At the end of 2018, entrepreneurs Andre Bezanson and Dr. Franziska Broell – then known as Maritime Biologgers, decided that it was time to let go of their side project and move onto other opportunities.
“We were basically winding things down,” Bezanson, now Chief Technical Officer and Co-Founder of Motryx, said. “Because we wanted to be disciplined about it, it was like, if it’s not going to scale up, then you end it – and I think that’s an important approach.”
The Maritime Biologgers were working out of the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE) in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, developing a sensor, that, with a couple of tweaks, could be modified to suit a client’s needs.
Variations of the sensor served as a tool for fisheries management, fish stock catchability, or bycatch reduction studies, effectively tracking the movements of fish and capturing data for marine researchers. It was sort of like a ‘Fitbit for fish,’ Bezanson explained.
With their time split between Bezanson starting another company and pursuing a PhD at Dalhousie University, and Broell completing post-doctoral research in Europe, they didn’t have much time – nor did they try – for sales.
“We had a landing page and scientists would contact us for sensors,” Broell, now Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at Motryx, said. “It was all inbound sales.”
While most of their clients were marine researchers, they also had a handful of other customers outside of that space.
“We had this core group of fish researchers that we were catering to, but there was this other group that was sort of a wild card,” Bezanson said. “They would come in from different market areas to look at our product, but we hadn’t really looked into who they were or what they were doing with it.”
When those requests came up, Broell, said, “It was kind of like, ‘Oh this looks interesting. Let’s just make it happen for them.’”
They sold variations of their sensors to these ‘wild cards,’ that existed outside of the oceanography field, put the orders through the books, and didn’t think much of it afterward.
“Scaling in the ocean sector was difficult because each customer needed its own slightly different product, and so we weren’t able to just develop one product that could be scaled up to many different clients,” Bezanson said.
So when the company was accepted into the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), they were surprised, as the ocean sector application of their technology didn’t hint at a massive scaling potential.
But then, the mentors pushed them to discuss their wild card clients instead of their core base, and share them with the group. Broell nonchalantly revealed to fellow participants that they had been altering their sensor for large pharmaceutical companies based out of the United States.
“Everyone was like, ‘What?’ Then we realized it was a huge deal, but it wasn’t something that we recognized, especially since it was always just a side business for both Andre and I,” Broell recalled, with a laugh. “CDL really became the main engine and motor of this thing then.”
They started researching these wild cards, and couldn’t help but get excited about bringing new life into their research.
“We started to assess who the customers were, the size of the market that they were coming from, and how much work it would be to enter those markets. It became really clear and very apparent very quickly that the blood sample tracking market was a huge market with a fairly low barrier-to-entry,” Bezanson said.
“They basically just needed our current technology that we had developed as a marine sensor – but slightly tweaked – and that would be something we could get into really quickly, that has real potential to scale up quickly,” he added.
But where their original focus was heavily weighted on the marine sector – and Broell holding a Phd in Oceanography – it wasn’t easy to shift their focus and transition to a whole new field, where they aim to provide insights into the quality of blood samples through the transportation process.
“It’s been a very steep learning curve,” Broell said of the transition.
Right now, anywhere from two to 20 per cent of blood samples are compromised in transit from the point of collection to the testing facility, and their research aims to resolve that.
“I’ve learned a lot in the last few months because I’ve talked to a lot of hospitals, a lot of laboratories, and it’s interesting to see that what we have just happens to be a solution to a problem that they’ve been thinking about for many years,” she said. “Where nobody has provided them with any solutions, it’s really cool that we are able to do that.”
Bezanson explained that because of their huge pivot, it only makes sense that they graduated out of COVE, rebranded from the Maritime Biologgers to Motryx, and quickly re-focused their efforts in a full-time capacity.
In early March, they competed in a Volta Pitch Competition powered by Cox & Palmer, presenting their pivot and winning a $500 Visa gift card. Then in mid-March, they became a Resident Company here at Volta, where they continue to iterate and adjust their development timelines to that of their new field.
“We’re finding that it’s incredibly fast-paced compared to the ocean research sector, where things were on yearly cycles,” Bezanson said. “You would have a year between iterations and now, because of the size of the general market dynamics, we are under intense pressure to get the fully realized product out within a very short period of time.
“It’s technically very demanding and just even managing the company and managing the growth of the company, is a huge effort,” he said, adding it’s an exciting time, nonetheless.
So why is this technology so important?
A compromised sample can impact the entire health care system, racking up costs and inconveniencing patients who would then need their blood drawn again. Then, there are longer wait times to receive results, and the timeline to initiate treatment is pushed – and in most cases, the sooner you’re treated, the better.
So understanding what causes the sample to be compromised from the point of collection through delivery to the testing facility is imperative, and until now, hasn’t been researched in a meaningful way.
“It’s about taking all of that information and figuring out how we can process it and give meaningful information back to the laboratories,” Bezanson said.
Bezanson, Broell and the rest of the Motryx team have been working closely with their expanding client-base, comprised largely of hospitals and laboratories throughout Europe and the United States. The team has sent clients minimum viable products and will receive meaningful feedback that will help further refine the product.
“It’s not nearly as polished as we want the final product to be,” Bezanson said, adding it will be extremely helpful to fine-tune their product after it’s been tested in market, to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t work in practice.
“When you start understanding there’s a massive opportunity to solve a problem that matters to a lot of people – it’s exciting. Our technology could actually help improve the way blood is being transported and speed up the diagnosis that patients receive; that’s huge,” Broell said.
Others are sharing in that excitement too, with plenty of key stakeholders taking notice. In February, for example, they raised $125,000 in 10 minutes from five investors. The next month, they pitched at Volta for a second time in the first stop of Pitch@Palace Canada 1.0. They were selected as one of four startups that will head to Toronto to compete in the national competition in May; if successful, they will pitch again in London, England, and gain access to a wide range of resources, mentorship opportunities, global and national supply chains, among other perks.
“Honestly, it’s been great. But when you launch your product and you have to be on the phone with your customers for two hours, it puts you back to the ground – it’s super humbling,” Broell said, with a laugh. “It’s easy to sell a story, but you have to then follow up with execution. Execution is key.”
As they keep their head down and continue to improve their product, they admit, it’s hard not to be excited about where they are, and where they see Motryx going.
“As a startup moving into a new market, there are so many barriers and challenges. Things that don’t seem like they should be major barriers, like facilities and corporate culture, end up becoming major issues as time and financial resources are stretched during scaling,” Bezanson said. “So it’s really great that we’re able to make use of the resources at Volta to alleviate many of those issues, while also being able to draw on the community for inspiration and guidance.”
They acknowledge there are still plenty of hurdles ahead, like government approvals, system integrations, and refining their product based on feedback from their MVP distribution, but as of right now, Bezanson said, “It feels like the stars are aligning.”
“The only way that this is possible – any of this, because we’re moving so fast – is that I feel like we have a really good ecosystem, a really good team of mentors through CDL, a really good investor team, huge help from everybody, and we’ve got a really good team of employees that we’re putting together. It’s a team effort,” Broell said.
“There are a lot of verticals that the company can go to, and it is almost a challenge to mitigate between spreading yourself too wide and focusing in the right direction.
“So we’re trying to develop a product that is as translational into other markets as possible, and I think that’s the key here because there might be more, bigger opportunities coming up – what with what’s already happened to us. This time, we’ll get it and better harness the opportunity when it presents itself,” she said.
Visit the Motryx website for more information.