Mazza extracts innovation

After placing at a regional business competition, an Okanagan company is shortlisted to win at the provincial competition this fall.

Dr. Joe Mazza checks over his liquid chromatograph

After winning a $20,000 prize at a regional business competition, an Okanagan company is one of 25 shortlisted to win at the provincial competition this fall.

Mazza Innovation, who are commercializing a plant extraction process, took second place in the B.C. Innovation Council’s New Ventures regionals in February, after competing with 100 new companies also vying for a total of $60,000 in cash prizes. At the province-wide version, Dr. Joe Mazza will be competing with the 24 other finalists for a share of $235,000 in prizes, with first place receiving $100,000.

Mazza’s technology uses pressurized low-polarity water to extract valuable chemicals from plants for use in products such as foods, dietary supplements, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Traditional methods of extraction from plants use solvents, like ethanol, which can pose hazards to health and the environment. Since it uses only water, Mazza’s process leaves the extracted chemicals in a purer state.

“We are creating value for the agricultural sector,” said Mazza. “There is a huge dietary supplement industry in Canada and around the world, it’s worth in the millions of dollars.”

But Mazza said his work is about more than just the money.

“Of course that’s important, but money is not why I am putting significant effort in it,” said Mazza. “We are producing a better product. We can use some agricultural products that have no value at this time and potentially have an impact on society both for the producers of the material and the consumers of the material.

“That’s what’s driving me. The fact that we are working on something that is of benefit to society,” Mazza continued. “I’ve been fortunate to be doing research for the last 20 years and I think I have an obligation to society to do my best.”

The process was developed while Mazza was working as a researcher at Agriculture Canada’s research facility in Summerland. When he retired after 20 years of service, Mazza obtained a license from AG Canada to commercialize the process. However, scaling the process up from the laboratory is an expensive process. It was while looking around for funding sources that Mazza discovered the BCIC competition.

“I didn’t know they (the BCIC) existed until then. I put my name in there and I prepared a little bit of a pitch,” said Mazza. “I was fortunate to make second place. A lot of people are interested in this kind of thing. It is something different, it is something new and the judges were somewhat impressed.”

While Mazza had never made this kind of pitch before, he said it wasn’t too different from previous experiences.

“I have been teaching as well as giving talks all over the world. It’s the same kind of approach, but to a different kind of people. Instead of talking to scientists or industry, you are talking to financial people,” he said. “The trick is to simplify, to make it understandable to the people you are talking to. Just like when you are teaching, you adapt it to the level of the student. That’s what I tried to do and I guess they liked it.”

Established in 2001, the BCIC New Ventures Competition is one of North America’s largest technology business idea competitions, attracting applicants from a range of industries including clean tech, digital media, Internet, information technology and life sciences.