The startup ecosystem within British Columbia is renowned for its work in sustainability across sectors.
One of the most important areas to manage and optimize resources is agriculture, since everybody will probably always need to eat.
BC startups have been taking on a range of issues connected to a mission of innovating food systems for growth, resilience, and sustainability—and organizations such as the Canadian Food Innovation Network help fuel the ecosystem.
Based out of Simon Fraser University’s expansive campus, the British Columbia Centre for Agritech Innovation is another major driver of agriculture innovation in Canada.
The BCCAI looks to lead agritech innovation and promote the development of British Columbia’s agricultural business and food sectors by introducing and commercializing novel products, procedures, and technologies.
“Our goal is to make B.C.’s agricultural and food sector sustainable, resilient, and globally competitive,” the organization states. “We envision a future where B.C. is renowned for its state-of-the-art research, exceptional talent, and thriving industrial culture.”
The BCCAI’s mission is to accelerate the commercialization of research discoveries, fostering growth. This aim is achieved through cultivating and maintaining a “dynamic and collaborative innovation ecosystem that unites industry, academia, government, and other stakeholders to drive economic development, create jobs, and enhance the quality of life in our communities.”
In January, the organization unveiled four companies slated to receive support: Lucent BioSciences in West Vancouver, Bakerview EcoDairy in Abbotsford, Agrotek Industries in Burnaby, and Aeroroot Systems in Surrey.
More than $500,000 was awarded to four companies, with more than $100,000 of that capital hailing from BCCAI.
The BCCAI, first announced by the provincial government in July 2022, intends to create 200 jobs across more than two dozen agri-tech projects while also training several hundred workers on new skills—all by 2025.
“We need to be continuously innovating and working together to improve local food production and access to food for people here in B.C. and around the world,” Pam Alexis, B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture and Food, said earlier this year. “Agritech is the future and . . . is helping ensure B.C.’s food systems are secure, resilient and sustainable.”
The first projects supported by the B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation were unveiled at the Pacific Agriculture Show in Abbotsford.
“We are pleased to be working with academic, industry and community partners across the sector to improve food security locally and globally, create jobs and position B.C. as a world leader in the agritech space,” stated Dugan O’Neil, vice-president of research for SFU.
Academic partners of BCCAI include the University of the Fraser Valley and Kwantlen Polytechnic University among others.
By leveraging partnerships as well as emerging technologies, “BCCAI can help small and medium-sized enterprises improve their resilience, enhance efficiency in controlled environments, and increase food security by enabling greater self-sufficiency in food production,” according to Woo Soo Kim, who took on the role of scientific director in March.
Kim is no stranger to agritech. He has been working on wireless sensor networking, machine learning, and drone technologies in the sector and was also involved in the creation of an undergraduate agritech concentration in the School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering, which started this year.
Calling Kim an “inspiring researcher and innovator with a passion for projects that benefit the wider community,” O’Neil believes that, “With experience in agritech, he is well-positioned to advance the work of the centre and foster connections and growth for its partners.”
Kim took over the scientific director role from Sylvain Moreno, who founded BCCAI and now serves as CEO of Circle Innovation Solutions, an SFU-hosted non-profit that supports Canadian tech companies in their creation of intellectual property.
“BCCAI has already changed the agritech space in British Columbia,” Moreno asserted in March. “Moving forward, it will continue to launch silo-breaking projects and allow B.C.’s innovation champions to reach the global podium.”