Startup Profile: Vive Nano: Bringing Nanotechnology to the Farm
March 31, 2011 | Robert Puro
If I said the word ‘agriculture’ to you, would you think of cows grazing, endless fields of corn, grain silos, and red barns? Or, would you think about modern farm technology in agriculture like GPS, remote sensors, aeroponic systems, on-farm renewable energy systems, et al?
Whatever you envisioned, chances are the word nanotechnology did not immediately come to mind. So, how does nanotechnology play a role in supporting sustainable agriculture?
To find out, Seedstock recently spoke with Keith Thomas, CEO of Vive Nano, a Toronto-based company that focuses on the development of nano-encapsulated materials that deliver active ingredients for crop protection.
Active ingredients and traditional delivery methods for crop protection
Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, which aid in crop protection, are considered ‘active ingredients’ in that they destroy, prevent, repel or mitigate any pests, weeds, and fungi that attack crops. The delivery of an active ingredient is not as easy as putting it into a spray container, adding a little water, and spraying it on to the crops.
For example, the molecules that form a pesticide tend to clump together and render it ineffective unless it is combined with the appropriate emulsifiers, dispersing agents, antifreezes (you don’t want your pesticide to freeze before it does its jobs), odorants (to indicate volatility), oils such as mineral and soybean oil, solvents (used to dissolve the active ingredient), surfactants (increase solubility of the active ingredient), and on an on. That’s a whole lot of chemical additives!
Many of these additives are extremely volatile, harmful to the environment and humans, and often not as efficient as they should be at delivering the active ingredient.
Additionally, as government regulations surrounding the use of chemical additives to deliver active ingredients for crop protection continue to grow stricter, crop protection companies must find and deploy less environmentally harmful and more effective solutions.
Vive Nano and Nanomaterials Encapsulation
According to Thomas, an accomplished entrepreneur and engineer by training, that is where Vive Nano steps in to save the day. Vive Nano uses ultra-small, water dispersible particles to effectively encapsulate and deliver non-soluble active ingredients like herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides to crops. The particles function as a “small fedex [envelope] that gets the package [the active ingredient] where it needs to go,” says Thomas, with minimal impact on the soil and the surrounding environment. (Check out the video of Vive Nano’s technology in action).
What differentiates Vive Nano’s technology from traditional delivery methods for active ingredients in crop protection is that its products require no solvents and significantly fewer additives. This could result in benefits for the grower such as reductions in the amount of pesticide to be used, reduced itching and reduced staining.
The Market Size for Vive Nano’s Products
The value of the global crop protection market is approximately $40 billion (Source: Phillips McDougal). Within the crop protection market, Vive Nano currently focuses on an addressable market of $10 – $15 billion primarily composed of crop protection products that are high potency and do not disperse well in water.
Vive Nano has raised $4.5 million in equity, $4 million in funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada (STDC), and another $3.8 million from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation.
The company currently has a number of very large customers in the crop protection industry and is financially stable, and according to Thomas does not have to immediately raise additional funds to continue growing. Nevertheless, he sees an increased focus on the agriculture space right now and believes “the time is right to raise money.”
To capitalize on the current interest in sustainable agriculture, Vive Nano is currently looking to raise a round of financing in the neighborhood of $5 million. This money will allow the company to increase the breadth of its product offering, push further into manufacturing, and accelerate the registration process for its products.
The future looks bright for Vive Nano. The company has a number of products currently in field trials, and has received numerous green tech and clean tech innovation awards.