In 2016, Luna Yu started Genecis Bioindustries with a team of like-minded individuals, including U of T students and graduates. Genecis uses food waste to make high-quality products using a multi-step process.
The company uses polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) — products of bacterial fermentation — from waste to create useful materials. The process uses a bacterial culture to break down food waste into fatty acids, which are then induced to another bacterial culture to produce PHAs in their cells. The cells from the bacterial culture are then lysed to collect the plastic.
The plastic created from this process can then be used in flexible packaging, compostable coffee pods, and 3D printing filaments, to name a few.
Yu first realized the potential of food waste after completing her studies at UTSC in Environmental Science.
“What appealed the most to me was the ability to integrate advancements in artificial intelligence, big data, automation, and genetic engineering together to build the platform for the next generation of industrial chemical manufacturing,” writes Yu in an email.
At first, Genecis aimed to repurpose and sell processed food waste from local restaurants that companies could use to make into biodegradable plastics, biofuels, and pharmaceuticals.
A year later, Yu and her team won second prize in the early-stage category of the RBC Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. But that accolade wasn’t the end of their growth.
Genecis continues to grow for the better, following months of market research and planning.
Yu says that it was the discussion with professors, PhD students, and her potential customer base that led them to redefine Genecis’ operations.
“[The ensuing market research] has led us to also change our business model to be one of technology licensing and production distribution, dramatically reducing our own capital expansion costs.”
Genecis uses organic waste and reprograms microorganisms to “buy low, sell high.”
Yu also stresses the importance of corporate partnerships, be it for business development, scale-up, research and development, or commercialization.
In the last two years, Genecis has amassed 15 partners, which include waste processing companies and manufactured bioplastics buyers. Many of these partners are also locally based firms.
With a team comprised of award-winning scientists and engineers experienced in biotechnology and programming brought together by a common goal and a bit of serendipity, Yu has big dreams for her company in the next five to 10 years.
The company is in the process of developing synthetic biology platforms to reprogram bacteria to produce the highest quality product.
“We aim to grow into the Industry Leader for Industrial Chemical/Materials Production using our Synthetic Biology platform. Our main value proposition is to make chemicals [or] materials currently too expensive [or] difficult to produce traditionally more economical,” writes Yu.
Yu advises aspiring entrepreneurs to “move fast, be firm in objective but flexible on details, and never give up.”