Nov. 15, 2019

Class of 2019: From Siberia to Silicon Valley with songwriting in between

Biotechnology grad Daria Venkova is on accelerator circuit for Alberta biotech company

It all started with 60 calves in Claresholm. When she was an undergraduate studying zoology at the University of Calgary, Daria Venkova’s family wanted to learn more about farming so they got some cattle and kept them on their property in Claresholm. Venkova spent a summer driving down from Calgary to tend to the animals, watching them grow and learning everything she could about them.  

“It's funny how that works,” says Venkova, BSc’18, the CEO of
Creative Protein Solutions (CPS), a startup that’s commercializing a convenient method that uses biomarkers to detect infections in cattle and other animals. “I would never have thought that having those cows would turn into me working with cows, potentially, for my entire life.”

 

  • Above: Master in Biotechnology student Daria Venkova is a singer-songwriter and CEO of a startup. Photo courtesy Daria Venkova

While doing her Master’s in Biomedical Technology at the Cumming School of Medicine, she participated in the Innovation4Health hackathon. One of the judges was Dr. Jeroen De Buck, PhD, professor of bacteriology at UCalgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and founder of CPS. He liked that she knew about cattle, business and biotech and had “an extraordinary talent for pitching.”

In January, she started working with De Buck to commercialize the company’s hockey puck-sized technology that, paired with a smartphone app, lets farmers detect common livestock diseases.   

Venkova is presented with a cheque for taking first place in 150 Startups’ pitch competition at the fourth annual Innovation Rodeo.

Venkova won first place in 150 Startups’ pitch competition at the fourth annual Innovation Rodeo.

Photo supplied by Daria Venkova

In July, Venkova came first at the Innovation Rodeo pitch competition. She won $12,500 and a five-week scholarship to Draper University in Silicon Valley, where she and other entrepreneurs learned how to perfect their pitch to venture capitalists.

The amount of talent here is fascinating,” she says. “There are people from all over the world working to bring their startup ideas to life. I am the only one with an AgTech device for livestock but there’s a guy from Senegal with a watering device for crops.”  

When she’s not working on accelerating the startup, she’s writing and
recording songs. Venkova was born in Russia and her family moved from Siberia to Calgary when she was 10. “I started taking vocal lessons shortly after we came to Canada, around Grade 6,” she says. “It helped me learn the language and it was fun.”

She recorded her first song at 15 and she still manages to find time for songwriting. So far, she hasn’t written any songs about livestock, but years of performing music in cafes and bars around Calgary have definitely helped her ability to pitch CPS.

“You never really think singing will in any way help with a biotech startup. But it helped in absolutely every way because, I think, the way we present our ideas to others is so important,” she says. “And just having that ability to be on stage and feel confident to speak to others takes away a lot of those barriers and helps get the message across that much better.”

As she continues to sing the praises of CPS, the company is passing regulatory hurdles and is almost ready to sell its technology directly to dairy farmers to help monitor the health of their herds.

“Alberta's such a great place to do this because there are so many dairy farms,” says Venkova. “It's a matter of going full force on everything and if all goes as planned, by mid-2020 we should be able to reach the market. I have no doubt that we will be successful.”

Venkova,originally from Siberia, started taking vocal lessons to help learn English.

Venkova says performing and songwriting have helped her to develop her business pitching skills.

Photo supplied by Daria Venkova.