Uma Bioseed wins $500,000 in Buffalo competition

Brennan Whitaker Duty
Nancy Parisi/Courtesy of 43North
On stage at the Shea's Performing Arts Center in Buffalo, Uma Bioseed's Brennan Whitaker Duty makes a pitch to 43North judges for the $1 million prize on Oct. 29.

Uma Bioseed – a Cornell student business startup formed in partnership with another Cornell startup's technology – won $500,000 in the 43North incubator competition in Buffalo, New York, Oct. 29.

Eleven company finalists – whittled down from 11,000 registrants in 117 countries – met in a pitch competition to serve up why their business deserved the $1 million grand prize. The winner was ACV Auctions of Buffalo, which received the grand prize and one year of space at the 43North incubator on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

43North is part of the Buffalo Billion initiative, in which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has committed $1 billion to Buffalo to spur new investment and economic activity.

"Bar none, 43North is the best competition we have participated in by all metrics – quality of teams presenting, quality of judges and quality of the organizing committee," said Brennan Whitaker Duty, MBA '15, of the Uma Bioseed management team. "43North and the city of Buffalo are giving Uma Bioseed everything we need in order to take our product and company to the next step," he said.

Last February, the Uma Bioseed team won the Mai Bangkok Business Challenge, while later in the spring, the young company won the 2015 New York Business Plan Competition, besting more than 500 other student-led teams. Winning the business plan competition carried a $100,000 grand prize.

Uma Bioseed was developed by Duty, Abhijeet Bais, MBA '15, and Margaret "Margo" Wu, MBA '15, when they were students at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. Uma Bioseed will produce a cost-effective seed coating with stabilized organic enzymes to battle fungal and bacterial seed-borne pathogens. The solution can disinfect seeds as they germinate so that more crops thrive from sown seeds, increasing yield and farm income.

Uma Bioseed deploys a proprietary enzyme packaging technology for agricultural applications from ZYMtronix, a company located in Cornell’s Kevin M. McGovern Family Center for Venture Development in the Life Sciences – effectively making Uma Bioseed a Cornell spinoff of a Cornell spinoff. Stéphane Corgié, inventor of the technology and CEO at ZYMtronix, is acting chief technology officer for Uma Bioseed.

ZYMtronix is pursuing its own applications in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries to enhance productivity and make drugs inexpensive and readily available.

The Uma Bioseed team saw firsthand the economic influence of the entrepreneurial spirit. "We learned that when a city comes together around a common economic goal, it really can change the status quo. Buffalo has a booming entrepreneurial community, and it's exciting that we are now a part of this ecosystem," said Duty. "This competition has reinforced our beliefs that a Cornell team as diverse and cohesive as ours – with a game-changing technology and business plan to commercialize it – is always a winning play no matter what competition."

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Melissa Osgood