Co-Founder and CEO, Allied Microbiota
Allied Microbiota is a ground-level effort in more ways than one. Not only is the 2017 startup an early-stage bootstrapper, but its primary mission is the remediation of soils and sediments tainted by toxins.
With its boots literally on the ground, the graduate of PowerBridgeNY and current resident of the Clean Energy Business Incubator Program has already benefitted from world-class assistance worthy of its global vision. And CEO Frana James, who co-founded the company with Columbia University microbiologist Raymond 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.
But her entrepreneurial education was made whole when she and two friends launched behealthE Technology Solutions Pvt Ltd 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.
More than anything, those experiences help James understand the precise benefits provided by PowerBridgeNY and CEBIP. Allied Microbiota 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 co-founder Sambrotto.
But the fledgling company still needed plenty of help getting off the ground – or in it, as the case may be.
Allied Microbiota spent about 18 months in the Columbia University-based PowerBridgeNY 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 notes. “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 PowerBridgeNY in January of this year, Allied Microbiota was accepted into CEBIP – a graduate school of sorts for the startup, which is now soaring into the commercial stratosphere.
The Allied Microbiota partners bring different skills to the table. Sambrotto spent a decade pitting microbes against various pollutants; James – who’s “interested in doing things that are both environmentally and socially beneficial” – has the business-formation experience and the engineering knowledge.
They’ve also welcomed Director of Technology Michael Chin into the fold, and the tech whiz is helping the company fine-tune its offerings for a market that, according to James, is ripe for such products.
“The soil-remediation market is huge,” the CEO says. “It’s a $20 billion annual market.”
With CEBIP’s help, Allied Microbiota is getting closer to claiming its share. Where PowerBridgeNY was focused on teaching the startup the commercialization basics, CEBIP has connected the biotech to funding sources and provided other critical networking opportunities, including beneficial interactions with other companies in the business-incubation program.
“There’s a lot of things we can learn from other companies,” James says. “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.”
CEBIP has also set important milestones for the early-stage company – the program is helping Allied Microbiota create a marketing video right now – and provides plenty of on-the-fly reinforcement.
“Every time we have a question, we can just send an email to David Hamilton or others and they will always answer you,” James notes. “Any question you have – whatever information they have, they will provide it.”
With several patent applications in the works and an ambitious field-testing program underway with New Jersey-based environmental engineering firm Clean Earth, Allied Microbiota is making serious strides toward its commercialization goals – and James is grateful to both PowerBridgeNY and CEBIP for helping to make that happen.
“We have a bunch of products in our pipeline, but we are very focused on our first product, PacBac, which can clean soils contaminated with very toxic contaminants like PCBs,” she says. “We have the capability to produce the product in the lab, and right now, we are working with Clean Earth at sites at multiple client companies in New Jersey, Delaware and New York.
“We have just started this field testing and we want to scale up to 100 tons of soil by the end of this year,” James adds. “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.”