We have clarified our routes to market and the stages of developing the product. Now we're looking to spin out after getting funding. Emma Brown, Commercial Project Manager, University of York
Pinpointing and presenting the benefits of chemical detection technology at the University of York
Researchers have secured vital investment after using design to find the right uses for their chemical detection technology and find the best routes to market.
Atmospheric chemistry researchers at York developed a sensor capable of detecting compounds in gas up to a sensitivity of parts per trillion. But, while they were aware of potential applications from explosives and drug detection to quality control in food and drink, they didn’t want to pursue anything that fell outside their research field.
Innovate for Universities Design Associate Chris Thompson says: ‘The objective is to licence the technology but to do that we have to present the case effectively and make the IP look strong. It’s a sophisticated piece of equipment – there are other chromatographs out there but this one is better. It’s cheaper, smaller, more accurate and easier to use.’
Defining the technology
Thompson’s first job was to help the researchers and the university understand what they had. He explains: ‘The work helped to break the product down into components and create a map of potential users. This helped to articulate the product system.’
Commercial Project Manager Emma Brown adds: ‘Chris helped us crystallise four stages of development. The chemists wanted something for the expert user in the lab, while the second stage was the expert user in the field. Then there were additional stages for the non expert user in the lab or the field.
‘He has also given us clarity on the potential applications. Market research had told us there were dozens, but then we were able to narrow down the best ones based on the features and benefits of the technology. It takes around 15 minutes to produce data, so that effectively ruled out many homeland security and border control applications, which would need instant data.’
Creating a prototype, winning investment
The university is developing a prototype and a design agency has been recruited – and briefed with Thompson’s help - to name the technology, now called Identica GC, and create a brochure communicating its potential to instrument manufacturers.
The university answered a call issued by the Ministry of Defence and bid successfully for initial proof of concept funding worth £65k. Then they were invited to apply for second round funding and have secured £230k to produce a prototype for a trial expected next year, explains Brown. ‘It will be for the field-based, non-expert user. A soldier in Afghanistan, for instance, looking for explosives or drug manufacturing facilities, could use it to find the source of an emission and identify what is being emitted.’
Brown adds: ‘Through the project we have clarified our routes to market – licensing, spin-out and so on, as well as the four stages of developing the product. Having done that, we’re now looking to spin out because of the change of circumstances created by the funding.’