Wednesday September 2, 2015 0 comments
LONGMONT -- Bigger isn't always better, as one Longmont firm is proving.
Synkera Technologies makes micro-sensors for monitoring air quality, and business is on the rise.
According to Debra Deininger, president and CEO of Synkera, the company was started in 2003 by co-founders Stephen Williams and Brian Sperry, both with extensive backgrounds in nanotechnology.
Williams has a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry, while Sperry's expertise is in government contracting and accounting. The two were working together at another firm in Longmont when they decided to form Synkera.
“We got our start in industrial gas sensing,” Deininger says, “and the largest part of our business by volume and sales is still in the industrial safety market, where our sensors protect people from dangerous gases as part of their work life.”
But new opportunities are on the horizon.
“Because of the miniaturization and the advancements we've made in the sensor platform itself, we now have tremendous interest from some of the more consumer and commercial markets,” Deininger says. “We see that as a huge area of growth for this company.”
Those new markets include air quality detection in commercial and residential buildings, along with putting sensors into mobile and wearable devices.
Synkera's sensors can detect a wide range of gasses, ranging from the hazardous types – carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide for instance – to those that are simply considered unhealthy, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, nitrogen oxides, ozone and the like.
Yet another application is breath detection for alcohol.
“The breath detection goes to part of the suite of sensors that we can offer to a mobile, wearable accessory type of market,” according to Deininger. “With just one sensor, we can detect carbon monoxide, we can detect VOCs, we can detect breath alcohol and we can even detect methane or propane, like natural gas leaks, so it really is a multi-functional device.”
One example Deininger gives is the ability to interface the sensor component with a phone – not necessarily installed in the phone, but simply attached to it or communicating with it. At that point the user would be able to run various apps in order to sift through the data.
“Say you were concerned about breath alcohol and driving,” she says. “Then you could run an app that would instruct the sensor to make that measurement, or you could run an air quality app or what have you. There's a lot of interest in the different possibilities presented by this component.”
In fact, some of those possibilities are still being kept under wraps. Synkera is planning to unveil another application with an as-yet unnamed partner at next year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Deininger credits the Small Business Innovation Research program with helping to develop the technology that drives the company. The SBIR is a federal program that's designed to provide funding for early-stage firms whose ideas may be too high-risk for private investors.
“We also had some funding from the Department of Homeland Security that led to this revolutionary enhancement in capabilities, and we're excited to capitalize on that in the commercial space,” she adds. Synkera is also one of 40 current clients of Innosphere, a leading technology incubator in Colorado.
Since opening its doors in 2003, Synkera has specialized in several nanotechnology applications besides gas sensing, but now the company is strictly focused on sensors.
Deininger said they made that strategic decision in January 2014, which is when she stepped into the role of CEO in order to focus on commercializing what the firm believed would be a steady increase in sensor opportunities.
It appears to have been a savvy business move.
“Since then our sales are up this year relative to last year,” Deininger says. “People are really excited about what our sensors can do.”