Original Published on Oct 21, 2022 at 15:30

By Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — BioNorth Solutions is being recognized for its technology with its development of microbe-based products that encourage plant growth for crops like barley and wheat. 

The company is the winner of the Northern Ontario Innovation Challenge through Bioenterprise Canada — Canada’s Food and Agri-Tech Engine.

BioNorth Solutions co-founders Amber Kivisto and Miranda Lock are thrilled with the recognition which not only landed them a $5,000 cheque but an Access Plus membership to Bioenterprise Canada providing them with one year of business mentorship and networking support.

“It’s so exciting,” Kivisto said. “So many people have reached out and we have access to Bioenterprise, which is a great organization. They’re so helpful. They have contracts everywhere, and they’re just willing to reach out and see what they can do for you at any time.”

As a Bioenterprise member, Kivisto said they became aware of the competition and submitted their paperwork. When they were selected as a finalist, they discovered that there were many Northwestern Ontario companies included as well, many of whom in Thunder Bay. 

“It was really interesting to hear about all the other companies as well. I didn’t know there was a company making banana wine in Thunder Bay,” she said. 

The two women met at Lakehead University where they were working on their environmental biotechnology degrees.

Kivisto said they wanted to use their education to stay in the North and started BioNorth Solutions in 2014. By 2016, they created their first product, which was a hydrocarbon remediation product designed to clean up oil, gas and diesel spills.

“And now that’s really starting to take off,” she said. We’re doing lots of projects. Our largest to date involves a 20,000-cubic-metre project, which is exciting and we started selling into the (U.S.) as well.”

She explained that the development of their Plant Growth Promotion (PGP) product is what they based their Bioenterprise pitch on. It is designed to help the plant take nutrients out of the soil more effectively while using less fertilizer, resulting in healthier plants with bigger yields. Kivisto says the product went through the testing process at College Boreal’s horticultural program in Sudbury.

“They tested our product on various greenhouse plants with positive results, and then most recently, it is in field trials in Wisconsin where it’s been tested with corn and soybeans — and again, really great results there, which is very exciting,” Kivisto said. 

“We’re hoping to launch that product in 2023 and we’re also working with a company out of Latin America as well to see if we can export the product there if it works effectively in that region.”

She added that the team is planning to test the Plant Growth Promotion product on more field crops such as corn, soybeans, and wheat now that they know that it works there. 

“There are also various high-value crops and greenhouse crops like basil. It’s really tremendous with basil and mint. Those can be grown organically, with the addition of our products, and get a surprisingly better yield,” Kivisto said. 

The team of eight is also working with numerous environmental engineering firms with Microbiate, their hydrocarbon remediation product to dig up contamination.

Looking ahead, Kivisto says they are viewing the mining and energy boom on the horizon as great opportunities for business. They have also secured a new facility on Twin City Crossroads that will expand their current plant of 3,500 square feet to 8,800 square feet with more jobs coming down the pipe. 

“One separate building will be for our manufacturing facility and the other building will be our production lab, in addition to two (smaller) labs within there,” she said. 

“We’re really lucky being a clean tech company, especially from Northwestern Ontario where we have lots of opportunities for support.”

Kivisto says they applied for funding through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation and through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario, (FedNor). They will use the $5,000 winnings to help develop their branding and marketing strategies. 

For now, the focus is to relocate into the new facility while developing new products and improving existing products.

This item reprinted with permission from   The Chronicle-Journal   Thunder Bay, Ontario

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