Kitchener-based Nicoya has been named Life Science Company of the Year by industry association Life Sciences Ontario.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Ryan Denomme, co-founder and CEO of Nicoya. “Many of the past recipients of the award are leading the Ontario biotech and life-sciences field, so it’s great to be recognized as a part of that.”
The award is well-deserved recognition for a company that has grown steadily over the past decade and is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary.
Denomme came up with the idea for Nicoya Lifesciences in 2012 while studying nanotechnology and earning a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Waterloo. His work in the sensors and integrated microsystems lab contributed to a platform that enabled scientists to analyze samples of animal blood in the field.
It struck Denomme that many researchers don’t have access to the cutting-edge technology needed to advance their discoveries. He set out to use sensors and nanotechnology to help reduce the cost and complexity of scientific instruments and to make them more accessible to researchers.
Given the cost and shortage of lab space, Nicoya started out using labs at UW. It also received support through the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, UW’s Velocity program and Communitech. In 2015, while participating in the first cohort of Communitech’s former Rev accelerator program, Nicoya won the pitch competition’s $50,000 top prize.
Today, Nicoya uses nanotechnology, biochemistry and optical sensors to develop digital instruments for researchers and scientists. The company employs more than 100 scientists, engineers, designers and other staff. Most work out of a growing facility in downtown Kitchener where the company recently expanded to about 20,000 square feet, adding a clean-room lab and bio-safety labs.
Nicoya also has employees in Europe and one in the Boston area, where the company recently built a demonstration lab to showcase its products to customers.
The investment is helping Nicoya expand into new international markets and continue to develop its Alto surface plasmon resonance (SPR) system, which saves researchers time and money as they explore the role of proteins in understanding diseases and developing treatments.
Despite a recent softening of tech valuations and a general tightening of investor purse strings, Denomme remains passionate about the future of the biotech and life-science sectors.
“There's just so much innovation happening – it’s like the fastest pace of innovation and the most new technologies and therapies and drugs that are coming out ever in the history of the world,” he said. “So, if people are a little bit nervous about that, I just think from my perspective it’s all still very exciting. I think COVID has shown us how rapidly innovation can happen in this space and also how important it is to the future of the entire planet.”