Written by Robert Leitch.
Foodborne illness is a potentially life-threatening issue that must be identified and stopped as quickly as possible. Foods, manufacturing plants and equipment today are regularly tested for pathogens, but the process can take anywhere from two to three days. Columbus, Ohio, based ProteoSense is looking to revolutionize the process. Using their RapidScan device, the company has cut the time needed to test for foodborne pathogens to only minutes.
“The fundamental difference is that existing technologies require an incubation cycle in order to grow enough bacteria to measure,” said Mark Byrne, president and CEO of ProteoSense. “Our technology eliminates the incubation cycle, which cuts out a vast majority of the time it takes to identify a pathogen.”
The RapidScan device is portable, handheld and battery-powered, which allows it to be used in a variety of locations. Rather than having to collect samples and send them to a lab, ProteoSense has developed a way to bring the lab to the samples.
ProteoSense’s customers range from food growers, to processors to distributors. Each of these groups can benefit from RapidScan’s real-time data and will be able to use the contaminant information they get to sort the good product from the bad.
ProteoSense’s biosensor technology was invented at The Ohio State University and licensed by Byrne in 2014. Shortly after starting the company, Byrne began working with Rev1 Ventures, a central Ohio regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier. Rev1 provided ProteoSense with some initial funding, plus lab and office space.
According to Byrne, one of the most beneficial programs that Rev1 offers is their advisor network, which connects entrepreneurs to volunteers in the community who can mentor a new company. ProteoSense was paired with a former food industry chief operating officer who offered the new business a wealth of industry experience.
“I was coming out of the medical device and diagnostic industry, not food,” said Byrne. “Through the advisor network we were able to get a lay-of-the-land and make some important introductions that have been very fruitful.”
ProteoSense received a $100,000 Technology Validation and Start-Up Fund (TVSF) grant from Ohio Third Frontier in late 2014. The funding was used to help the company achieve development milestones to attract investors.
“The TVSF grant acts as a sign to other investors that a company is on the path to success,” said Byrne. “It wasn’t until we received the grant that investors really started to take interest in us. It’s a very competitive award with a rigorous review process, and the fact that the program exists through Ohio Third Frontier is helpful for entrepreneurs across the state.”
ProteoSense is currently finalizing development of RapidScan and will complete an extensive testing program in late 2015 and early 2016. The next step after testing will be the creation of a beta prototype, which the company is hoping will be in customers’ hands in 2016. While the company has investigated expanding to other markets outside of the food industry, their focus for now is on making rapid food safety analysis a reality.