Two Nebraska startups get federal small-business grants | Agriculture

Two startups that are part of the Combine Incubator at Nebraska Innovation Campus have been awarded federal small-business grants.

Birds Eye Robotics and Thyreos Inc. both recently received Small Business Innovation Research grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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Birds Eye Robotics, which is based in Herman, received its $175,000 grant for the development of computer vision and a grapple mechanism for its autonomous robot that’s used for upkeep and maintenance in large poultry barns.

The poultry industry has grown from providing less than a quarter of the meat consumed in the U.S. in the 1970s to more than 50% today, and the U.S. has the world’s largest broiler industry, with over nine billion chickens produced each year, most of them in large corporate operations.

Birds Eye said its caretaker robot has operated in broiler barns for more than 1,000 hours.

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“We are fortunate to partner with the USDA on this opportunity and this shared vision to allow American producers to remain competitive in the global marketplace,” Birds Eye CEO Scott Niewohner said in a news release.

Thyreos, a company with offices in Lincoln and Chicago that develops both human and animal vaccines, received an SBIR grant worth $174,235 to develop a new vaccine to protect against infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, a disease that causes respiratory illness in cattle.

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The vaccine will target bovine alphaherpesvirus 1, an endemic cattle virus that can cause “shipping fever,” which results from stress placed on cattle during shipping that reactivates a latent infection and can lead to bovine rhinotracheitis. Thyreos’ technology improves vaccines that are commercially available by protecting the animal’s nervous system from herpesvirus infections that lead to the lifelong latent infection.

In addition to the SBIR grant, the company also received a $100,000 matching grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

Thyreos CEO Eric Zeece said he was pleased to receive the grant.

“BoHV-1 and associated respiratory diseases are responsible for significant costs to cattle producers,” Zeece said in a news release. “Thyreos R2 vaccines represent a new technological approach to developing alpha herpesvirus vaccines that decrease producer costs through improved efficacy and safety.”


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