Start-ups brimming with potential

Medical and agricultural investor Trendlines Group has something of a treasure trove of start-ups under its care.

With some luck and a lot of hard work, one of these start-ups could go on to transform the medical or agricultural worlds.

Under the portfolio of its 10 most valuable firms, Trendlines has medical technology firms such as ApiFix, which focuses on scoliosis-related work, and NeuroQuest, which is developing a simple blood test for the early diagnosis of Alzheimer's.

ApiFix has devised a method to shorten the surgical procedure for those with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, a condition involving a severe curvature in the spine.

The firm was founded in 2011, and has won awards including best start-up - from Israel's Office of the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Economy - in 2012.

ApiFix chief executive Uri Arnin said there are only two options today - non-invasive methods like physical therapy, and complicated surgery which requires "20 screws into the spine".

The firm has developed an internal brace, which requires only two screws to be placed in the spine, via a small incision. "After the procedure, the distance of those two screws become a little longer, and the implant captures any incremental correction of the spine."

The patient needs to do only five simple exercises, 15 minutes a day for three months, to see the spine correction happen.

The agriculture start-ups are equally fascinating. Take Steak TzarTzar, which aims to turn grasshoppers into a sustainable source of protein, and was set up last year. It has developed methods and technology for the optimal growing of several species of grasshoppers.

Steak TzarTzar co-founder Dror Tamir said grasshoppers are rich in nutrients, have almost no saturated fat or cholesterol, and are "20 times more efficient than growing beef".

The firm has shortened the egg- hatching period from nine months to 40 days, or even 11, for instance.

The idea is to use the grasshoppers for the protein powder market, partly because there would be less of a mental barrier. The firm estimates the North American "muscle food" market to be US$2.5 billion (S$3.4 billion).

Trendlines chief executive Steve Rhodes said earlier this year: "The last five Trendlines portfolio companies to reach the revenue stage were all agtech companies. In many cases, because there's little or no regulatory oversight on the products, they can come to market very quickly."

Rachael Boon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2016, with the headline 'Start-ups brimming with potential'. Subscribe