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Purdue Ag-Celerator Invests in Two Plant Startups


Published: Friday, June 8, 2018

The Purdue Ag-Celerator Fund has invested a total of $100,000 in two plant science startups for the spring round of investments. The recipients are JUA Technologies International LLC, a startup building multipurpose crop dehydrators, and ZeaVaxx LLC, a startup developing a plant-derived nanoparticle that can improve animal vaccines.

"The Ag-celerator is moving into the third year in its goal to help Purdue agricultural entrepreneurs commercialize their innovations," said Karen Plaut, the Glenn W. Sample Dean of the College of Agriculture. "With this funding through Ag-celerator, these startups have the opportunity to continue to advance their technologies to the public."

Both startups presented their technology to the Ag-celerator Selection Committee, which includes entrepreneurial and industry professionals from Purdue and beyond, alongside other finalists earlier this month. JUA Technologies International and ZeaVaxx each received $50,000 in funding.

The Purdue Ag-celerator was founded jointly by Purdue Ventures, Purdue Foundry and Purdue College of Agriculture in 2015. A research advancement initiative, Purdue Moves, supports Ag-celerator with a $2 million fund.

"Purdue's plant sciences startups are advancing quickly throughout the industry, and the Ag-celerator is contributing to this success," said John Hanak, Purdue Ventures' managing director. "The selection committee was, as always very impressed by presentations' high quality, and they deliberated very carefully before choosing ZeaVaxx and JUA Technologies as the recipients for this round of awards."

JUA Technologies, founded by husband and wife team Klein Ileleji and Reiko Ileleji, has built two solar dehydrators: the DEHYMELEON, a multipurpose solar dehydrator and power generator, and the DEHYTRAY, a hygienic drying tray. The devices use thermal solar energy to dry crops, such as unprocessed and processed grains, fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, fish and meat.

"The Ag-celerator helped us create a compelling business plan that will be valuable to our customers and to the market," said Klein Ileleji. "The competition forces you to address hard questions that you haven't already dealt with in your business plan. Overall the competition's rigor will inspire you to produce great business ideas."

JUA Technologies intends to use its funding to improve market visibility and enhance product development. The startup intends to build up marketing and branding infrastructure to boost its market visibility. The additional funds will assist the development and manufacturing of DEHYMELEON.

"The solar dehydrator market is very promising and holds few players," Ileleji said. "We plan to be an industry leader in this space and to boost the small-scale growers' success around the globe. We believe the African proverb, 'If you want to go far, go alongside others.'"

Moving forward, the startup will launch DEHYTRAY, its hygienic drying tray, this summer. Ileleji said the company hopes to launch DEHYMELEON in the fourth quarter of 2019.

ZeaVaxx was founded by Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine's associate dean for research, Harm HogenEsch, and research associate, Fangjia Lu, along with Purdue Department of Food Science's associate professor, Yuan Yao. The team developed a plant-derived nanoparticle that when included in animal vaccines, can help boost the immune response, enhance their resistance to temperature changes and provide alternative vaccine delivery routes.

"After Ag-celerator, I feel even more confident in ZeaVaxx's future," Fangjia Lu said. "During the program, we were able to think about our business model and our market goals. I realized watching the other pitches the huge potential in Indiana's ag-tech industry."

ZeaVaxx plans to invest its funding in further researching and developing its technology. Lu said the first goal is to validate the nanoparticle's stability and efficiency after thermos treatment.

"Current vaccines use killed or purified microbe parts to increase their safety," Lu said. "These components do not produce a strong immune reaction and lead to suboptimal protection. Our nanoparticles enhance immune response and therefore better protect for the animals."

In the future, the startup plans to license its product to large animal health care companies, and then, to develop proprietary vaccines based on ZeaVaxx technology.

The Ag-celerator fall 2018 date will be announced in August.

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