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From Student to CEO
He’s educated in the fields of political science, theology, business and English but it’s his fascination with chemistry that led SFU PhD student Benjamin Britton to commercialize a new membrane that has significant ramifications for a wide variety of manufacturing processes.
Britton is CEO of Ionomr, a venture of the Holdcroft Lab at SFU that promises to revolutionize the field of membrane electrolysis with an anion-exchange membrane that is stronger, more versatile and stable than any other membrane on the market.
Exchange membranes are essential to the process of separating chemicals and gases from solutions. The removal of salt from seawater or the cleaning of wastewater accumulated through fracking are just two examples of how ion-exchange membranes are used. What makes Britton’s membrane special is that it is the only known mechanism with complete alkaline stability, meaning the membrane won’t deteriorate over time. Additionally, the membrane turned out to be of higher-performance and more processable than competitors across a broad range of conditions. Ionomr’s robust anion-exchange membrane can be customized for a variety of purposes, including clean-tech energy storage, water purification and treatment systems, and fuel cells.
So what’s it like to go from grad student to entrepreneur? Britton is quick to credit Steve Holdcroft, Chair of SFU’s department of Chemistry with developing the mechanism for stability several years ago, supporting significant development since, and having a vision for its future. “Steve informally mentioned commercializing this technology among the group working on it. I’d always expressed an interest, and planned to work on it post-PhD, however, when Elicia Maine told me about the Graduate Certificate in Science and Technology Commercialization programme – an ‘MBA light’ for scientists and engineers – I jumped at the chance to enrol. Once we had a preliminary business model together and the initial team formed, everything accelerated far more quickly than I could have imagined.”
Finishing touches on Ionomr’s business plan are still being made, but Britton’s diligence and savvy are already paying off.
Ionomr took top prize at the 2016 Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize competition that recognizes entrepreneurial excellence at SFU and was named aCleantech Emerging Rocket, a business recognition program for BC’s tech sector that showcases companies with highest growth potential.