New Brunswick

Fredericton dairy tech company wins $1M international prize

A Fredericton agriculture tech company won $1 million in one of the most lucrative business plan competitions in the world.

SomaDetect heading to U.S. to perfect machine dairy farmers can use to monitor health of cows, quality of milk

SomaDetect is run by Bethany Deshpande and her husband and business partner, Nicholas Clermont. They won $1 million at the 43North event in Buffalo, N.Y., on Thursday night. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

A Fredericton agricultural tech company won $1 million Thursday night in one of the most lucrative business plan competitions in the world.

SomaDetect, which is run by Bethany Deshpande and her husband and business partner, Nicholas Clermont, won the the top prize in the 43North annual international competition in Buffalo, N.Y.

"Were completely shocked," Deshpande said. 

A Fredericton company called SomaDetect won a price of $1M in an international contest in Buffalo Thursday night. 0:50

"I was so nervous … then our name was called," she said. "I was kind of shaking."

The company is perfecting a sensor that can quickly detect two main things: the fat content in milk, which can increase what a farmer is paid for the milk, and somatic cell counts, which can indicate disease.

"It was just such an overwhelming experience and having to sort of pull ourselves together and keep things straight in a moment like that was a sure challenge," Deshpande said. 

She said the process from application to the pitch and announcement Thursday has "been such a long road." 

"We didn't really have time backstage to kind of realize what was going on," she said.

"They said 'grand winner, SomaDetect,'" Clermont said. "We kind of all stood there for maybe a second or two, not moving, just looking at each other and Beth said, 'OK, we won, let's get on stage.'" 

The six-person company was one of 16 startup companies selected to participate in the competition. Runners-up were eligible for cash prizes of up to $650,000.

Winners receive office space in Buffalo and access to the 43North business accelerator.

SomaDetect will have to give 43North the right to five per cent of the company, and the team must live in the Buffalo area for a year.

There, SomaDetect will get the chance to finish product development and begin to make sales, Deshpande told CBC News in September.

The team will keep an office in Fredericton but head to Buffalo in January, she said.

Bethany Deshpande delivers a pitch at Communitech's Fierce Founders competition. Her company, SomaDetect was one of two winners. (Communitech)

Being in Buffalo positions the company well to sell its product to farmers in New York state, one of the largest dairy-producing states in the U.S. It will also help the company start selling to Atlantic Canada.

"I think we care about the food we eat," Deshpande said. "We're at a time where people are understanding the critical role that farmers play in the food system as a whole and the environmental ecosystem."

Clermont said he's already started to plan the company's next steps.

In August, SomaDetect took home a $50,000 prize at the Communitech Fierce Founders pitch competition.

The competition helps women tech entrepreneurs build their companies.

SomaDetect was also were a runner-up in a New Brunswick Innovation Foundation competition.  

With files from Catherine Harrop