Bark beetle research wins startup $50,000 competition award

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

RENO, NV, March 13, 2013-A startup company that uses the enzymes of bark beetles to control the devastating effects the beetles can have on a forest was awarded the $50,000 gold prize this week as the winner in the University of Nevada, Reno's Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition.

 Together we can feed the Bees

EscaZyme Biochemicals LLC was selected from among five finalists and 24 participating teams in the second year of the competition.3

The company discovered the enzymes in beetles in the Lake Tahoe region and found they have the potential to be used for a wide range of products, including the pesticide and insect attractant application which the company has selected as the starting place for its business venture. The company is already working with a potential first client.

The winning EscaZyme team includes Jennifer Ott, the company CEO who has a chemistry degree and is completing her MBA at the university this year; post-doctoral researcher Rubi FigueroA-Teran, the chief science officer and entrepreneurial champion of the project who also discovered one of the enzymes, and Claus Tittiger, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the university's College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources.

“Our next step is to develop commercial-sized quantities over the next few months,” Ott said. “We need to know how much we can make and how much to charge, then we'll begin our outreach for sales. We have momentum now.”

She said the company's customers are “governments, ranchers, timber companies, ski resorts, anyone who is interested in forest health and management.

“The company we visited is interested because our process produces very easily the compounds they need; a process that is usually time consuming and can be hazardous,” Ott added.

EscaZyme was accepted earlier into a highly competitive and intense National Science Foundation business-validation program known as Innovation Corps or I-Corps. The $50,000 I-Corps grant, the University's Technology Transfer Office programs and continued use of a lab provided by Professor Gary Blomquist, chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, have also provided much-needed support for the company

University alumnus Rick Sontag for whom the competition was named, and his wife, Susan, announced the winners via Skype at a luncheon ceremony at the Joe Crowley Student Union. Sontag's $1 million gift to the University created the competition in 2011.



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