Fourth BCIC Ignite Awards celebrate industry-shifting partnerships between business and academia

It's become a tradition. Twice a year, the British Columbia Innovation Council (BCIC) identifies revolutionary new technologies and rewards them with funding. The latest edition of the BCIC Ignite Awards saw the most cash handed out so far, with four recipients receiving almost $1 million in total. BCBusiness was a media sponsor of the awards, which...

Credit: Kai Jacobson

The Ignite Awards winners

The four winners have three years to complete their projects

It’s become a tradition.

Twice a year, the British Columbia Innovation Council (BCIC) identifies revolutionary new technologies and rewards them with funding. The latest edition of the BCIC Ignite Awards saw the most cash handed out so far, with four recipients receiving almost $1 million in total. 

BCBusiness was a media sponsor of the awards, which recognize industry and academic partnerships to commercialize research in natural resources and life sciences. Held last night (March 28) at Vancouver’s Telus Garden, the Ignite Awards give the winners three years to bring their projects to market.

“The BCIC Ignite Program helps turn cutting-edge research into groundbreaking, innovative technology that will significantly benefit British Columbia,” says Shirley Vickers, president and CEO of Crown agency BCIC. “Year after year, we see meaningful collaborations between industry and academia that are fuelling economic growth and improving the lives of people across the province.”

Vickers and Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology Bruce Ralston delivered speeches at the event. BCBusiness editor-in-chief Nick Rockel and his new haircut emceed the evening.

“The opportunities for new and innovative technological solutions [are] endless, and it’s clear that B.C. has a business climate that’s enticing investors and new business,” Ralston said. He pointed out that the province’s technology sector comprises 10,000 companies employing 106,000 people and contributes more than mining, oil and gas, and forestry combined to its economic output. “It’s a sector that continues to grow at a rapid pace.”

Ralston also announced that BCIC is being renamed Innovate BC. Probably more important than the name change is an expansion of the agency’s mandate, he said. “With the establishment of Innovate BC, government is acting on its commitment to provide you with easier access to funding and support. A broader mandate means more targeted business development support at all stages of company growth, whether you’re a brand-new startup or a long-established firm.”

Taking home BCIC Ignite awards were: UBC, Acuva Technologies Inc., EDS Pumps & Water Treatment Ltd. and Eureka Forbes Ltd. for developing an ultraviolet water purification device ($300,000); Advanced BioCarbon 3D Ltd. and Selkirk College for creating high-performance biodegradable plastics from waste wood ($300,000); Langara College and Muddy River Technologies Inc. for inventing a way to extract phosphorus and nitrogen from animal manure ($90,000); and SFU and Seymour Vision for building a retinal imaging scanner that could allow early diagnosis of eye diseases ($300,000).

Besides commercializing their research within three years, the projects must raise $2 for every $1 they receive from the BCIC.

The deadline for the sixth BCIC Ignite Awards is July 23, 2018. For details, click here.  

Here’s a closer look at the winning innovations.

Credit: Courtesy of BCIC

UBC chemical and biological engineering professor Fariborz Taghipour

Water purification

UBC chemical and biological engineering professor Fariborz Taghipour believes the BCIC funds provided will allow his research with Acuva Technologies chief executive Manoj Singh to change the world. 

“We want to have this project to be efficient and cheap enough so that it can serve remote communities and developing worlds,” Taghipour says of Acuva’s maintenance-free UV water purifier, which is designed for off-the-grid use. “We have a dream of a world where everyone can have access to clean drinking water. Currently, more than a quarter of the population in the world do not have such an access and privilege, and that’s what the product is all about.”

Taghiour estimates that his team will have prototypes of the device ready for commercialization in three years.

For a video of the project, click here.

Credit: Courtesy of BCIC

Advanced BioCarbon 3D chief executive Darrel Fry works with the company’s technology

3D printing of bioplastics

Depending on your point of view, Darrel Fry’s journey to the Ignite Awards started 15 years ago, or when he was in kindergarten. The veteran of B.C.’s business scene has been active since he graduated from the British Columbia Institute of Technology in 1995, but he began working on the idea behind Advanced BioCarbon 3D when he met two New Zealand–based scientists, Ross Prestige and Hélène Belanger, early the following decade.

The trio started developing a research model to make sustainable, high-performance plastics and carbon fibre from wood waste. The first type of plastic produced by the company, where Fry serves as CEO, was filament for 3D printers. Currently, the vast majority of 3D printing is done with plastic that doesn’t biodegrade.

When Fry started seeking funding for Advanced BioCarbon, he found an academic partner in Selkirk College’s head of applied research, Jason Taylor, a former kindergarten classmate.

“He’s an expert in 3D printing, so it was a really easy shift for us to test our product with Selkirk,” Fry says of Taylor. The company will have its “first prototype ready by the end of March, and we will spend the next six months optimizing that product,” he adds. “Then [in the fourth quarter of this year], we will be ready to take our biodegradable 3D filament to the marketplace.”

For a video of the project, click here.

Credit: Courtesy of BCIC

Langara College’s Kelly Sveinson (left) and Muddy River Technologies CTO Rob Stephenson

Sustainable agriculture

Almost 20 years ago, Rob Stephenson introduced the first electrocoagulation technology of kind to Canada, using it remove contaminants from wastewater in Vancouver’s shipyards. Now the CTO of Muddy River Technologies is trying to extract chemicals from another form of waste: animal manure. 

“We realized that a modification of that approach, with knowing what we know about the phosphorous chemistry from our predecessors, that we could have a hybrid there somewhere in the middle,” Stephenson says of adapting the shipyard project to the agriculture world. “We figured we could use electric chemistry, and we tried it, and it worked.”

The goal is to remove phosphorus and nitrogen from manure before it’s applied to land, reducing degradation of soil, surface water and groundwater. To move the project forward, Muddy River joined forces with Langara College. “If you look at the process as two hands clapping, we do the first hand [removing the contaminants], and they do the second hand [creating environment-friendly fertilizer from the chemicals],” Stephenson says of working with Langara chemistry instructor and research coordinator Kelly Sveinson

The project won’t take anywhere close to three years to complete, he reckons. “We have no intention of dragging this thing out,” Stephenson says. “This time next year, we’ll have shown that we’re either an overwhelming success or we’re walking away with our tail between our legs.”

For a video of the project, click here.

Credit: Courtesy of BCIC

Seymour Vision co-founder and CEO Manish Kulkarni

Optical microscopy

Seymour Vision co-founder and CEO Manish Kulkarni had a problem. Many of his friends and relatives were losing their sight because their eye diseases weren’t diagnosed early enough. So Kulkarni created Seymour Vision to develop a high-resolution retinal imaging scanner that he hopes will one day revolutionize eye care, helping ophthalmologists diagnose eye diseases before vision loss occurs. 

“The ultra-high-resolution imaging devices could be used for early diagnosis of eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy,” says Kulkarni, who developed the product with SFU engineering science professor Marinko Sarunic. “Such early diagnosis permits doctors to treat the patients so that further vision loss is minimized [or stopped] and hence could save the eyesight of millions of patients worldwide.”

This is the third straight year that Seymour Vision has applied for a BCIC Ignite award, and it credits the agency for giving constructive feedback. The company estimates that its product will be ready for production within two or three years.

For a video of the project, click here