ARCHIVED - From Outer Space to Inner Lab
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June 15, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario
A Canadian company's expertise in maintaining structural shapes of large space objects has landed it right back as a small lab object.
Dynacon Inc. is a privately held company applying automation and robotics technology for the aerospace and laboratory markets. Their capabilities are systems integration, analysis and simulation, software and hardware design and fabrication. In aerospace, Dynacon develops satellite control systems products, performs advanced systems analyses and constructs complete microsatellites.
In the laboratory automation market, their product handles and tests typical samples from doctors' offices. Many may wonder how the same technology applied in outer space can be used in a lab testing human fluids like urine and saliva. To Dynacon, it's really no stretch at all. It created its name from a combination of dynamics, or how things move, and control. And control over safe and accurate testing for medical purposes is highly sought after. Microbiology has been done by hand for over a hundred years. Dynacon's new InocuLab product concentrates on eliminating defects, so costs go down while quality goes up.
Imagine a mini-crane inside a desk-sized lab. The robot arm dips a loop into the liquid and streaks it in a zig-zag pattern across the petri dish. Whereas a human hand has the potential to leave clumps of samples spotted throughout the dish, the InocuLab spreads it out evenly, allowing organisms to grow. Each dish is bar coded and then placed in the incubator. The InocuLab even opens and reseals the sample bottles, eliminating any exposure to repetitive strain injury. Mistakes are greatly reduced, even eliminated, and quality increased exponentially.
At the end of each business day, labs around the world receive shipments of samples. There is a race to get them into a petri dish and then into the incubator so doctors have results late the next day. With InocuLab, new samples are loaded every half hour, and 1100 samples are tested every night.
When Dynacon conceptualized and created the InocuLab prototype, it wasn't the workhorse it was meant to be, and therefore it wasn't cost effective. Dynacon approached NRC-IRAP for assistance. NRC-IRAP didn't just invest in Dynacon- it helped attract venture capital. "When we approached investors we let it be known we had a certain amount of cash from the government," said Dynacon's CEO Stephen Sorocky. "One of the lasting benefits of the NRC-IRAP funding resulted from venture capital funding of $750,000. It was attracted in part by the risk mitigation the NRC-IRAP funding provided. This not only accelerated the growth of the business, but also had the beneficial effect of attracting a professional board of directors and significant visibility in the capital markets and venture markets. It's a model more people should use. It helps start ups by reducing the risk to the investor coming in when they know the government is right there with them."
When asked how he got from outer space to an inner lab, Sorocky joked, "One painful step at a time." He said outside help actually made the transition painless. "The NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor helped us move from a university type lab prototype to a product we could build, market and ship." He added, "They are a great resource from a networking standpoint."
When Dynacon's partnership with NRC-IRAP began in early 2001, its consulting revenues were about $1.8 million. Now revenues are approaching the $5M mark.
"With NRC-IRAP we were able to change from an engineering consulting company to a product development company," said Sorocky. "NRC-IRAP helped us make technical resources and market resources. They made sure we had a good, solid plan before we could move forward."
InocuLab has nearly 75 installations around the world and has a presence in all major clinical labs. It is producing at the rate of another three labs every month. InocuLab has been recognized as best practice by Quest Diagnostics- the largest lab in the US. Perhaps the most significant installation is in the Vatican Children's Hospital. And with a forecast for a shortage of lab technicians in North America coinciding with a huge growth in demand for testing, InocuLab's success is sure to grow faster than almost anything in a petri dish.
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