4 New Brunswick Bioscience Companies Compete in Breakthru Startup Competition

4 of the 12 Breakthru Semi-finalists Work with Bioscience Technologies Jenny Keleher February 9, 2017

12 companies have made it to the semi-finals of Breakthru, a startup competition hosted by NBIF. 4 of the semifinalists are bioscience companies with technologies in agriculture, human and animal health, and bio-IT.


The Breakthru Competition is a nation-wide startup competition hosted by the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation. With over $1,000,000 in prizes, it’s an opportunity for startups to secure funding and improve their business plan.

12 companies made it to the semi-finals, 4 of which with technologies in the biosciences. The number of bioscience startups is growing in New Brunswick, as is the network of collaborators and support for these new companies.

The 12 semi-finalists attended a bootcamp in January, and will submit their business plans for evaluation in February. The finalists are revealed March 1st and the winners will be announced at the Breakthru Gala Dinner scheduled for March 23rd in Fredericon.

The bioscience companies who have made it to the semi-finals are SomaDetect (dairy quality monitoring system), WEnTech Solutions (software for waste-to-energy projects), Zecken Laboratories (diagnostics for Lyme disease), and PFERA (milk analysis system that predicts when mares will give birth). BioNB got in touch with the 4 bio-competitors to learn about their experience with Breakthru and beyond.

All four companies are at different stages of developing their business, but each venture is based on a solid technology developed through work in the field or in the lab.

Kami Harris of Zecken Laboratories started her entrepreneurship journey as a researcher studying Lyme disease. “In working closely with the Lyme community through various research projects, I was constantly confronted by the need for better diagnostics.  In seeing that gap, I began to realize it was a product and service I had the ability to deliver.”

Competing in Breakthru has forced each business to refine their business plan, and participants are encouraged to get feedback from target customers. Lisa Pfister of PFERA is combining her engineering background and experience working in the equine industry to refine her prototype.

“My major lesson while preparing for Breakthru has been get real validation from real customers. Between the December Breakthru session and the January session, I set up my early adopter program. I found this really accelerated my understanding of what my customers are looking for.”

While Breakthru has helped some companies refine their business, others are using it as a platform to get their name known in the local business community and to raise capital to grow their business.

WEnTech is a software-as-a-service company (SaaS) specializing in the waste-to-energy sector which is a growing global market. These projects convert waste into electricity, heat, fuel, and chemicals. WEnTech’s software will help those projects be more efficient and complete their feasibility studies faster.

“We have secured some funding and already have paying early adopters, but we need strategic investors to grow the company quickly,” said CEO Amir Akbari. “Breakthru not only provides this opportunity, but it helps us share our stories and experiences with other companies in the New Brunswick startup community”.

The pressure and opportunity of Breakthru is looming and real, but for these companies it is just one step along the lengthy and challenging road to creating and growing a successful business.

“Beyond competing in Breakthru, we are working with our second paying customer and we should deliver on that project in the coming months.” says Amir. “We are working with our clients to gather feedback and improve our software. Our plan for 2017 is to complete five pilot projects”.

The 12 semi-finalists are strong and the competition is heated, but the competitors all agree that Breakthru is a great showcase of the spirit of Atlantic Canada’s entrepreneurial community.

“We have a limited number of people with certain high-tech skills in this province, but they are all ready to get on board and help any startups they can” says Bethany Deshpande, CEO of Breakthru competitor SomaDetect. “Even in competition, we find opportunity to collaborate, to support each other, and to make friends. This has been a great lesson in the power of collaboration in our province, and is my favourite part of the entrepreneurial community here in Atlantic Canada”.

The Breakthru Gala Dinner is March 23rd at the Fredericton Convention Centre. Tickets are on sale now.


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