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NZ-based photonic sperm selection company acquired by global investor

05 Dec 2018

Engender Tech, founded by SPIE Startup Challenge winner Cather Simpson, acquired by CRV International to develop photonics-based livestock breeding tech.

A New Zealand-based startup, Engender Technologies, which has developed an optically-based cell sorting technology, has been acquired by global corporate investor CRV International for an undisclosed sum.

CRV is a co-operative that is owned by the Dutch co-operative CR Delta and the Flemish co-operative VRV. About 27,000 dairy and beef farmers in the Netherlands and Flanders are member of these co-operatives. It already has significant existing operations in New Zealand.

Engender has developed an optically-based cell sorting technology with the potential to replace flow cytometry in a number of applications, notably the selective breeding of livestock to optimize agricultural yields.

Engender was co-founded by the University of Auckland Professor Cather Simpson and seed investment firm Pacific Channel in 2011 and Auckland UniServices. “We have developed an innovation which is particularly significant for the trillion-dollar global livestock market,” Prof Simpson commented.

Optical sorting

Its technology to separate X- and Y-bearing bull sperm cells. This technology is expected to be low cost and cause minimal discernible damage to the cells. Sex sorting is expected to sustainably accelerate genetic gain and improve cost efficiencies in large animal reproduction. Engender's technique uses microfluidic and photonic chips that can sort sperm by sex at a lower cost than conventional techniques, with less negative impact on fertility and with increased sperm retention over existing technology.

On November’s CRV acquisition, Professor Simpson commented, “Our R&D team is over the moon! Working from inside an international leader in the livestock industry will allow us to fully accelerate translating our technology to benefit farmers.

Engender’s CEO Brent Ogilvie added, “The acquirer [CRV] has been a valuable partner in the development of our technology since it first committed resources to Engender in 2016. CRV has signaled its intention to keep Engender’s staff in New Zealand where our research and development expertise lies. Their backing as an international strategic partner will ensure that Engender can take its Kiwi innovation worldwide.”

Will Charles, Executive Director of Commercialisation at Pacific Channel, said “we are delighted for Cather and her team, and very pleased that working with local investors like Pacific Channel is starting to bear fruit in getting the great science done at the University of Auckland into global supply chains. The recycling of capital is critical to our ability to continue to fund the next generation of great start-ups.”

SPIE Startup 2018 winner

In this year’s SPIE Startup Challenge, Cather Simpson’s Orbis Diagnostics company won third place. Its “Point of Cow” photonic-diagnostics approach enables dairy farmers to innovate by providing key data about core business – to enable production of the best quality milk from the healthiest animals in the most sustainable way.

At February’s awards ceremony in San Francisco, Simpson commented, “We are developing in-line milking measurement for protein, fat, somatic cell and progesterone. Dairy farmers need to determine ratios and concentration of milk solids, for which they are paid, detect early signs of bovine mastitis through somatic cell counts; and improve reproduction through progesterone monitoring.”

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