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Testing the Waters

Sensicore is using lab-on-a-chip technology to test water quality rapidly.
August 31, 2005


HQ: Ann Arbor, MI

Founded: 2000

Management: CEO Malcolm Kahn has held senior positions at several companies, including Membrex, a membrane technology company, and Kratos, an analytical instruments company. He also worked at Millipore Corp., a biotech tools company, and spent nine years at Pfizer. Vice President of Research and Development John Czaban has extensive experience in the development of sensor-based medical devices.

Investors: In August, the company completed a $12 million Series C round of financing from Ardesta, Firelake Capital, NGEN Partners, Technology Partners, and Topspin Partners.

Business Model: Sensicore has developed a “lab-on-a-chip” sensor that enables fast and inexpensive monitoring and profiling of water quality. The core technology was developed at the University of Michigan and is licensed to Sensicore for commercialization. The company’s first product, WaterPOINT, is a handheld water tester. It was launched earlier this year. According to the company, the device allows field personnel to obtain water test results in just minutes – four, to be exact – drastically shortening a process that usually takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, or longer if samples have to be brought back to a lab for analysis. The company also claims that the product, which tests for substances such as chlorine, calcium, ammonium, and carbon dioxide, is easy to use, requires no training, and delivers lab-quality results. Target markets include municipalities and industries.

Competitors: Aquapure, Hach Company

Dirt: Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink…But not if Sensicore can help it. Since water quality is a global issue and market opportunity, Sensicore’s potential for growth is big – and we suspect it has big ambitions. On the other hand, selling to municipalities, which is one of their initial markets, can put a small company at the mercy of fickle government budgets and slow spending cycles.

Sensicore falls into a category of eco-friendly companies – which have been getting a lot of attention from VCs. These so-called “green technology” startups focus on products and services that aim to improve the environment (such as alternative energy sources).

But Sensicore also has designs on markets beyond water quality. For instance, the chemical-sensing technologies at the core of its current product line may eventually be used to measure blood chemistry.


We Want Our Phone TV…

The challenges of developing live mobile TV – and other alarm:clock news from the land of private venture funding.

With the rapid rate of technology innovation in recent years, it’s a bit surprising that one still can’t yet watch live TV on a cell phone or laptop (see article in the November 2004 Technology Review issue). A recent investment by Intel and other major investors in a French semiconductor maker reminded us of the promise of live mobile TV.

DiBcom has just raised a large $24.5 million euro round of late-stage capital. The company successfully demonstrated mobile TV back in 2002 and is now moving forward with companies, particularly in Europe and Asia, to bring live mobile TV to market. Intel will introduce mobile TV using DiBcom chips with its Xscale handheld and Centrino notebook platforms. Other uses of the chip will follow in auto and cell-phone TVs.

Live mobile TV carries a number of challenges. Video is a battery drain and most portable devices cannot run for long with video siphoning off their power. Not surprisingly, then, chip makers like DiBcom are focused on being frugal in energy use.

The other main challenge is that signal processing must be miniaturized. Cell phones must have much of the same signal-processing technology found in larger TVs. Early users of live mobile TV have complained that it’s like watching a slideshow.

Finally, market studies do not show pent-up demand for live mobile video. Carriers will have to charge extra for mobile video and many are uncertain that it will pay off.

On the chip side, the primary competitors at this stage appear to be Intel/DiBcom and Texas Instruments. TI plans to introduce a chip, called Hollywood, which will display digital TV reception using mobile versions of digital TV broadcast standards. The company expects to launch the chip in 2006.

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