James Szarko sees "big potential in small seeds." That's because his Calgary-based company, Botaneco, has developed a unique, innovative process to harvest high-value natural oil and protein products from Western Canadian oilseed crops.

"We work with canola, hemp, safflower and sunflower. We use very little inputs to pull out ingredients just the way nature made them," says Szarko, Botaneco's president and CEO.

At a 3,000-tonne-a-year production facility in Calgary, Botaneco applies water and mechanical equipment to carefully remove natural plant components from the seeds. What's extracted are protein concentrates, isolates and naturally occurring oil droplets (oleosomes) that can be used in the formulation of a variety of personal care, feed and food products.

James Szarko, CEO of Botaneco
James Szarko, CEO of Botaneco

"Because we don't use heat and chemicals like in traditional oilseed manufacturing processes, we create ingredients that provide a clean, healthy alternative for consumers," Szarko explains. Oleosomes, for example, provide natural moisturizing and emulsifier qualities perfect for cosmetic products.

So far, the company has focused product sales on the personal care industry in the United States. Already Botaneco ingredients are found in a number of branded sunscreens, skin care and hair care products.

Since forming five years ago, Botaneco has grown rapidly. In addition to a head office and manufacturing plant in Calgary, the 25-person company has opened a sales office in New Jersey. It's starting to expand sales to companies in Canada and Europe.  And the company has even bigger growth plans.

Earlier this summer the company became the first to receive funding from Protein Industries Canada as part of the federal government's Innovation Superclusters Initiative. (Protein Industries Canada made a co-investment of $4 million, which is being matched by industry for a total of $8 million.) Szarko says the funding will be used to research applications for new markets like food and aquaculture.  

Currently the company is exploring ways to market its natural oil and protein products to the non-meat market. It's also launched product trials at the Center for Aquaculture Technologies Canada facility on Prince Edward Island to test a canola-derived protein feed.

"We're one of the first companies in Canada to develop these innovative natural products from oilseeds," he says.

Szarko is proud of the company's growing success, which he credits in part to support from Alberta Innovates. Since 2016, Botaneco has received funding for product development. Szarko has also regularly consulted with Alberta Innovates experts to get advice on emerging market opportunities.

"There's been a great deal of passion and support from our partners at Alberta Innovates. That has really helped us to accelerate our business plans."