Co-op students help feed the world at Waterloo-based startup Ceragen

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Ashley Stegelmeier carrying out a lab experiment and the Ceragen logo

By: Isabella Deak (she/her)

A growing biotechnology startup, Ceragen, hires Waterloo co-op students to help meet its goal: feed the world.

The company develops novel probiotics for the hydroponic greenhouse industry to increase its crop yields in the Tannery in downtown Kitchener. Today, Ceragen is seeing yield increases of up to 20 per cent for their lettuce and tomato products. This has a substantial impact on the agricultural industry and global food supply.

Ashley Stegelmeier holding a chemical solution whilst carrying out a lab experimentAshley Stegelmeier, director of product development at Ceragen

Waterloo co-op students play a key role in meeting research goals to advance results for Ceragen.

Ashley Stegelmeier (MSc ’17), who holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Waterloo, knows first-hand the value Waterloo co-op students bring to an organization.

"Our Waterloo co-op students have a massive fundamental impact on our team,” says Stegelmeier, director of product development at Ceragen.

“We initially started with one co-op student and have now expanded to hiring four students per term. They are the beating heart of Ceragen's lab."


Co-op students have been a part of Ceragen since its start in Waterloo’s Velocity program two years ago. The company’s current “dream team” includes four co-op students who have returned for multiple terms.

The students work on all aspects of product research and development during their work terms at the organization.

“They learn how to isolate organisms and the biochemical tests that are needed to characterize them."

"Students gain experience conducting protocols such as DNA extractions and whole genome sequencing of the organisms,” says Stegelmeier.

Employer Impact award diamond shaped glass trophy and the Ceragen logo

As a company that provides Waterloo students with outstanding opportunities to use their research skills in the real world, Ceragen is the 2022 recipient of the Employer Impact Awards for Impact in Research.

Opening quotation marksCeragen continues to provide excellent opportunities in research for our students. By seeing how their research is resulting in real-life impact in the food industry, students are setting the stage for their future, and for the future workforce, through work terms at the organization.

- Anne Fannon, director of Waterloo’s Work-Learn Institute 

Making a difference

biuerfDanielle Rose, co-founder and CEO of Ceragen

Ceragen believes that the best way to learn about research is to get hands-on experience in the lab.

“We always tell the students to come prepared because they are going to be in the lab from day one,” says Danielle Rose, co-founder and CEO of Ceragen.

Working at Ceragen allows students to think outside the box and use research skills to help continue scientific discovery.

“There's something in microbiology called the great plate count anomaly, which states that currently less than one per cent of the world's microbes can be cultured in the lab."

"This has to do with the fact that a lot of the techniques used today are very outdated,” says Rose.

“We've had co-ops working on new ways to culture microbes and we've been seeing huge success. With these developments, we've been able to culture about 150 novel species in the last two years.”


With the fast-paced nature of startups, co-op students at Ceragen have the opportunity to see the direct results of their research and the impact that this has on the product.

"You don’t feel like just a small cog in a machine because you are contributing to everything in the process," says Max Homm (he/him), who worked at the organization in the spring 2023 term.

The co-op experience at Ceragen empowers students to become agents of change, fully realizing the impact that their research can have on the world.

Max HommMax Homm, Biology student


Michelle DrapeauMichelle Drapeau, Biology student

Michelle Drapeau (she/her) has completed three work terms at Ceragen since its founding.

She wasn’t sure of her desired career path before her time with the organization, but now she’s pursuing a career in the field starting with a master's degree.

“It’s honestly been amazing to see just how far Ceragen has come as a company and how quickly they’ve grown,” says Drapeau.

“When I started here, a lot of the processes were operating a lot slower than they are now. We also have so much growth within our space.”

Over the course of her time at Ceragen, Drapeau has worked on several projects, including developing instruments that help increase productivity and novel culturing techniques for building a bacterial strain collection.


Ceragen sets its sights on expanding its potential as a company, with co-op students playing a crucial role in this journey to advance their research and create a wider variety of products. “We're proud to give back to the university community and provide high-quality research positions for their science students,” says Stegelmeier.

Opening quotation marksWe’re incredibly grateful that the University of Waterloo recognized our impact in research. I learned so much from Waterloo’s co-op program when I was an undergrad. I strive to take all these best aspects from the scientists I had the opportunity to study under to create an applied research lab that contributes to feeding the world. The University community means a lot to us. We’re going to keep this award in the back of our minds and work hard to maintain a high standard of research excellence. We want to be one of the best companies for Waterloo co-ops to work for.

- Ashley Stegelmeier, director of product development at Ceragen

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