Before he could legally drink in Canada, Alex Villeneuve brewed his first beer. Growing the herbs and roots on the greenhouse rooftop of his high school, Villeneuve fermented a prize-winning rosemary ginger beer and was declared a first-place winner of Edmonton’s First Official Winter Drink contest, run by the city. Lucky enough to attend a high school with a culinary arts program, he already had three years of training under his belt when he enrolled in the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s apprenticeship cooking program. Ever the prodigy, on weekends he was running successful pop-up restaurants. In his second year as a chef apprentice, he decided to enrol in the two-year brewmaster and brewery operations management diploma program at Olds College, 200 km away, which is where his two worlds collided.
One day, not long after he arrived in 2015, he was eyeing a pile of spent grain left over after the sugars are extracted during the fermenting process. Brewers not only want to dispose of it, but ditch it fast, because bacteria begin to work on the grain and, after a couple of days, cause an awful stink. “Why are we throwing this away?” he remembers asking a professor. He was directed to microbiologist Paul Tiege, a research scientist in the Olds College Centre for Innovation (OCCI), who encouraged Villeneuve to run nutritional tests on the spent grain. “Alex spotted an opportunity . . . actually, several opportunities . . . where others see a liability,” says Tiege, who worked alongside Villeneuve on his research. “He fleshed out his idea, developed a research plan and decided to turn the idea into a business.”
Tiege says it was fortuitous timing, as the innovation centre had created an incubator fund in 2015 of up to $5,000 to ensure “innovative ideas do not get stuck in the development phase.” Villeneuve’s idea was greenlighted, and he began testing.
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