If I asked you to list some possible uses of corn, what would you come up with?

I’m sure delicious summer corn on the cob would come to mind and perhaps envisioning the baking aisle in your local supermarket might lead you to think of cornstarch and corn syrup. You’re also likely to think of corn’s role in animal feed and as a feedstock for biofuels. These are, by far, the most common uses of corn.

I would be astonished, however, if you associated corn with cosmetics, nutraceuticals and sunscreens, but this is exactly what MaRS client Mirexus Inc.’s nanotechnology has the potential to do.

Mirexus has developed an eco-friendly polymer that can be produced from corn, which is a sustainable resource. The polymer is low cost and completely safe—it’s edible, in fact—and it offers superior performance over conventional petroleum-based products.

The honest fact is that while you may not associate corn with moisturizers now, Mirexus’ “PHYTOSPHERIX” nanomaterial promises to revolutionize the cosmetics industry. Mirexus’ nanoparticle is able to retain moisture content over a longer period of time, increasing the performance of moisturizers and other cosmetic products. This new product also reduces the demand for fossil fuels, which are used in the production of many skin moisturizers and cosmetic products.

Another potential market for PHYTOSPHERIX is its use in sunscreen, where its interaction with light allows it to increase the ability of sunscreens to block UV light, making them longer lasting and safer to use. The sunscreen market represents a $1 billion market opportunity in the United States alone.

Unlike traditional nanoparticles, Mirexus’ nanoparticle has a consistent and predictable diameter. This constant diameter, about one thousand times less than a human hair, makes the nanopartical ideal for the healthcare field, where it has the potential to be used as a carrier in cancer drugs, edible coatings, health foods, sports drinks, vitamins and more.

I sat down with Phil Whiting, president and CEO of Mirexus Inc., to discuss his business and to get some advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

This product represents a truly disruptive technology with multiple entry markets. How are you identifying which markets to pursue first?

Our focus is on those markets for which the unique properties of our material have the highest value. We have selected applications where no other material offers the combination of properties that we have, allowing us to avoid markets where the only issue is price.

I understand this technology came out of academia. Do you still have a relationship with the University of Guelph and what role does the institution play with the company now?

The technology was developed at the University of Guelph, but is now owned by Mirexus. One of our founders from the university, John Dutcher, is on our board and remains actively involved. We also continue to have access to the fantastic minds and facilities at the university. This has been a great partnership for Mirexus.

Your role as Mirexus’ CEO is fairly new. What attracted you to the company?

I love business spinoffs from universities. Canadian universities are among the best in the world and so is our science. Once I became aware of the Mirexus technology and its potential, I felt compelled to join and to see if we could build something really special here in Guelph.

I also understand that music is a huge passion of yours. Is there a role for PHYTOSPHERIX in the music industry?

Other than eventually contributing to the health and well-being of musicians, I don’t think so. Sadly the name doesn’t rhyme easily, so I’m not sure I could even write a song about it!

Last question, what are the top three pieces of advice that you wish you knew five to 10 years ago?

First, customers rule. Go find customers because they teach you what you really need to know about your product/technology/idea. Second, don’t be afraid to find financial partners who know as much or more than you do about your market. In fact, seek them out. Third, never expect to build a successful music career when you sing like I do!

Jennifer Minelli

Jennifer manages the accelerating ventures program at MaRS, supporting high-growth ventures in the cleantech, health and information & communications technology (ICT) sectors.See more…