What began as a struggling start-up in the Edmonton Research Park is now one of Edmonton’s fastest growing companies, with a five-year growth rate of 1,378% and a ranking from Canada Business magazine as one of Canada’s fastest growing companies for the 3rd consecutive year.
BioNeutra is a company that is focused on both the research and development, and the production of ingredients for nutraceutical, functional and mainstream foods – and it’s one of the region’s success stories. In fact, their VitaFiber IMO sugar alternative, has just been named the world’s top beverage ingredient by FoodBev, a leading food and beverage industry publisher.
Dr. Jianhua Zhu, founder of BioNeutra, came to Edmonton in 1998 as a visiting professor at the University of Alberta. While Jianhua’s original intention was to return to China after completing his appointment at the University, he decided to stay and began his career as an Edmonton-based entrepreneur. “Before coming, I didn’t know where Edmonton was,” says Jianhua, “but I knew about the University of Alberta because of its strong reputation outside of Canada.”
Jianhua has been recognized as one of Canada’s Top Immigrants on the Royal Bank of Canada’s Top Immigrant List in 2018 – and for good reason.
Jianhu comes from a family of doctors and has always had a passion for helping people improve their health. After working as the senior scientist for two Edmonton-based biotech companies, Jianhua decided it was time to take a risk and launch his own company and he felt that the Edmonton Metropolitan Region was the perfect place to do it.
“This is an entrepreneurial region,” said Jianhua. “There is a strong entrepreneurial spirit.”
Starting a business requires support and while Jianhua knew the science behind his products was solid, he first needed to find the money to commercialize his idea – and while he was ultimately successful in securing the funding he needed from friends, family, and academic associates – it wasn’t easy. As Jianhua says, “You can’t imagine how many presentations I made.”
One investment from a fellow professor for a sum of $5,000 particularly humbles Jianhua. “He told me, ‘I might never see this money again, but I believe in you,’” remembers Jianhua.
After raising the necessary capital, and securing some initial government grants, Jianhua founded BioNeutra in 2003. In 2012 it first became profitable and has steadily grown over time with The Financial Times, recently including it on its list of the fastest 500 growing companies in the Americas. BioNeutra’s 135% three-year growth rate earned them the 364th place on the exclusive list, joined by other recognizable companies such as Tesla, Netflix, and Uber
Needless to say, BioNeutra is not a start-up anymore.
BioNeutra continues to build on their success and has developed patented processes to leverage manufacturing technology to produce a range of nutraceutical products that function as a sugar replacements. Nutraceuticals are part of a large and growing market in natural health products representing $16.4 billion annually in Canada alone. Nutraceuticals have demonstrated exceptionally high growth globally with a compounded 10% year over year growth from 2010-2018.
BioNeutra’s innovative processes have led to them receiving a number of other coveted titles and awards, including the ASTech award in 2017 for Outstanding Commercial Achievement in Alberta Science and Technology.
BioNeutra sells its products worldwide in markets such as the U.S., EU, India, and SE Asia, and is doing it all from the Edmonton Metro Region. Its award-winning product, VitaFiber is made using a patented process that naturally and enzymatically converts starch molecules from plant-based starches such as pea or tapioca into healthy, functional molecules. The conversion process does not involve any chemical modification making VitaFiber a natural food and beverage ingredient which has been authorized for sale by the world’s top health regulatory bodies
Recently they’ve also secured a spot as a finalist for 2020’s Alberta Business Awards of Distinction. “We have a lot of community, government, and industry support from Edmonton,” says Jianhua. “Combine that with the innovative nature and abundance of agricultural material, we have everything we need right here.”