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SBIR Success

Photo of air monitoring device in a yard.

A NOAA-funded startup innovates for social good

A small company with big ideas delivers solutions to non-technical and tech-savvy users As the catastrophic Colorado wildfires of late 2020 burned out of control, a small company based in Fort Collins, Colorado, decided to use the event as a rare opportunity to test a brand-new technology. At the time, Access Sensor Technologies was developing a modernized air quality monitoring station, using early-stage funding they received from the NOAA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. Historically, air sampling has relied on a small number of permanent sampling units. This is because each unit is expensive to build, requires significant time to deploy, and requires multiple, highly-skilled personnel to manage the equipment. Because of real-world, situational testing opportunities such as the wildfire event, Access Sensor Technologies has been able to demonstrate that their modernized air sampling technology is cost-effective and easily programmable, can be quickly deployed, and is able to produce spatially comprehensive, high-quality data. The Aspen air monitoring system was installed for a temporary deployment in Grand Junction, CO. A solar panel and backup battery gave the system extended run times without the need for line power or gas generators. Credit: Access Sensor Technologies Why Access Sensor Technologies Pursued NOAA SBIR Funding When asked why his company pursued NOAA SBIR funding, Access Sensor Technologies Chief Executive Officer Thomas Reilly stated, “We noticed problems with data quality control of air sensors, and the restrictions on their deployment due to cost, difficulty of installation and use, and the demand on resources to manage them. We also noticed an incredible amount of time and effort being spent by researchers trying to follow and understand advances in air sensor technology.” He continued, “Around this time, the NOAA SBIR funding solicitation came out and we saw an opportunity to expand our products.” The company sought to enhance the data that was available at the time and bolster the data network infrastructure that was in place. A map showing the Colorado wildfires of 2020 (left) and city-level deployment of AST air monitoring systems (right). Easy deployment allows comprehensive sampling and accurate measurements at the community and neighborhood level. Credit: Access Sensor Technologies A Catalyst for Innovation The NOAA SBIR program supports development of technologies, such as the Aspen monitoring system, through highly-competitive, merit-based grants that encourage U.S. small businesses to engage in federal research and development. A primary goal of the program is to support the development of innovative and commercially-viable products and services. Including qualified small businesses in the nation’s research and development arena stimulates high-tech innovation, and the United States gains entrepreneurial spirit as it meets its specific research and development needs. As Reilly noted, “The early entrepreneur space is a tough ecosystem to be in, especially for those who are working on impactful projects like atmospheric research or pollution exposure. SBIR awards are great because they seed and stimulate economic growth and technology innovation in a very focused and cost-effective way, while aligning with agency missions.” Reilly adds that SBIR awards are also one of the first opportunities available to recent graduates, and says they provide awardees with an opportunity to develop new, complementary skill sets. He explains, “This is just one example of the many benefits of the SBIR program – it is part of the fabric that makes up a very capable, educated workforce and allows people to be inter- and cross-disciplinary.” The patented technology inside AST’s Aspen air monitoring system enables comprehensive air sampling within a very small package. The system is designed for easy and fast installation by a single person. Credit: Access Sensor Technologies A Company is Launched Access Sensor Technologies was originally founded with the intention of making sophisticated sensor and sampling technology more readily accessible to people around the world. Reilly says, “This approach has a democratizing effect in that end-users do not have to be scientifically trained in order to capture reliable and repeatable information.” Air sampling involves setting up hardware at a particular location and pumping air through a series of filters that are later collected and analyzed by a lab. Sensors can monitor overall air quality and track specific chemical elements of interest. Reilly says his company’s particular emphasis is on establishing a reading of what’s in the air that we breathe. The small business’s early innovative approach involved the successful development of ultrasonic air pumps that were programmable, silent, and energy-efficient. Since then, the company has been able to advance air sampling hardware and software standards beyond what has traditionally been an unreliable and short-lived approach. As the company’s first official hire, Reilly brought in extensive scientific and technical experience as well as the desire to build something marketable in the private sector. Access Sensor Technologies engineer, Gabe Neymark, programmed three Aspen air monitoring systems using a mobile app. Credit: Access Sensor Technologies A Small Company Makes a Big Impact Reilly emphasizes that Access Sensor Technologies wants to position itself at the intersection of environment and health. “One way that we make our dent in the universe is to bring as many people as we can into the fold, so they can understand how their environment is changing or impacting their health – this is what gets our team really jazzed,” says Reilly. “Some of the most invigorating calls we get are from customers who are new to environmental sampling but who have been immediately successful in what they want to achieve. That’s where we know we’re making a difference, by expanding the possibilities for people who use our tools.” Another important impact of small companies engaging in NOAA SBIR-funded research and development is the ripple effect those activities can have on the economy. Reilly explains, “We make sure a majority of our vendors are U.S.-based: our circuit boards are made by a company just 20 minutes south of us, our machine shop is in Denver, and our injection molders are in Minnesota.” Reilly adds, “Another way that we expand our impact is by working with environmental consultants, who amplify our reach by using our technology to serve their own network of users and clients.” Examples of diverse users of the Aspen air monitoring technology have included construction site managers, epidemiologists, public health scientists, and people who are interested in air quality changes resulting from decarbonization. A beta test partner from Berkeley Air Monitoring Group installed the Aspen air monitor in Coachella Valley, CA. Credit: Access Sensor Technologies Research and Development is a Learning Process Going through the SBIR research and development process affords a company the chance to learn more about the funding process, the specific technologies under development, and their customer base. In the case of Access Sensor Technologies, Reilly notes, “We learned that you really need to get out and interact with the marketplace and your potential end-users. Even through something as challenging as COVID, we were able to build and strengthen relationships. It was important to find early customers who were willing to go through the buggy prototype phase with us and provide useful feedback.” Participating in the SBIR Program also gave Access Sensors Technologies the opportunity to learn more about itself as a company. Reilly says, “We’ve learned that we don’t want to be all things to all people, but to enable them by providing the tools they need to make informed decisions.” Sometimes the specific uses and test results of a new technology are unexpected. Reilly says with a laugh, “You sometimes get useful, real-world questions that you haven’t thought of such as ‘How do you keep snakes or poisonous spiders out of your boxes that are installed in the desert?’ This is important feedback because it’s based on messy, real-world situations that don’t show up during the computer design and lab prototype production process.” These points illustrate that the research and development process will not only potentially lead to a better product, but also a stronger company. Reilly says, “You can’t just operate inside your little niche bubble, you have to get out there and engage and learn with your community of users. It’s important as a small business to have a diversity of skills.” A Small Company’s Advice for Others Seeking SBIR Funding  When it comes to giving advice to other small companies and entrepreneurs who are thinking about pursuing SBIR funding, Reilly advises, “Take a close look at how your idea overlaps with different government agency missions. The SBIR program works great when you can clearly identify the alignment of what you are doing with the objectives of an agency. You’ll likely go in too many directions if, as a small company, you try to be a contortionist.” Visit the NOAA SBIR Program website to view additional information about the program, read about other NOAA SBIR successes and available technologies, and sign up to receive email updates on upcoming funding opportunities. Note: Any reference obtained from this website to a specific company, product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement by NOAA. Published on November 7, 2022 by Matthew Bryant Media contact:

Photo of two engineers standing next to water monitoring equipment in field

NOAA SBIR helps small business find traction and long-term success

Crucial federal support provides catalyst for small business growth Early support can have a lasting impact Sometimes success comes with time and perseverance, but an early boost can make all the difference – especially when it comes to a small company’s chances of getting off the ground.  When small business owner Vincent Kelly, founder and director of Green Eyes, LLC, was asked what his company gained from its participation in the NOAA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, his response hit a key note. “Here I am, some fifteen years later, and the business is standing on its own and doing reasonably well. That would not have happened without our NOAA SBIR funding.” Kelly’s response illustrates what lies at the heart of the mission of the NOAA SBIR program, which is part of America’s Seed Fund. As one of the largest sources of early-stage capital for technology commercialization in the United States, NOAA SBIR support offers an opportunity for U.S.-owned and -operated small businesses to engage in federally supported research and development that has a strong potential for commercialization. GreenEyes, LLC specializes in automated water monitoring equipment. Credit: GreenEyes, LLC ( A small business based on a big idea Kelly founded his small business, Green Eyes, in 2006 in order to expand on previous research that he conducted at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Lab. There, Kelly, along with collaborators Dr. Louis Codispoti and Dr. Patricia Glibert, investigated the role of nutrients found in harmful algal blooms. That research provided an opportunity for the team to scientifically validate data collected by the autonomous nutrient monitors they had deployed for the project, which revealed water-nutrient dynamics previously unknown.  But the passion for research wasn’t the only reason for Kelly to start his small business. The creation of Green Eyes also came about because of what he characterized as his inclination toward an entrepreneurial spirit. Additionally, Kelly’s prior experience with the Maryland Technology Development Council afforded him the opportunity to meet economic developers who sought to commercialize university technologies, and gave him the chance to learn about federal SBIR funding. A NuLab device inside a waterproof enclosure monitors nutrients within a Florida bay. Credit: The Ocean Research Conservation Association Kelly notes that the rubber met the road when Green Eyes received a NOAA SBIR Phase I award in July of 2007, which supported a 6-month feasibility study and proof-of-concept research based on the company’s technology idea. Kelly emphasized that NOAA SBIR funding was the first significant award that put money into Green Eyes, and that the company would likely not exist today without that support. Following the successful completion of their initial NOAA SBIR award, Green Eyes then received Phase II funding in August of 2008. Kelly recalls the day he and his team were notified about their Phase II support. “When we found out that we got the Phase II award, that was a huge day for us.” Phase II NOAA SBIR awards support further research and development and help companies turn their technology ideas into products with potential commercial applications.  Peter Dudley (left) and Carter Kelly (right) of Green Eyes, LLC install a NuLAB device to monitor nitrate, phosphate, and ammonia on a bioreactor in Denton, MD. Credit: Green Eyes, LLC SBIR technology development provides foundation for future commercial success Green Eyes’ Phase II award funded the research and development of the Coastal Autonomous Self-calibrating Profiler (CLASP), which is a water quality data collection device that is capable of operating autonomously for extended periods of time. More specifically, the CLASP technology can collect water quality data along an entire water column and at specific depths and sampling intervals. The monitoring system collects a suite of data that can help scientists understand the quality and environmental health of a specific area of water, including temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, acidity, chlorophyll fluorescence, turbidity, and nitrates. The company’s SBIR work has since inspired new research and development, and has laid the foundation for many of the products that Green Eyes created in the years following their federal seed funding. For example, the company has since gone on to develop and commercialize subsequent products which analyze nutrient data, monitor water quality, and sample phytoplankton. Green Eyes also continues to use software that they developed with the support of their NOAA SBIR award. The NOAA SBIR research and development phases positioned Green Eyes, LLC to eventually develop their NuLAB nutrient monitor, shown here. Credit: Green Eyes, LLC Impacts of SBIR funding extend beyond technological innovation As a developing small business, Green Eyes has had a positive impact on local economies. The NOAA SBIR support they received allowed the company to hire employees from the region and provide them a living wage. Kelly noted that Green Eyes strives to use United States-based suppliers and manufacturers when sourcing the materials needed to create their products, and that they intentionally seek out Maryland-based suppliers whenever possible. The impact of Green Eyes is not limited to just economic and technological benefits. The company’s mission is to play a meaningful role in the restoration and protection of natural waters by providing accurate and reliable instrumentation to water quality monitoring organizations worldwide. Through this work, they are contributing to the wider effort to reverse the effects of nutrient pollution and resultant degradation of natural waters. The importance of America’s Seed Fund When asked about the importance of the NOAA SBIR Program, Kelly shared his hopes for the program’s continuation, explaining that NOAA SBIR funding was crucial to providing an opportunity for his new company to grow and thrive. “I didn’t have any personal wealth to start a company, and I never could have done it without any outside funding. SBIR is one of the best opportunities for a new company without revenue.” Visit the NOAA SBIR Program website to view additional information about the program, read about other NOAA SBIR successes and available technologies, and sign up to receive email updates on potential upcoming funding opportunities. Note: Any reference obtained from this website to a specific company, product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement by NOAA. Published on November 1, 2022 by Evan Merk and Matthew Bryant Media contact: