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Purdue startup receives $1M for Orange Corn research

Father and son co-founders of NutraMaize say their corn is nutritionally better because of carotenoids. (L-R, Prof Torbert Rocheford, Evan Rocheford, NutraMaize CEO) Photo courtesy: Purdue Research Foundation

WEST LAFAYETTE (Inside INdiana Business) — A Purdue University-affiliated startup company that produces what it calls “better corn” was recently awarded a series of grants totaling more than $1 million. NutraMaize LLC has developed and is attempting to broadly commercialize orange-colored corn which contains higher levels of carotenoids.

“Most Americans are at an increased risk of losing their vision as they age because they don’t get enough carotenoids,” said Torbert Rocheford, developer of Orange Corn.

The West Lafayette-based company received a Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer Research grant of nearly $750,000 from the National Science Foundation. The funding follows a previous NSF Phase I award of $225,000. The company also received USDA funding, matched by the state of Indiana, totaling approximately $200,000.

“These funds are helping us develop improved varieties of Orange Corn that will be able to deliver better nutrition on a population-wide scale,” said Evan Rocheford, NutraMaize CEO.

Rocheford’s father, Torbert Rocheford, began working on increasing the amount of health benefiting carotenoids in corn over 20 years ago in his laboratory at Purdue. The goal was to help address vitamin A deficiencies in Sub-Saharan Africa. But years later, he realized his unique orange-tinted variety could benefit Americans as well.

“There is a very real nutritional need here in the U.S. that Orange Corn can help address,” said Torbert Rocheford.

NutraMaize is currently selling its corn, in the form of grits, under the retail brand “Professor Torbert’s Orange Corn.” It can be found on NutraMaize says it plans to work with food processors to produce widely consumed staples like breakfast cereals and snack foods.

The company also hopes to work with the livestock industry to improve the nutritional quality of animal feed and resulting animal products like eggs.

“Corn is the largest staple crop in the U.S. and an essential building block of our food system. That means if we make corn better, we fundamentally improve the American diet,” Evan Rocheford said.

In April, NutraMaize won the People’s Choice award during the Ag+Bio+Science Start-up Showcase hosted by AgriNovus. Click here to watch the TV report from Inside INdiana Business.