Saving the planet from the ground up, literally

Soil and trouble: Toxins in soil and sediment pose a problem -- but CEBIP client Allied Microbiata may have an environmentally friendly solution.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Allied Microbiata didn’t win 76West – but being a finalist in the innovative state-funded competition, which stimulates the clean-energy economy across the Southern Tier, wasn’t too shabby.

A ground-level effort in more ways than one, the 2017 startup is an early-stage bootstrapper with ties to Stony Brook University and Columbia University, on a primary mission to remediate soils and sediments tainted by toxins. And the graduate of the PowerBridge NY program and current benefactor of SBU’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program found itself in fairly elite company this summer, when it was named a finalist in the 76West competition.

EkoStinger, an East Rochester-based manufacturer focused on trucking-industry aerodynamics, ultimately took top honors and the contest’s $1 million first prize, followed by $500,000 runner-up Hub Controls, a 2014 Irish startup that’s been pilot-testing its smart-thermostat technologies across New York State (and is 76West’s first international winner).

Four other firms each received $250,000 prizes when winners were announced in October, with judges paying particular attention this year to the remote management of buildings and power-control systems.

All six winners, and many of the other finalists, were slightly further along the commercialization spectrum than Allied Microbiata, making the honor of a finalist selection an even more impressive achievement for cofounders Frana James and Raymond Sambrotto – and not the first time their startup, intent on tackling those recalcitrant pollutants with environmentally friendly microbial solutions, has earned outside attention.

Allied Microbiata has already benefitted from world-class assistance worthy of its global vision. And CEO James, who co-founded the company with Columbia University microbiologist Sambrotto, couldn’t be more grateful for the support.

A native of India, James boasts a topnotch education, including a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and electronics from the National Institute of Technology Calicut and an MBA from the India Institute of Management, in addition to a master’s degree in industrial engineering from Columbia University.

Frana James: Dirty work.

But her entrepreneurial education was made whole when she and two friends launched behealthE Technology Solutions Pvt in 2014. Along with partners George Thomas and Jos Chandy, James focused that India-based software company on the healthcare industry – specifically, on streamlining hospital-management protocols, with an eye on reducing patients’ waiting times.

It was a crash course in business formation, market analysis and other tenets of startup enterprising. And James passed with flying colors: behealthE Technology Solutions is still in business, serving hospitals across her home country.

Allied Microbiata uses microbial products to treat toxic pollutants, including PCBs, in soil and sediment, and the science is sound. The basic technologies were developed over years by Sambrotto, who spent a decade pitting microbes against various pollutants.

But the fledgling company still needed plenty of help getting off the ground (or in it). Allied Microbiata spent about 18 months in the Columbia University-based PowerBridge NY program, which works to commercialize university-based technologies into scalable cleantech solutions.

It was an “awesome” experience, according to James, “very intense, very extensive and very helpful.”

“A lot of technologies they have in universities need a lot of help in terms of customer discovery and proof of concept,” she noted. “PowerBridge is exactly structured to help technologies developed in the universities understand their potential market applications and find a niche where they can target their first product, so they can go to the next stage.”

Upon graduating from PowerBridge NY in January of this year, Allied Microbiata was accepted into CEBIP. Where PowerBridge NY was focused on teaching the startup the commercialization basics, CEBIP has connected the biotech to potential funding sources and provided other business-building and networking opportunities, including elbow-running with other companies in the business-incubation program.

“There’s a lot of things we can learn from other companies,” James noted. “We see companies who are behind us, we see companies at the same stage and companies that are further along. They share their strategies on how they scaled up and give us some really good advice.”

With several patent applications in the works and an ambitious field-testing program underway with New Jersey-based environmental engineering firm Clean Earth, the cofounders along with Director of Technology Michael Chin  are currently field-testing and fine-tuning solutions for a market that, according to James, is ripe for such products.

“The soil-remediation market is huge,” the CEO said. “It’s a $20 billion annual market. We have a bunch of products in our pipeline, but we are very focused on our first product, PacBac, which can remove PCBs from contaminated soils.

“We have the capability to produce the product in the lab, and right now, we’re working with Clean Earth at multiple client sites in New Jersey, Delaware and New York,” she added. “We want to scale up to 100 tons of soil by the end of this year.

“Once we show the technology can work at that scale, commercialization is the next step, and our plan is to start manufacturing on a larger scale by next year.”

Allied Microbiata

What’s It? Environmentally friendly soil remediation
Brought To You By: Cofounders Frana James (engineer and biz whiz) and Raymond Sambrotto (close friend of microbes)
Status: Cleaning up New Jersey, one toxic site at a time