Feature

Bethany Deshpande is Building on a Conscience

Somadetect COO Nicholas Clermont and CEO Bethany Deshpande

Bethany Deshpande isn’t one to work on a project without a conscience.

As the community engagement coordinator at the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network and CEO of SomaDetect, a new startup that will help dairy farmers produce the highest quality milk possible, Deshpande is living and working with the conscience instilled in her by her parents, applying it anywhere she can.

Deshpande is using a rich and varied background to do what she is passionate about, combining skills she’s gained from a young age onward to build SomaDetect into something to be proud of.

“Entrepreneurship has been part of the things that I do for decades now,” she said. “When I was 14 I started learning to code and build websites on my own and I would take out books from my local library and do exercises and read through them and I was really into that. It was so nerdy but I was so into that.”

Deshpande developed simple websites for small businesses in her neighbourhood when she was young. She continued this work into university when she started coding and designing internationally. Through that experience, she learned to work as part of a team and learned from founders who were coming up with big ideas and putting them into action.

After university, Deshpande participated in the SHAD program and went on to work for the SHAD program at Laval University for eight years. There she taught students about her experience with coding and web design and helped them with idea generation and team building.

Deshpande then took a different path by earning a PhD in Biology. Her work involved the study of lakes in Arctic and sub-Arctic Canada.

“I think we forget sometimes how easily PhD level skills can be transferred to something like entrepreneurship,” she said. “When you’re designing an academic project, all of these stages are things that we do in entrepreneurship and are very critical there as well … asking questions and being able to understand the answers that I got back, a lot of those are skills that I’m using now to validate my product with the people who will be my end users.”

Deshpande says she didn’t fully expect the skills she developed through her education to be as valuable for her startup as they’ve turned out to be.

“When you’re developing a company, almost regardless of the topic, there are so many other things you need to know and even just world context, global context comes in handy and a lot of that is experience I gained throughout my PhD,” she said. “Of course there’s lot of surprises. There are lots of skills that I didn’t use during my PhD that I’m gaining now even just having been doing this for two or three months.”

Deshpande says she’s still learning plenty about the dairy industry and big data and high tech outside of science and how those things come together in industry.

“Understanding the scope of information that I don’t actually know myself, that I don’t have in my back pocket right now and then being able to ask the questions to fill in those blanks and get some of that information, that’s definitely something that I would have been weaker at not having done my PhD.”

The idea behind SomaDetect came from a concept Deshpande’s father developed and has been working on for a number of years. Deshpande describes her father as a basement inventor and says she and her COO Nicholas Clermont are taking the concept to the next steps to get the technology into dairy farms.

Her family’s values and commitment to caring for those who cannot help themselves was the driving force behind her father’s development of the technology and continues to inspire Deshpande to get the technology implemented.

“I come from a family that’s always caring for those who cannot care for themselves. And that’s something that I see my parents do throughout their work and always being sure to take care of the everyday citizen or someone who’s struggling,” she said.

“That’s where so much of my interest in social justice and improving the common good comes from … I want to be involved in something that is just absolutely important to me. My dad created this because he wants to take care of people and create something of value for the world. How horrid it would be of me to take it and do anything but that with it.”

Deshpande believes in the importance of dairy farmers to the Canadian diet and wants to help ensure Canadians are getting nothing but quality dairy. She says that SomaDetect is ready for the next step of actually getting their technology into farms and starting to do good there. The elements are now coming together for them to do so.

“We don’t want to just be a company that’s out there making a profit, we want to be an organization that is caring for people and caring for cows who’ve gotten to a place where they can’t necessarily take care of themselves. I’m not interested in working in projects that don’t have consciences.”