They might not look like much, but the white, square fiber pads made by Biovation in Boothbay are pretty powerful. They keep fresh fruits and produce from harboring harmful bacteria like E. coli, they help heal wounds and prevent infection, and will even offer armed forces a portable way to soak up water from their combat boots and stave off foot fungus. The pads are made from biopolymers derived from cornstarch, making them biodegradable and eco-friendly compared to other plastics.
The impressive traits of Biovation's products have made the company one of 20 finalists for the Smaller Business Association of New England's 2011 Innovation Awards, which highlight high-tech enterprises that stand out in their marketplace niches. Biovation is a finalist in the Rising Star category for startups demonstrating a unique product or technology poised to impact the market. Nearly 200 companies were nominated for three categories.
Biovation was notified in early April it had been nominated by the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The company made its case to the judges to move into the finalist round, and last month gave a second presentation, but won't know if it impressed them enough to be named the winner until May 11. "We're straddling a lot of disciplines, and I think they like that," says CEO Kerem Durdag.
Biovation has developed a unique manufacturing method for nonwoven fiber products, according to Durdag. The fibers are infused with chemical formulations that have antimicrobial properties to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Since they're made from organic materials, the wound-care products don't irritate the body and can even be absorbed into it. They're also super absorbent, a plus for keeping both wounds and produce dry.
Last month, the company expected to ship its first food-safety products to a major customer Durdag chose not to name, and it's also in negotiations with a medical company for its wound-care products, a process that could take a year, he adds. The U.S. Marine Corps has also approached the company to supply pads for use as boot dryers for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lightweight and easy to carry, Biovation's pads offer Marines a way to sop up dripping boots without electricity, which is scarce in the Middle East. Durdag says he hopes to have the product ready to test in eight to 10 months, and that a contract will follow.
Neither nonwoven materials nor bioplastic polymers are new, but Biovation's use of them is, Durdag says. "It's a marriage of older, mature know-how with new, leading-edge technology in a specific market niche."
Biovation was launched a year and a half ago as a spinoff from Wiscasset medical foam manufacturer Rynel Inc., which was acquired by Swedish company Molnlycke Health Care in January 2010. Biovation is one of nine portfolio companies of Maine-based investment firm Anania and Associates, which has provided "a very significant" amount to the startup, which is also funded by $621,000 from the Maine Technology Institute and angel investors.
Though the company isn't yet profitable, Durdag hopes in five to 10 years to capture 5%-10% of the $400 million produce-safety market, and 1%-3% of the $1 billion wound-care sector. The company has five full- and five part-time employees, and hopes to be profitable in the next 18 months, Durdag says.
As a member of the new Sustainable Bioplastics Council of Maine, Durdag is a proponent of using Maine-based resources like potatoes and wood to make biopolymers such as the ones Biovation uses — not only to benefit his company, but the state. More emphasis on R&D is needed to "create intellectual and financial capital as an economic engine" and help innovative companies like those in the bioplastics council grow, he says. "I think we're the future of Maine."