EmGenisys is one of the startups from around the world working with the Luminate NY accelerator at NextCorps in downtown Rochester. These companies are helping to write the next chapter in Rochester’s history as the world’s center for optics, photonics, and imaging (OPI).
EmGenisys received an initial investment of $50,000 as a non-competing regional participant, which allows them to take part in the six-month program to speed the commercialization of their technology and business. Funding for the $25 million Luminate program is being provided through Empire State Development’s Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative.
“New York State business competitions offer startups the ability to connect with valuable regional resources to further develop their technologies here and change their trajectory,” said Dr. Sujatha Ramanujan, managing director of Luminate. “EmGenisys is just one example of a company that is speeding its path to market availability through its association with Grow NY and Luminate. Since becoming a regional participant, the startup has evolved considerably by forging partnerships in the Rochester and Finger Lakes community that will help them expand their product application and reach.”
We caught up with Cara Wells, co-founder and CEO of EmGenisys, to discuss how the company is helping veterinarians evaluate embryos and improve pregnancy outcomes in livestock through technology that might also someday help humans grow their families.
Tell us about your company.
EmGenisys is an early-stage animal agriculture tech company. We are developing technology to evaluate embryo health to improve pregnancy outcomes of In vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo transfer in livestock. Our flagship product is a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution that non-invasively analyzes embryo morphokinetic activity.
Veterinarians simply record 30 second videos of embryos with their smartphone camera. To the human eye, these embryos look like still blobs of cells, but the videos are able to capture hidden morphokinetic, cellular activity. Once the videos are uploaded to our web-based platform, our technology analyzes each frame to determine which embryos are growing and developing normally.
Our models leverage machine learning that has been trained to make advanced predictions pertaining to embryo health, including viability, sex, and genetic competency. Veterinarians can use this information to select the healthiest embryos with the highest likelihood of surviving to term. EmGenisys technology surpasses the industry gold standard for embryo assessment and requires a fraction of the time and cost of other solutions.
Where is your company headquartered?
We are headquartered in Houston, Texas.
Who are the company founders?
I co-founded the company with Russell Killingsworth, DVM, our chief veterinary officer, and Tracy Druce, JD, and our chairman of the board. Our backgrounds complement each other well: I am an entrepreneur, inventor and animal scientist with a PhD in Animal Science from Texas Tech University. Russell is a veterinarian with nearly 40 years of experience specializing in bovine reproduction. Tracy is an intellectual property attorney with over 25 years of experience establishing monetizable intellectual property.
How did you and your team develop the concept for your product?
Embryo selection and evaluation in both animal and human embryology is subjective and based on an embryologist’s ability to evaluate visual properties of the embryos in a culture. This method fails to identify 20% of embryos that have no chance of ever resulting in pregnancy. For the United States beef and dairy industry, this is a $1.5 billion dollar problem.
We are committed to developing safe, practical, and affordable methods to evaluate embryo health in the lab or farm to help veterinarians make more informed decisions regarding which embryos should be transferred into recipient cows. We suspected that computers might be able to see evidence of morphokinetic activity, or motion, that humans cannot perceive, and began collecting videos of cattle embryos in culture. We found that the amount of motion and cellular activity correlated to pregnancy outcomes. Our ability to evaluate embryo activity in real time allows us to non-invasively predict embryo viability and embryo sex, detect early onset of stress, and optimize the environment that is conducive to embryo growth and survivability.
Why does the world need this product?
By 2050, there is estimated to be a 76% increase in demand for animal derived protein, such as meat, milk, and eggs to feed the global population. We need to create this protein without destroying the planet in the process.
Well-managed livestock production provides one solution to meeting food security and environmental sustainability goals. Traits such as milk production, feed efficiency, insect resistance, and methane emissions are hereditary, so using embryo transfer and IVF to perpetuate these ideal traits creates generations of animals that are healthier and more efficient. Our technology identifies embryos that are dead or dying at the time of transfer so that veterinarians can elect not to transfer them, saving the cattle producer money and animals while enabling a higher proportion of their herd to deliver high merit value and healthy calves.
Our value is not limited to the livestock industry. We own the Intellectual Property (IP) for the use of this technology in all mammalian species, and ultimately aim to scale the technology for use in clinical human IVF to help people grow their families.
How long have you been working on this technology?
Ideation for this technology began in Spring of 2020.
Who is the target audience for your product?
Veterinarians, specifically ET practitioners, are direct customers and users of this technology. Dairy and beef producers are indirect customers as they bear the economic burden of failed pregnancies.
What made you look to Rochester to further your product?
Rochester is home to world-class optics and imaging engineers and business experts who are valuable resources for us as we develop our product’s imaging technology. It’s also home to some of the most progressive, data-driven animal operations in the world. As finalists for the Grow NY Food and Agricultural Competition, we were introduced to several dairy owners in the Rochester region who welcomed us to their farms and provided us with instrumental feedback, advice, and insights to help develop our product.
Tell us about your experience being in Luminate.
The Luminate mentors and our fellow cohort 5 entrepreneurs provide us with unparalleled support and, as a result, our business has grown. Since joining the program, we have partnered with Custom Surgical, another Luminate company, to help optimize the quality of our videos. This has improved our prediction accuracy, product performance, and overall user-friendliness. The Luminate program has been such a positive experience that we have planted new roots in Rochester and recently hired two local employees.
What are you hoping to achieve during your time in Luminate?
We want to build a company that makes the world a better place. Luminate shares this ambition and has helped position EmGenisys to make a major global impact. Not only do we want to build a state-of-art embryo health diagnostics platform, but we want our product to be used by every Embryo Transfer practitioner on the planet. Luminate has granted us access to the engineers who can make this possible and serves as our partner to help us scale into large markets.
If your company receives additional funding or support, what will you do with this assistance?
Follow-on funding will expedite our growth and maximize our impact. We have bootstrapped EmGenisys since company formation. With sheer grit and determination, we have built a SaaS product, validated it with over 5,000 videos of embryos, filed 13 patents, and secured numerous customers and collaborators worldwide.
With further support from New York State, we can deploy our analysis on a smartphone app and create an Application Programming Interface to integrate our proprietary analysis on existing software platforms measuring biometric data in cattle. With these improvements, we can access a larger network of customers and scale faster.
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