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Planting the seed: Drought-resistant corn developer awarded $500k grant | Business

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Planting the seed: Drought-resistant corn developer awarded $500k grant
Planting the seed: Drought-resistant corn developer awarded $500k grant

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (Grand Valley State University) — Native Traits Corporation, a start-up bio-technology company in Kalamazoo, received $500,000 in pre-seed funding.

The Bioscience Research and Commercialization Center (BRCC) at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo invested $250,000 and Northern Michigan Angels, an investor group in Traverse City, provided an additional $250,000. The company also received hands-on support from the Michigan Small Business Development Center housed at Grand Valley State University.

Native Traits Corporation is a commercial developer of native traits for the hybrid seed corn industry; the company’s primary focus is the development of genetic traits that can make corn resistant to drought and extreme temperatures.

The funding will allow Native Traits to push forward their trademarked NT RECOVERY™ program and accelerate the screening of ancestral strains of maize (corn) for native traits such as drought resistance and cold tolerance. Once identified, each trait is recovered and transferred to commercial varieties via traditional plant breeding techniques. No genetic engineering is used in the development of new varieties that are less susceptible to extreme climate conditions.

“Our research is focused on recovering natural genetic traits from ancestral strains of corn,” said James Friedrich, president and CEO of Native Traits. “Heirloom and Native American varieties were well-adapted to adverse weather conditions and are an excellent place to look.”

Native Traits was formed in 2012 by Friedrich and John McIntyre. The company works from a repurposed chicken egg processing plant just outside of Kalamazoo in Oshtemo Township and is adjacent to the company’s research farm. The majority of the team’s research is on field corn. Research and development is primarily based on seed obtained from the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) seed bank in Ames, Iowa.

“This location is ideal for our research as it sits in close proximity to Lake Michigan and within an area that is often referred to as a snow belt,” said Friedrich. “This location provides us with the extreme weather conditions we need for testing.”

Friedrich said he is grateful for the help he received from BRCC and SBDC. BRCC provides start-up and gap funding to promising Michigan-based life sciences and medical device ventures entering the commercialization phase of development.

In working with the Michigan Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Friedrich received counseling and hands-on support from business consultants in the Michigan SBDC network, including Sandra Cochrane and John Balbach.  Friedrich received assistance with developing a business plan, crafting his elevator pitch and making critical introductions to potential investors. He also worked with the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center, Northern Michigan Angels in Traverse City, and his landlord, Dave Corning of DACO Properties.

In 2013, Native Traits took 2nd place in the Elevator Pitch Olympics in Madison, Wisconsin. The company won 1st place in the Elevator Pitch Competition at the 2014 ACE (Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurs) event and was named by Corp! Magazine as an Industry Innovator Honoree in 2014.

The company is currently working with seven major seed companies. To learn more about Native Traits visit http://nativetraits.blogspot.com.

About the Michigan SBDC
The Michigan Small Business Development Center (Michigan SBDC) provides counseling, business education, information-based planning and technology commercialization to new and existing businesses throughout Michigan’s 83 counties. The Michigan SBDC is housed in the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As host of the Michigan SBDC State Headquarters, the Seidman College of Business oversees the 11-region Michigan SBDC network. Entrepreneurs and small business owners may access the services of their nearest Michigan SBDC by calling (616) 331-7480 or visiting www.sbdcmichigan.org.