Mentorship: Helping businesses emerge

Published on November 8, 2015

Regis Duffy, left, an emergence team mentor, meets regularly with Sharon Quann, president, and Reid Barnett, CEO, of BioSpa (Quann) Cosmeceuticals Inc. to help promote their skincare company's growing success throughout Atlantic Canada and beyond.

©Submitted photo

By Margaret Magner (Special to The Guardian)

The October 2014 announcement that the federal Venture Capital expert panel had chosen the P.E.I. BioAlliance as one of Canada’s top accelerators and incubators was a striking indication of the bioscience sector’s progress in just 10 years.

One year later, its emergence incubator -- funded with $3.8 million from the National Research Council and matched by private, federal and provincial sources -- has enrolled 27 companies with 22 more in “pre-incubation,” the stage when new applicants are screened and mentored before admission.

The incubation process provides start-up and growth-stage companies with advice and support to develop business strategy, access private capital, and expedite product commercialization. Emergence cost-shares specialist services with client companies, assisting with business plans, market assessment, regulatory processes, and intellectual property strategies. Company specializations range from food products and clean technology to natural health products and pharmaceuticals for human, animal and fish health.

“This sector focus makes us unique, and we’re one of only two bioscience incubators funded by the Canadian Accelerator and Incubator Program,” says Rory Francis, executive director of the P.E.I. BioAlliance. “As a virtual incubator, we don’t focus on physical space requirements; we’re about services that get companies to market successfully.”

Don Ridley, Emergence mentor-in-residence, promotes “Critical Path,” the team-mentoring model Emergence adapted from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Often companies don’t know what they don’t know,” says Ridley. “Our teams of three-to-four mentors engage individual companies in a focused way, identifying current challenges and helping avoid missteps that cost time and money.” Ridley believes successful small- and medium-sized technology companies will be the source of future economic growth, resulting in more local high-paying jobs and export revenues for P.E.I.

Neurodyn Inc. — one of five companies in the pilot mentoring program — has already garnered attention for its work on Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Lou Gehrig’s disease using natural bioactive compounds. Neurodyn’s lead compound Memogain is positioned to treat mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's while reducing adverse effects and potentially slowing the disease.

“We’re at a critical juncture in our company’s development,” says Denis Kay, Neurodyn’s Charlottetown-based chief scientific officer. “With Memogain in clinical trials, we can’t afford to make mistakes. Our mentors know the potholes and can see around the corners. We already see the benefit of being an Emergence company.”

Summerside-based BioSpa (Quann) Cosmeceuticals Inc. produces Atlantic Canada’s only full-service professional skincare line based on natural ingredients for esthetician clinics and home use. Working with the National Research Council and BioFoodTech, it develops bioactive ingredients – some locally sourced – for its products. BioSpa’s recent distribution agreement through Maritime Beauty Supply has increased product accessibility and piqued interest in a nation-wide model.

“We’re still a small company with limited resources,” says BioSpa president Sharon Quann. “Emergence mentors are really our strategic advisory board. Multiple mentors with broad expertise can pinpoint strategies for success. They build our confidence and keep us on track.”

The Emergence incubator currently works with companies across Atlantic Canada, Ontario, the U.S. and Europe.

- Margaret Magner, Ph.D., is a freelance journalist in Charlottetown (www.magnerink.com). This is one in a series of articles on P.E.I.’s bioscience sector.