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Kansas Startups Take Awards at NCBiotech Ag Biotech Showcase

By Allan Maurer, NC Biotech Writer

 

NCBiotech's Paul Ulanch presents the winning check to Robert Harrington of PrairieChar as Rod Wilson of HPG and Mike Saber of Smith Law support the event as sponsors who also donated services to the winner.

PrairieChar, a Kansas company developing a system to convert animal manure into useful products, won the $10,000 cash prize and $3,500 in legal and financial advice at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s 2017 Ag Biotech Entrepreneurial Showcase.

Event sponsors Smith Anderson, the Raleigh-based law firm, and accounting firm Hughes Pittman Gupton, are providing the in-kind services.

Integrated Animal Health, also based in Kansas, which finds and commercializes medicine and foods for pets and farm animals, won the $2,500 cash second prize.

They were among 12 ag bio startups that presented over the two-day event. Five are located in North Carolina, and the others are in Norway, Kansas, Missouri, Switzerland, Florida and California.

PrairieChar Chairman and CEO Robert Herrington said he started the company because his wife made him buy her a horse farm. He suffered a broken back when a tree fell on him as he was clearing a pasture. Lying in bed recuperating, he called friends in California and asked them to send him business plans to review. One caught his eye.

“We’re in the manure business,” Herrington said of what has become his new adventure. “We take something you don’t want and turn it into something you do.”

Manure is a cost center in the cattle, swine and poultry industries. It causes disposal and environmental problems. In North Carolina, for instance, one of the top swine producers in the nation, manure from swine and poultry adds up to 40 billion pounds a year. Swine manure put into lagoons causes odor and environmental problems that Herrington said can be solved with PrairieChar’s technology.

Piles of cattle manure grow to 12 feet high over acres and the piles break down, releasing the greenhouse gases methane and C02. When it rains, nitrates seep into waterways and ground waters.

PrairieChar, which Herrington said was engineered to be a scalable, cost-effective solution, is developing machines the size of cargo containers that can be placed next to a manure pile. The manure never has to be transported more than 300 feet. The company’s revenue-share model means it gets the manure for nothing and farmers turn a cost center into a revenue stream.

The machines turn the manure into two valuable sterile products, he said. The process eliminates emissions into the air and removes soil and water hazards. One product produced is a “100 percent OMRI organic fertilizer that can reduce conventional fertilizer needs.”

The other is a sustainable, renewable coal substitute that produces an ash that is actually valuable instead of being an environmental hazard like coal ash. It is 90 percent pure phosphate that can be sold for from 25 cents to a dollar a pound.

“We can change the way we’re dealing with environmental issues,” Herrington said. “We could convert manure into 33 million tons of our products annually.” It would also create jobs paying $50,000 to $70,000 annually in rural America, he added.

The machines cost $550,000 to build. The company opened a Series A round this week looking for $5 million. Although the company currently plans to begin operations on cattle manure in Kansas, Herrington said that if enough of its funding comes from North Carolina, it will target swine manure “sooner rather than later.” www.prairiechar.com

Second-prize winner Integrated Animal Health was founded by a North Carolina State University-trained veterinarian.

The company finds early-stage products such as nutraceuticals and medicines for pets and farm animals.

“We take technologies, lead them across the ‘valley of death,’ license them out and put them in distribution,” said CEO Blake Hawley.

So far it has developed, among other products, a DEET-free fly and tick repellent, a treatment for canine diarrhea, and a new heartworm treatment needed because some mosquitoes are resistant to current medicines. 

Read about the five North Carolina companies chosen to make Showcase presentations here

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