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Manure processor comes out smelling like a rose

Ross Thurston’s company, Livestock Water Recycling, builds systems that reduce manure by about 85 per cent while segregating nutrients and discharging water that’s clean enough to drink.

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Global opportunities have long been out of reach for Livestock Water Recycling Inc., a Calgary company that makes cost-efficient and environmentally friendly systems for treating hog and cow manure.

The 23-year-old enterprise has had to turn down inquiries from farmers around the world because it lacks the commercial-grade lab needed to satisfy government rules for importing livestock manure.

But that's about to change, thanks to a $100,000 windfall.

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Livestock Water Recycling has won the top spot, and a $100,000 cash prize, in the Small Business Challenge contest sponsored by Telus Corp. and The Globe and Mail. The company was among four semi-finalists chosen from more than 1,000 entries.

After a final round of judging that included a live pitch by the semi-finalists to a panel of judges, Livestock Water Recycling came out ahead of the others: Forerunner Research Inc., RecycleSmart Solutions Inc., and Northern Canadian Supplies Ltd.

"We're delighted to have this great opportunity, which will open up new markets for us," says Ross Thurston, president and founder of Livestock Water Recycling. "The leverage we'll get with this prize money, which is quite considerable, is just phenomenal."

Livestock Water Recycling builds systems that reduce manure volume by about 85 per cent while segregating nutrients and discharging water that's clean enough to drink. This makes it easier for farmers to transport and apply the treated manure as fertilizer, and to create a nutrient mix that's suited to their crops.

The clean water produced in the process can be used on the farm, Mr. Thurston says. This is especially helpful in areas that have problems with water quality.

Jim Senko, vice-president of small to medium business for Telus and one of the contest's judges, says Livestock Water Recycling stood out because of its ability to turn a global problem into a business opportunity.

"Their patented technology not only reduces problematic manure volume by 85 per cent, it turns it into useful resources for the farm," he says.

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Another judge, Chris Griffiths of Fine Tune Consulting in Toronto, says he liked that Livestock Water Recycling has proprietary, patented technology that has already achieved commercial success.

"They have a unique product with a global opportunity," he says. "They understand who their customers are and what constraints are creating a bottleneck in their business."

Livestock Water Recycling, which has 20 employees, has installed its treatment systems on numerous farms in Canada and the United States, at a cost of between $500,000 to $1-million per project. But until now, going global has not been possible because its laboratory, which Mr. Thurston describes as "inadequate and slow," makes it tough to comply with government import regulations pertaining to livestock manure, which the company needs to bring in for testing purposes.

With its $100,000 prize money, the company can go full speed ahead with renovating and upgrading its lab. In addition to more efficient testing equipment, the upgrades will include predictive modelling software that can illustrate costs and savings for farmers looking to use the company's system.

"We're going to invest that money in technology to make our company better," Mr. Thurston says. "It's a process we already started."

Mr. Senko says Livestock Water Recycling's tangible plan for the prize money was one of the things that impressed him the most.

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"The $100,000 will enable them to tap into the global market with a new commercial-grade lab, and it will also enable them to reduce costs and continue to innovate," he says. "It will be exciting to see another Canadian small business operate at a global level."

About the contest

The third annual $100,000 Small Business Challenge contest attracted more than 1,000 entrants this year.

Four semi-finalists and the winner were selected by a panel that included Jim Senko and Hugh Johnson of Telus Corp.; Chris Griffiths of Fine Tune Consulting; Carolyn Lawrence of Women of Influence Inc.; Donna Marie Antoniadis of ShesConnected Multimedia Corp.; Sally J. Daub of ViXS Systems Inc.; and Sean Stanleigh and Steve Tustin of The Globe and Mail.

The judges applied the following criteria in scoring the semi-finalists: 15 per cent for the description of the challenge; 55 per cent for the proposed solution; 15 per cent for the description of the anticipated results; and 15 per cent for the description of how values are incorporated into the business.

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