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Winner Spotlight: BaseTrace’s Justine Chow Seeks Big Opportunity in Environmental Issues

Jasmin Lee


Imagine a liquid barcode—what if you can trace back leakages in power plants to individual tanks or fluid systems? BaseTrace makes it happen. BaseTrace, a Washington, D.C. Challenge Cup winner, is a breakthrough application of cutting-edge DNA tracer technology for environmental monitoring.

We caught up with Justine Chow, CEO of BaseTrace, to talk about not only the story behind her company but also what’s coming next for BaseTrace! Chow will compete against other energy startups at the Global Finals in Washington, D.C., in May of 2015.

 What is BaseTrace?

We are a company based in the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina that creates a new technology—a technology that takes short strands of biologically inactive DNA and adds them to industrial fluids. Our solution enables us to better find leaks and trace them back to their original fluid source.

What is the story behind BaseTrace?

We launched back in 2012. Our cofounders and I met at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, where we were exposed to a number of different environmental issues. One of the hot topics, not only at the Nicholas School but also in North Carolina, was the “fracking” (also called hydraulic fracturing) issue. Jake Rudulph, our CTO, and I both have backgrounds in biology and therefore worked on developing a new kind of tracer as our Masters’ project. From our masters’ project, we initially learned that tracing fluids is a key element for environmental monitoring.

Do you see yourself more as a biologist or an entrepreneur?

Well, it has definitely shifted! I have to admit, when we first started, I did not expect to spend so much time on the business side of our solution. However, I’ve spent a majority of my time on business development and fundraising.

Overall, it has been a great learning experience! I’ve met a lot of other inspiring entrepreneurs in the area—we work at a startup incubator in NC—as well.

What successes has BaseTrace had so far? How do you plan to build on BaseTrace’s success?

So far we have raised $325,000—through various grants, awards and competitions. We’ve also been able to generate revenue last year, and we are currently carrying out demonstration with a second nuclear partner. Going forward, we hope to repeat generating revenue in the nuclear market. We see potential opportunities in the oil and gas industries as well.

What led you to participate in the 2015 Challenge Cup DC? Actually, another startup in the region sent us the link to the 1776 Challenge Cup D.C.! It was kind of last minute, but we decided to go ahead and apply because we were very impressed with what 1776 had to offer. We really enjoyed the Challenge Cup—it was a great experience to meet the judges, people in the energy industry and other aspiring startups.

How do you plan to prepare for the Global Finals in May?

We currently have so much going on with testing and fundraising, so by next May we hope to make some progress both on the nuclear and gas front. We are very much looking forward to see what other startups are doing around the globe. We plan to follow the Challenge Cup in other regions as well.

Lastly, what piece of advice do you have for other energy startups in the beginning stage?

Be open and flexible to working in unexpected opportunities. Be able to go after unplanned markets!

Jasmin Lee