Rev: Ithaca Startup Workshas welcomed a new biotechnology company, Capro-X, to its ranks. Capro-X uses a Cornell-patented fermentation process to turn acid whey, a by-product of Greek yogurt production, into bio-oils that are valuable to several industries.
“We started this because we saw a big waste problem in New York that we could provide a solution for,” says co-founder and CEO Juan Guzman, PhD ’17. “We’re right in the middle of Greek yogurt country.”
It’s true – New York State produces more Greek yogurt than Greece, and is home to many popular national brands.
According to Guzman, who has worked in wastewater treatment for a decade, some Greek yogurt companies were carting 50 truckloads of acid whey per day to a network of farms to be used in animal feed. “We’re excited because we can help our customers be much more sustainable by getting rid of their waste, stopping trucking, which is highly unsustainable, and producing valuable chemicals at their plant,” he says.
Customers seeking those valuable chemicals – the bio-oils Capro-X produces from acid whey waste – include the flavor, fragrance, and beauty industries as well as any company looking for an alternative to palm oil, production of which has been associated with deforestation. Guzman even sees potential for the oil’s use in bio-fuel down the road.
The startup’s positive environmental impact earned it a spot as a Top 20 finalist in Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s 76West Clean Energy Competition, one of the largest competitions in the country that focuses on supporting and growing clean energy businesses and fostering economic development in New York’s Southern Tier region.
Capro-X operates within a circular, rather than a linear, economy. Instead of taking a resource, creating a product, and disposing of waste, it eliminates by-products by beginning with waste from one customer and turning it into something valuable for consumption by other customers.
Guzman began Capro-X in Cornell University’s Commercialization Fellows program, a specialized track for engineering doctoral candidates that provides training on commercializing research. “It was time that, if I didn’t have it, this company wouldn’t exist,” he says. He had come to Cornell to work with the man who would become his mentor and the company’s co-founder, Lars Angenent, adjunct professor in the department of biological and environmental engineering.
Guzman was also accepted into the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps, a seven-week program to train researchers to keep an entrepreneurial mindset. After completing I-Corps, Guzman also applied for and received a $225,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop Capro-X’s bio process. The company is in the seed stage as it joins Rev, and is seeking funding for its scale-up.
Capro-X recently secured lab space and hired its first employee. Guzman looks forward to learning more from the wealth of mentors available to him. “I almost feel like I’ve been a Rev member for a year from all the support I’ve been getting,” he says.