From classroom to boardroom: UAlberta alumnus and biotech entrepreneur recognized

    David Brown (‘13 BSc) awarded 2018 Alumni Horizon Award for contributions to human health and outstanding career achievements.

    By Andrew Lyle on September 20, 2018

    Just five years after graduating, UAlberta alumnus David Brown, ‘13 BSc, has founded two biotechnology companies, Mycodev Group and Chinova Bioworks, cementing his role as a pioneer in the world of health and biotech. Now, Brown is being awarded an Alumni Horizon Award, which recognizes outstanding career achievements and contributions to community by UAlberta alumni.

    “I'm very honored to receive the Alumni Horizon Award, and it inspires me to continue to grow and develop as a community leader and as a person,” said Brown. “Every so often, I reflect on how important UAlberta has been to getting me to where I am now, and I'm always amazed by the support the university continues to give me even after graduation.”

    Seeds of success

    During his undergraduate education at UAlberta, Brown participated in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. That year featured the first iGEM Entrepreneurial division—hosted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—laying the foundation for Brown’s future as an entrepreneur.

    “That competition, combined with the Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology course I took in my final year of my undergrad got me interested in the business of bioscience,” said Brown. “It gave me a bit of experience to tackle entrepreneurship on my own after graduation.”

    And he’s certainly tackled it head-on; Brown has founded two successful biotechnology companies since he graduated in 2013, operating out of his native New Brunswick. Both companies focus on the use of chitosan, a versatile fibre with a wide variety of applications to improve human health, and collaborate with universities across Canada, the United States, and Europe.

    Mycodev Group uses fungal fermentation to produce chitosan, a novel approach to creating high-purity chitosan for uses in cancer therapy, wound care, and other health applications. The fungal fermentation process avoids issues with traditional production methods, which is usually produced from crustaceans and edible mushrooms.

    With Chinova Bioworks, Brown and his team have pioneered the use of mushroom chitosan as a preservative ingredient, providing a natural alternative to unhealthy artificial preservatives in foods and beverages. With both ventures, Brown and his colleagues are working to improve human health with innovative applications of biotechnology--and creating a successful business model as they do so.

    The business end of biochemistry

    The success of Brown’s entrepreneurial efforts is the result of hard work and innovation, something he and his team bring to work every day to continue to grow their companies. But Brown also has some advice for up-and-coming scientists, as well.

    “For students just starting out in science—you have an incredible opportunity in front of you to learn from experts who want to share with you the knowledge of their fields,” said Brown. “Learn as much as you can and get as many experiences as you can.

    “You never know what small little thing you do now will turn out to be the biggest part of your future. I remember how nervous I was when I was first asked if I wanted to participate in iGEM, I was going to say no just because I was too shy and didn't know anyone else who was on the team. Now I look back, and I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't joined.”

    Looking forward, on the other hand, Brown knows exactly where he wants go. Brown plans to grow his two companies organically, with a revenue target of $100 million within 10 years and plans to diversify into other new fields.

    This year, Chinova Bioworks took on investment from the venturing arm of Royal DSM, a major multinational ingredient producer, which will help accelerate growth and expansion to meet those targets. That investment is a show of confidence in Brown’s entrepreneurial achievements; and something Brown has advice on for aspiring entrepreneurs:

    “Even though you're doing this on your own, don't feel like you are alone. There are so many great groups out there who can help you, especially the University of Alberta,” said Brown. “Starting a company is a rollercoaster ride and you'll need as much help as you can get.”

    Hear more from David Brown on entrepreneurship, science, and innovation this Friday, September 21st at Science Talks 2018. In the spirit of TEDx, Nerd Nite, and PechaKucha, Science Talks is all about sharing interesting science topics in under 15 minutes.