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December 08, 2008— Winnipeg, Manitoba

In 2006, when the owners of Fermion Inc. in Winnipeg were developing a technology to detect the electromagnetic fingerprint of explosives, they knew that the timing was right. As a result of the events of September 11, 2001 and its aftermath, there was increasing demand in the U.S. for devices that could trace explosives and biohazards such as anthrax.

But there were two things that the company didn't know. Were similar technologies already being developed? And was there a real market for their proposed technology?


Fermion already had connections with NRC as a client of the Biomedical Commercialization Centre (BCC), a business incubator located at NRC in Winnipeg. With funding from the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program, BCC helps S&T companies by offering early-stage investment, coaching and access to business resources.

BCC put Fermion in touch with the Competitive Technical Intelligence (CTI) Program at the NRC Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (NRC-CISTI). Within its suite of information services for Canadian small and medium-sized businesses, NRC-CISTI provides competitive technical intelligence that gives companies an overview of the market landscape. CTI looks at issues such as direct and indirect competitors, technology trends, and the barriers facing new companies trying to enter the market.

In the case of Fermion, CTI analysts first studied the market to focus and define opportunities: budget increases received by the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to cope with the growing security needs of airports; a widening market share for explosive and biohazard detectors in North America; and projections that worldwide sales of chemical and biological detectors would reach US$3 billion in 2009.

Next, the analysts determined the trends in research and development of technologies that might offer competition to Fermion — information that the small company had neither the resources nor expertise to gather on its own.

Sleuths of the marketplace

Like private detectives, CTI analysts piece together clues from diverse sources such as patent databases, S&T reports, market research and industry experts. They then analyze the information to provide insight into the current and future challenges that a company may face. Business owners use CTI to make strategic decisions about targeting markets, acquiring technology or investing in R&D.

The analysis helped Fermion to define its market niche and focus its efforts. "The insight gained from NRC has directly translated into better, cheaper and faster product development," says Philip Unger, Vice President of Science and Product Development for Fermion.

As the company continued to evolve, CTI analysts helped identify opportunities for follow-on investment and commercialization grants. Since working with NRC, Fermion has raised more than $200,000 to further develop and market its technology. "It's challenging for a small company to advance its research agenda with a limited budget," says Unger. "Working with NRC has been an excellent use of our resources."

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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