IRAP has helped BioForest. "It would have been difficult or impossible for a small firm like ours to get into this industry without NRC-IRAP," he says.
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