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A sample of treated wheat is pulled from the drawers at Sandberg Labs in Lethbridge, Alta.

Larry MacDougal

When Phil Sandberg needed help keeping up with demand at his 23-year-old agricultural testing lab in Lethbridge, Alta., his friend Angela Quinton agreed to work for him as a part-time technician.

The offer came a year after Ms. Quinton and her husband, both Alberta natives, had moved home with their three children after a seven-year stint in Silicon Valley, where Ms. Quinton practised as a homeopath and Mr. Quinton worked for Cisco Systems Inc.

At first, Mr. Quinton, 37, continued working for Cisco as a quality auditor, travelling the world to visit factories. But when Mr. Sandberg decided to retire and Mr. Quinton was laid off from Cisco, the couple invested their life savings, along with some bank financing, to buy Sandberg Labs.

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Ms. Quinton, 40, described their purchase as "a dinosaur." Entries into the log book they inherited with the lab were done manually. A supplier described some of the existing equipment as "museum pieces."

"With the old equipment, they put in countless hours, sleeping on a couch in the back room so they could change different samples at different times during the night," said Lethbridge business consultant Bruce Thurston.

"But they just rolled up their sleeves. And it's shocking how far they've come."

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