Small World

Game-changing technology sometimes comes in small packages. For example, with two magnets and a lightbulb filament — a package thinner than a deck of cards — Joe Beckman and a team of Oregon State University collaborators may revolutionize the mass spectrometry (aka, “mass spec”) industry. Their device amplifies the sensitivity and precision of technology that is the workhorse of chemistry labs. And it requires minimal retooling of existing equipment.

Joe Beckman
Joe Beckman

“We’ve been developing this approach for more than 12 years. We not only break molecules into fragments effectively, we do it so gently that it gives you entirely new insights into how molecules such as proteins work. It reduces noise (spurious data), and you can turn it off and on in less than a millisecond,” says Beckman, Distinguished Professor in biochemistry and biophysics and holder of the Burgess and Elizabeth Jamieson Chair in Healthspan Research in the Linus Pauling Institute.

Based on advances achieved in Oregon State’s mass spec lab, Beckman and his team (Valery Voinov, Yury Vasel’ev, Douglas Barofsky and Nathan Lopez) formed a company known as e-MSion. They are demonstrating their device with major mass spec equipment manufacturers, part of a global industry that generated more than $3 billion in sales last year.

However, it wasn’t until they participated in commercialization training through the Oregon State University Advantage Accelerator/RAIN Corvallis that they began to grapple with the realities of finding a market and starting a business. The company was one of six in the Accelerator’s immersive commercialization training program last spring. Among them were Northwest Research Laboratories (quality control in commercial cleaning services), Pure Living (news aggregator and e-commerce website for families), Danio Discovery (zebrafish lab for rapid chemical testing) and Core Vitality Clinic (regenerative medical treatment).

At the end of the program, each business had clarified its product, the market and the messages it needs to reach potential buyers and investors.

As an affiliate of the Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network (RAIN), the program helps new businesses move from idea to market. “Five years ago,” says Beckman, “if we told people we wanted to start a company, they would say, ‘Where’s your business plan?’ The idea here is that you start with minimum viable product (a description of the technology) and you find out who your customers are. For a scientist, that process is just like doing an experiment, but you’re interacting with people and finding out if they will pick up your product.”