Dr. Christopher Eskiw and Nicole Shoaf are a husband-and-wife team applying their skills to IntelliYeast, an ag biotech start-up company that develops and commercializes yeast with optimized performance to brew better craft beer, faster. 

Dr. Eskiw has turned his academic research on yeast in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources in the Department of Food and Bioproduct Sciences (University of Saskatchewan) into viable new products for the microbrewing community in Saskatoon. He says, “We were researching the performance of yeast during fermentation. We contacted some craft brewers to learn about the problems they were having with their yeast, to solve pain points in their process. They were looking for yeast that were better quality.” 

“We’ve developed proprietary methods for growing yeast that increase their viability and health. We can speed up fermentations, cutting two or three days – a 15–20 per cent reduction – off a brewing cycle, which reduces labour costs and increases production.” 

Nicole Shoaf, Kyle Adams, and Chris Eskiw standing together holding a cheque While Dr. Eskiw focuses on the research, Shoaf has been working on business development and marketing while also working full time as a Manager in the College of Medicine. “We are mindful of our time because we have full time jobs on top of the business. And we’re also trying to get ahead of the competition. We need to move fast, get a lab and production space underway, to get the yeast in production,” she says. 

Dr. Eskiw has enjoyed his foray into industry after working as an academic: “I’ve always been a purist about my science and about the questions. Academia is wonderful, but its confines can be challenging – restrictions on grant money, pressures to publish, teaching schedules and so on. It has been liberating to create my own business.” 

“The integrity I developed for my science is the integrity I carry into our business. But in the entrepreneurial arena, I have more flexibility. If you’re not colouring on the walls and spilling paint on the floor – taking some risks, making some mistakes – you’re not doing your job as a scientist. You never know when one of those risks is going to turn into absolute gold.” 

Dr. Eskiw is enthusiastic about the bioscience community in Saskatchewan. “It’s been a fantastic experience. It has that Saskatchewan-minded community network and support, and people wanting us to succeed.” He remembers the serendipity that began the whole project – a chance meeting in a pub in 2022. While sampling beers at 21st Street Brewery / Winston’s Pub, he struck up a conversation with someone at the next table. That someone turned out to be Amy Carruthers, Ag-West Bio’s Program Development Manager. 

Amy encouraged him to speak at Global Biotech Week in 2022. From there he and Shoaf joined the U of S Opus pre-commercialization accelerator in 2023, where they connected with Kyle Adams, Ag-West Bio’s Director of Investment and Commercialization, who coached them on the information they would need to create a funding proposal. “We prepared forecasts, a history of our investigations, market analysis and a business plan, which ultimately led to a $50,000 investment in IntelliYeast at the end of January,” says Shoaf. 

They credit Opus, Ag-West Bio and Innovation Saskatchewan for helping them to connect with the right people at the right time. And they have a soft spot in their hearts for the craft brewing community, who is equally supportive and community minded. “Anything we can do to help them out is great – and I love beer.” Rebellion Brewery has trialed some IntelliYeast strains and launched two beers, Hazy IPA and Beer!, a German-style Kölsch, and further partnerships are in place with Rebellion and 21st Street Brewery – where the idea was planted. 

Now that yeast production is underway, the next step is connecting to brewers to provide one of IntelliYeast’s 200 strains of yeast, or to strengthen the house strains that microbrewers are already using. “As of February 1, our product is available and we’re ready for market,” says Shoaf. 

The future looks bright for IntelliYeast – and for craft brewers looking for improved yeast. Dr. Eskiw says, “I’m fortunate to be doing my passion on both fronts – I have two jobs I really love. It doesn’t feel like work!” 

Noelle Chorney is a Saskatoon freelance writer.
Photo: Nicole Shoaf, Kyle Adams, Chris Eskiw – Credit: Ag-West Bio


Ag-West Bio invests in IntelliYeast, a startup helping craft brewers brew better beer
Video interview: Dr Chris Eskiw and Kyle Adams

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