Carbo Analytics utilizes lab-on-chip technology to separate and analyze sugars used during fermentation processes such as brewing beer. During production, a sample is taken and in about 15 minutes, the producer knows what's happening with the sugars.
"This is a benefit because they can't otherwise follow sugars during the production," said Carbo Analytics President and founder Dale Willard. "They can follow it after the fact through a lab, but then you essentially learn you've created a defective product after you've created a defective product. You've wasted product, labor and had production delays."
For brewers, this technology means fewer batches of bad beer. For pharmaceutical companies, this means fewer bad pills. The pharmaceutical industry uses sugars in tablets as stabilizers. As with beer production, what happens to the sugars during production was a mystery until after a batch had been ruined. Now, manufacturers can follow the sugars during production.
This technology allows soda manufacturers to track sugars during production so they can ensure the product's sugar content matches nutrition labels.
For biofuels, which also rely on fermentation for production, the implications of tracing and understanding sugars during production means better, purer biofuels.
"Sometimes we like to say we put the hardhat on the analysis and allow it to be done on a product line so they (manufacturers) can follow sugars as production occurs," Willard said.
The technology has the potential to vastly reduce waste and improve quality for a variety of industries, which is why Carbo Analytics recently won the Outstanding Venture 2012 award at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory's 25th Industry Growth Forum.
"It was great to get out there and get some validation from the people you're hoping to impress with the brand you're trying to build," Willard said. "Nationally, it's the premier forum for companies in the space."
The award caught the attention of venture capitalists and angel investors, relationships that could prove useful for Carbo Analytics.
Right now, Carbo Analytics designs instrumentation to specifically fit a company's needs. By 2014, it plans to roll out two mass-produced analytics devices. A bench-top unit and online unit will gather samples from a production line, send it to a data management system and give the customer analysis in about 15 minutes.
This is expected to generate revenues in the $5 million to $10 million range.
Willard also hopes to grow his team of seven part-time employees to 12, a sizeable expansion for what started as a one-man show when Carbo Analytics was founded in January 2011.
Carbo Analytics is the second lab-on-chip company founded by Willard. In 2003, he founded Advanced MicroLabs, which uses lab-on-chip technology to analyze water for the power industry. Willard eventually left Advanced MicroLabs to found Carbo Analytics.
With the help of five Colorado State University MBA students, Willard wrote a business plan for Carbo Analytics and secured $460,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and $250,000 from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Not only did he have CSU's help on the business plan, the whole concept behind Carbo Analytics was developed from intellectual property that came out of CSU's chemistry department.
"I'm the guy that starts with an idea and builds the early-stage company out of it," Willard said. "Hopefully it gets to a point where it can be built into a full revenue-generating enterprise by me or someone else."