From the ashes of tissue-culture startup Phytelligence’s bankruptcy last year, investors resurrected a new, more narrowly focused company that launched this month to serve the Pacific Northwest tree fruit industry.
The new company, NuPhy, was formed after Cowles Co. of Spokane acquired Phytelligence’s assets and technology licenses from Washington State University earlier this year. To lead the new venture, they also brought on Amit Dhingra, the WSU horticulture professor who founded Phytelligence in 2011 to commercialize tools for true-to-type and disease-free fruit tree propagation.
“I’m grateful that the investors felt this technology needs to reach the tree fruit industry,” Dhingra said. “At a land-grant university like WSU, we get to solve real-world problems. I just want to make sure this creates opportunity to bring the talent and technologies we’ve created to the industry.”
Dhingra said the name NuPhy is based on the name of the suite of micropropagation technologies, MultiPHY, that both companies were founded on, as well as a nod to the lessons learned from the Phytelligence experience — namely to focus on core services and customer relationships rather than chase growth.
Cowles Co. CFO Steve Rector said in a statement that the company first invested in Phytelligence in 2016 — part of a venture investment arm of the company best known for owning newspapers and TV stations — and it continues to believe in the technology’s potential.
“We’re committed to continuing to provide it to growers in Washington and beyond,” he said in a statement. “It’s like getting the band back together, as Amit has surrounded himself with the wonderful team that helped create and develop the technologies and services NuPhy offers.”
While the technology is the same, the business approach is different, Dhingra told Good Fruit Grower. While he was “sidelined” on many of the business decisions, Phytelligence tried to follow a Silicon Valley model — growing too fast — and lost its vision, he said. Now, he plans to take a more hands-on approach, building on his relationships in the nursery and tree fruit industry. The NuPhy team also includes several of the scientists who did their doctoral studies in his lab at WSU, developing the technologies.
“We’re trying to stay focused this time; trying to take care of our own backyard and not go everywhere in the world,” Dhingra said, adding that NuPhy is already working with tree fruit nurseries in the Pacific Northwest. “I just want to rebuild those bridges and collaborations and focus on what’s important.”
The Pullman, Washington-based company will offer tissue culture propagation and disease and genetic testing services, Dhingra said.
—by Kate Prengaman