Étienne Lemieux, CEO and co-founder of the Sherbrooke-based company SPI Bio, won first prize in the PitchTech Competition. Mr. Lemieux and Dominic Carrier developed BioAlert, a device capable of quickly detecting the presence of legionella in industrial and commercial cooling equipment.
The competition was held as part of the fourth edition of Batimatech, an annual event that brings together several entrepreneurs from the building, technology and sustainable development sectors. Some 15 participants were asked to present the product invented by their company in the form of a sales pitch in front of 300 people and had to demonstrate why it is an innovation in the technological sector.
It’s the first automated on-site detector for legionella bacteria, » confirms Mr. Lemieux in an interview with La Tribune. It’s like a smoke detector, but for water contamination. It allows for absolute risk management. We’re thinking of changing the game because currently on the market these tests have a 14-day delay and we’re able to get a result the same day as the sample is taken. We are being proactive and reactive. »
« If an elevator kills a person, we shut down the building, if an airplane creates a risk, we’ll keep a whole fleet on the ground, but every year 4,000 people die because of legionella bacteria and we barely put rules in place to control the risk, » he imagines.
Legionella pneumophila is a bacterium that grows and multiplies in the water used to cool the air in industries and commercial establishments. A contaminated cooling tower discharges fine droplets of water outdoors, which are then inhaled by people within a 12-kilometre radius.
A person who is contaminated with this bacteria can get legionellosis, a disease that attacks the lungs in the form of pneumonia and in some cases can be fatal.
In July 2012, a single contaminated cooling tower caused an outbreak of legionellosis and more than 180 people in Quebec City were affected by it. Unfortunately, 14 victims died.
The young Sherbrooke company has already delivered six to the federal government. Étienne Lemieux ensures that its order book is well filled.