AUGUST 24, 2023
(From left to right) HARvEST co-founder James Cotton, A.I. VALI Inc. co-founder David Armstrong and Esphera SynBio co-founder Brian Lichty.

Three McMaster startup companies – HARvEST, A.I. VALI Inc. and Esphera SynBio – have each received $256,000 in the third round of McMaster Seed Fund investments.

Co-founded by mechanical engineering professor, James Cotton, and research lab manager at the McMaster Institute for Energy Studies, Jeffrey Girard, HARvEST aims to support decarbonization of the restaurant industry with their fuel-less, carbon-free hot water heating system.

The HARvEST platform – developed in collaboration with Pizza Pizza Limited and Thermal Electronics Corporation – was successfully demonstrated in three Ontario Pizza Pizza restaurants this year. The system captures waste heat from cooking appliances, including ovens and fryers, to offset energy consumption in other parts of the restaurant, such as water heating.

Cotton and Girard say the Seed Fund investment will support further development and commercialization of HARvEST’s technology in Canada and the US.

“Restaurants are energy-intense spaces – they use a considerable amount of electricity, gas and water. Using the HARvEST platform, restaurants can improve their energy efficiency while reducing utility costs and minimizing their greenhouse gas emissions. We’re excited to continue collaborating with businesses to provide them with HARvEST’s clean energy solutions and improve their operations,” says Cotton.

Medical device startup A.I. VALI Inc. – cofounded by McMaster professor of medicine and gastroenterologist, David Armstrong – has developed AIDREA™, an AI platform that uses interactive machine learning to document and analyze endoscopy videos in real-time.

While endoscopies typically capture still images of abnormalities in the GI tract, the AIDREA™ platform records high-definition, time-stamped procedural videos using AI speech recognition, so that endoscopists can annotate images in real-time, generate instant patient reports and store accurately labelled images to support machine learning and enhanced diagnosis.

AIDREA™’s flexibility will enable clinicians to diagnose diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, cancer and pre-cancerous conditions more confidently. The platform will also link to other technologies, such as scope-tracking devices developed in collaboration with Qiyin Fang, professor of engineering physics, to improve efficiency and productivity of the clinic workflow, facilitate improved patient access to care and reduce costs.

“As my colleague, Dr. Siwar Albashir, leads the initial evaluation studies for AIDREA™ at Hamilton Health Sciences, this investment will help us transfer AIDREA™ to researchers, clinics and healthcare providers globally and improve patient procedures,” says Armstrong.

“We’re really excited to continue collaborating with McMaster innovators to enhance the platform’s hardware and software components.”

Co-founded by associate professor of medicine, Brian Lichty, biotech startup Esphera SynBio has developed a novel therapeutic technology designed to treat infectious diseases and cancer.

Esphera’s platform technology generates exosomes that deliver defined payloads to targeted cells in the body. The technology can target several kinds of cells, including tumour cells and immune cells, and deliver a variety of therapeutic payloads, including enzymes and RNAs. It is designed to enhance existing immunotherapy and vaccine technologies and aid in gene therapy, enzyme replacement therapy and cancer immunotherapy.

Lichty says the seed funding will support the company’s technology development at McMaster and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute – both of which house cutting-edge infrastructure for GMP manufacturing.

“Our novel platform has the potential to address unmet medical needs, enhance therapies for diseases that are difficult to treat and improve outcomes for patients. It’s fantastic to see McMaster investing in its startups; we’re excited by this support, which will enable continued research and development at Esphera as we advance towards clinical trials,” he says.

Andy Knights, McMaster’s acting vice-president, research, says the Seed Fund has been a pivotal source of support for McMaster research-based startups since its inception in 2021.

“The McMaster Seed Fund has invested over $2.7 million in eight companies to date, driving the transformation of University research into products and services that have made a positive impact on society. We are proud to support the latest Seed Fund recipients as they transfer their innovative technologies to businesses, clinicians and researchers in the Hamilton region and beyond,” he says.

The third competition attracted an impressive group of applicants across a wide range of disciplines, says Gay Yuyitung, executive director of McMaster’s Industry Liaison Office (MILO), which manages the Seed Fund.

Of the 20 proposals submitted, 12 were invited to pitch to the investment committee, and three were selected for investment.

“Congratulations to our successful Seed Fund investees on this well-deserved accomplishment. The MILO team looks forward to supporting our startups and entrepreneurs as they take their research to the next level and advance McMaster and Hamilton’s world-class innovation ecosystem,” says Yuyitung.

Launched in September 2021, the McMaster Seed Fund (MSF) is an early-stage investment vehicle designed to foster innovative startup companies coming out of McMaster research with the potential for significant economic and societal impact on Canada and the world.