Ag-West Bio is committed to growing the bioscience (also called agri-food) industry in Saskatchewan one connection at a time. The Saskatoon-based industry association supports entrepreneurs, innovators, start-ups and small businesses, helping them to bring their ideas – and dreams – to life. The keys to this approach are people and relationships. “When you put the right people together, that’s when the chemistry happens. And that’s how we act as a catalyst,” said Karen Churchill, president and CEO of Ag-West Bio.

Whether it’s young entrepreneurs who meet successful business leaders, or scientists who discover shared research interests, opportunities created by Ag-West Bio bring these professionals together. Ag-West Bio was launched 35 years ago, and its members include public research institutions, local businesses, research service organizations, and economic development and commodity groups.

Ag-West Bio supports the commercialization of bioscience technologies in sustainable crop production, food ingredients and processing, health, environment, biofuels and bioproducts. Entrepreneurs at the initial stage of developing their business can find help with creating business plans through the expertise and connections provided by Ag- West Bio. When start-ups reach the phase where they’ve grown beyond initial investment, they may be eligible for Ag-West Bio’s Technology Commercialization Fund.

“What really struck me is the scientists are here, the investors are here, the research is here, the entrepreneurs are here, and everybody stays in their own area,” explained Churchill. “And nobody really knows about each other. That’s where Ag-West Bio comes in. It’s making those connections happen; those connections then grow the economy in Saskatchewan.”

Ag-West Bio leads the Agricultural Bioscience Innovation Centre (ABIC) Speaker Series, which brings experts to Saskatchewan to discuss bioscience innovation. In partnership with Innovation Saskatchewan, Ag-West Bio hosts The Knowledge Farm, offering learning and networking opportunities. Ag-West Bio also organizes Meet Your Match (co-hosted with Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture), which encourages collaboration between researchers and industry.

In October 2023, Ag-West Bio partnered with the Global Agri-Food Advancement Partnership (GAAP) in October to bring five food innovation companies from four countries to Saskatchewan to participate in the Navigate program. These companies spent a week visiting local companies to discuss how to make fermentation processes more efficient, sustainable, and profitable, and explore potential partnerships.

“Those companies say they have been to other accelerators and other conferences, and they’ve never experienced anything like what Saskatchewan does,” said Churchill. “They get to meet executives at a very high level, along with members of government, as well as growers and suppliers.”

Ag-West Bio is involved in Prairie Food Link, a Saskatoon food cluster with the goal of growing food and ingredient companies in the province. Ag-West Bio also leads the Diverse Field Crops Cluster (DFCC), which supports the research and development of smaller, but high-potential special crops.

Ag-West Bio coordinates Global Biotech Week in September, which showcases what bioscience can do in everyday lives. It also supports Women in Bio, to encourage more women to participate in the sector.

Recently, the company underwent a branding exercise and crafted a new tagline: Pure Heart. Prairie Science. “Four simple words that reflect on the commitment and tenacity in this province, in this industry, and within this organization,” says Churchill.

Ag-West Bio is an enthusiastic STEP associate member. “STEP has been that organization that we introduce to our entrepreneurs because we know it can take them through to that next level,” said Churchill.

This article was first published in STEP Global Ventures winter 2023 edition.
Photo credit: Ag-West Bio 

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