By Sandra Desrochers
SunWash Technologies, a London company co-founded by Dan Jenken and Patrick Therrien, has developed a material which uses the power of light to sanitize surfaces. The pair accessed resources available through the VentureStart program to support the development of their technology and their business.
VentureStart, a program funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), provides emerging entrepreneurs in the science, technology, engineering and math fields with training, mentoring and seed financing to develop their ideas, commercialize their products and grow their companies.
“Our Government is pleased to support businesses across Southwestern Ontario and I am thrilled that FedDev continues to support start-up companies in London such as SunWash Technologies,” said Susan Truppe, Member of Parliament for London North Centre. “Through Economic Action Plan 2013, our Government demonstrates its continued commitment to workers, families and communities in southern Ontario with the renewal of FedDev. This builds on our commitment to creating jobs, increasing productivity and the competitiveness of southern Ontario.”
VentureStart, co-ordinated by the RIC (Research, Innovation, Commercialization) Centre in Mississauga, is delivered through 13 provincially funded Regional Innovation Centres in southern Ontario. This includes London’s TechAlliance, where the SunWash co-founders received mentoring. Through FedDev’s support, VentureStart is helping program participants increase their business and management skills and their capacity to create successful companies and career opportunities.
Jenken’s experience in the coating manufacturing and application business, and Therrien’s business development work with science and engineering technologies provided them with a solid foundation to develop a photocatalytic, self-cleaning polymer. But, starting their own business meant venturing into some unfamiliar territory.
To provide advice and mentoring, Justin Leushner was assigned to SunWash as the start-up’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR). EIRs have a wealth of experience when it comes to both starting and growing technology companies.
Leushner guided the co-founders through the start-up process, including the Critical Factors Assessment tool, which provides an objective assessment of an endeavor before it takes the steps towards commercialization. He also provided valuable feedback to the duo regarding the co-founders’ business plan, milestones and pitch deck.
“SunWash’s technology is very innovative and has so many applications, but what makes the technology click is the way Dan and Patrick work as a team,” said Leushner. “It is a great pleasure to work with Dan and Patrick as their EIR, because they are very open and easy to work with.”
VentureStart also provided the co-founders with funding to support the early operations of their business. SunWash used the funding to commission a pilot scale lab facility in the Stiller Centre for Technology Commercialization, enabling them to develop and manufacture their unique materials.
It was clearly evident to the determined entrepreneurs that a successful business doesn’t happen overnight. “We had to be patient and resilient to get through each stage of the process,” said Jenken. Therrien agrees: “Growing a company from the ground up requires a lot of effort. Fortunately, both of us have a strong work ethic, could be very persuasive when necessary and had the right kind of support.”
SunWash will target food processing facilities as the primary market for this technology. “These types of facilities struggle to maintain a sanitary environment in all stages of food production,” said Therrien. “Self-cleaning surfaces can enhance current cleaning and sanitization methods by providing sustained surface cleanliness and minimizing the impact of poor cleaning practices.” The coating is effective against food residue and stains, organic pollutants, natural toxins, oil residues and greases, pesticides, and residues from cleaners, and it can replace the use of harsh chemicals that are often more dangerous than the germs they kill.
The entrepreneurs are encouraged by the support they’ve received from a number of sources. In addition to $30,000 in VentureStart funding the start-up was awarded a Level-Up grant, Venture London Business Plan Competition award, 2013 TechAlliance Award for Innovation, an OCE Market Readiness grant, and a GreenCentre’s SME Commercialization Fund award.
With the additional funding, SunWash could hire an experienced chemist, purchase equipment, conduct field trials and optimize their manufacturing process.
What started as an idea eight years ago, and then progressed to experiments using a crock pot and drill press before becoming what it is today, SunWash Technologies could one day be a world leader in functional materials. “We’re still in the early stages of our business, but the recognition that our start-up has received for what we’ve completed has been extremely rewarding,” said Jenkin. “It’s great to know that our work is being acknowledged as something special.”