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Cornellian’s dairy waste startup wins NSF Phase II funding

Capro-X, a startup that repurposes dairy waste and began in Cornell Engineering’s Commercialization Fellows program, has received a $724,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Phase II award.

The company, which converts acid whey waste from the production of Greek yogurt into chemicals and biofuels, will use the funds to optimize its technology at the lab scale and evaluate impacts at the demonstration scale, before its planned market entry in 2022.

Juan Guzman, Ph.D. ’17, co-founder and CEO of Capro-X, presents his startup’s sustainable solution to the problem of acid whey waste from dairy production at the 2019 Grow-NY Food and Agriculture Competition.

The NSF Phase II grant pushes Capro-X past $1 million in funding awards. After completing the NSF’s I-Corps, a seven-week program to train researchers to become entrepreneurs, company co-founder and CEO Juan Guzman, Ph.D. ’17, applied for and received a $225,000 NSF Phase I grant. Last year, Capro-X won a $250,000 prize in the inaugural Grow-NY food and agriculture competition, administered by Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

This spring the startup secured additional funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, as one of 23 companies developing technologies that will help protect health and the environment.

“We’ve been able to achieve all of the goals we set out to reach when starting the company a couple of years ago,” Guzman said. “We’re just excited to have a team that has stuck with us through all of our growth stages. We’re on a trajectory to bring our solution to market to increase the sustainability of the dairy industry.”

In addition to funding, Guzman and his team have taken advantage of other entrepreneurial resources. The company was a finalist in NYSERDA’s 76West Clean Energy Competition in 2018; that same year it became a member of Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, a business incubator co-created by Cornell.

This month, Capro-X began the Dairy Farmers of America business accelerator program.

This summer, the company is starting construction on its demonstration system, which is expected to treat a few hundred gallons of Greek yogurt acid whey per day. It should produce enough bioproducts to enable Capro-X to enter the specialty chemicals market.

Casey Verderosa is a writer for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

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