Aspiring authors are often told to write about what they know. It’s also a good piece of advice for would-be entrepreneurs to pursue what they know best. That’s precisely what University of Calgary veterinary medicine professor Jeroen De Buck did when he created Creative Protein Solutions with business partner Daria Venkova.
An expert in bovine bacteriology, Dr. De Buck saw a need from his many years of working with Alberta dairy farmers for a device that tests for specific conditions in dairy cows. It’s a large expense for milk producers when their cows get sick from mastitis, a bacterial inflammation of the udder, or have milk fever (low calcium levels in the blood). So, the sooner these diseases are detected, the sooner the cows can be treated, restored to excellent health and get back to doing what they do best – producing quality milk.
De Buck developed a small, portable, easy-to-use device for farmers to quickly diagnose mastitis and milk fever, and founded Creative Protein Solutions in 2017 to develop and commercialize his technology. Creative Protein Solutions was one of the start-up finalist companies featured at Inventures 2019. Venkova, the company’s CEO, pitched the novel technology at Inventures last June, and since then, the company has been achieving milestone after milestone.
“Mastitis is by far one of the most financially impactful diseases out there,” Venkova said. “We’ve found that an average farmer in Alberta who has 100 cows on their farm will have over $66,000 of costs each year related to mastitis.”
While there are other ways to diagnose mastitis, none of the current tests is as quick or accurate in detecting the underlying bacterial infection, Venkova says. “Every time a cow gets a serious case of this disease, it has to be taken off milking. Even if it’s a mild mastitis, the cow is going to produce substantially less milk. And if it has mastitis that needs to be treated with antibiotics, then that cow has to stay off milking for an extra long time because the farmer will ensure there is no antibiotic residue in the milk. Farmers are always looking for ways to either minimize the impact of the disease, improve treatment or find better ways to diagnose it.”
So how big is the potential market for Creative Protein Solutions’ device? According to Venkova, there are 11 million dairy cows on 53,000 farms in Canada and the United States. In Europe, there are 20 million dairy cows on 700,000 farms. In addition to offering farmers a small, portable diagnostic device they can use in their day-to-day operations, there is also the ‘downstream’ market potential for Creative Protein Solutions to tap–testing quality of milk in processing facilities.
Creative Protein Solutions won the $10,000 second prize at the TENTER i2c start-up pitch competition during Inventures 2019. Venkova says they received some great feedback at their booth and made good, lasting connections, including one with a potential manufacturer for their device. “We’re working with a company up in Edmonton that we met at Inventures in June, and we’re trying to see whether they can manufacture our testing chips in large quantities,” Venkova said. “The Inventures event was a really valuable experience for us. We spent quite a bit of time preparing and making sure our presentation went seamlessly and that our message was really clear.”
The next step is technology validation. The company is planning to field test the device in the coming months and get feedback from farmers.