Barnstable startup on investors’ radar
Remote Sensing Solutions wins second grant to bring technology to market
BARNSTABLE VILLAGE — A local technology company has earned recognition and critical funding from MassVentures, a quasi-public venture capital firm that invests in Massachusetts startups with high growth potential to help them progress from the development stage into the market.
Remote Sensing Solutions will use its $200,000 grant to commercialize technology that company President James Carswell described as “a game-changing solution for radar digital subsystems.”
Illuminated by the natural light streaming through the rooftop windows of their Route 6A office and workshop building, CFO James Canniff and CEO Michel Fernandes later offered a nuts-and-bolts explanation of what the scientist-engineers at Remote Sensing Solutions do.
“We work with remote sensing, acquiring information without contact,” Fernandes said. “Everything our company does, all our products and services, is around that field.”
At the heart of it is a miniaturized radar sensing and data collection and analysis system capable of “seeing” through dust and clouds and darkness with such accuracy that it can pinpoint the barrel of a gun before a shot has been fired, Canniff said.
The technology obviously can be of use to the military, but its small size and light weight means it could potentially enable safe operation of drones in U.S. airspace, allow researchers to locate, track and count whales and monitor marine debris, help Coast Guard search-and-rescue personnel find mariners in distress and change the way autonomous cars avoid collisions, he said.
The two key products in the system are called PathIn, which stands for Phased Array Terrain Hazard Interferometer, and ARENA, which stands for Advanced Reconfigurable Embedded Network Appliance. Basically, Canniff explained, PathIn collects the data and ARENA processes it.
The ARENA is about the size of a cellphone and weighs less than 2 pounds. That compares with an older-model radar unit in the workshop that resembles a computer tower and weighs about 40 pounds.
Remote Sensing Solutions, which currently employs nine people, has done much of its development work with funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Energy and the U.S. Geological Survey through the Small Business Innovation Research program.
While the small-business program provides seed money so entrepreneurs can fill out their concepts, it does not help with the next step, commercialization, meaning lots of funded product and service ideas end up on the shelf and never get to market.
Canniff said the phenomenon is well known in the tech startup world as the “SBIR valley of death.”
Now in its fifth year, MassVentures’ START program, which stands for SBIR Targeted Technologies, helps companies “bridge the gap between innovation and commercialization,” Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash said in the statement announcing this year’s awards.
The START program is a three-year, highly competitive process that funds a select few Massachusetts companies that have received the awards, according to MassVentures.
The 2016 START grant is Remote Sensing Solution’s second. It received a $100,000 Stage I grant last year for its PathIn technology. This year, it was one of only five companies in the state to win a $200,000 Stage II grant.
Remote Sensing Solutions will use the money to hire additional engineers and sales staff, file patents and attend trade shows and the company expects to open a new manufacturing site in the next year or two, Fernandes said.
While the sales staff can work from anywhere and the company also has an office in Monrovia, California, the plan is to keep the engineering and manufacturing jobs on the Cape.
“The goal is to have that here,” Canniff said.
David Wiley, research coordinator for the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, is enthusiastic about early discussions he has had with Remote Sensing Solutions about partnering for testing.
Because PathIn-ARENA systems can be installed on vessels and aircraft and detect minute differences in the heights of objects, they could allow researchers to detect, count and track whales without putting sound in the water that can harm marine life.
“A lot of testing still has to be done, but the possibilities are really exciting. It’s a very different way to gather information,” Wiley said. “And the fact that the lab is on the Cape is pretty amazing, too.”