(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fifth in a series of articles spotlighting participants in the recent “What’s the Big Idea 48-Hour Launch” coordinated by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center for The Development Corporation of Knox County. The competition was won by Erica Grant with Quantum Lock, and you can read our previous article about her initiative here.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Three scientists who at one time were colleagues at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are the scientific force behind Timbre Technologies Inc., a very early stage company that is in the proof of concept phase with a new technology radiation sensor that is a single gamma photon detector.
The company was started in 2016 by Saeed Assadi, James Pogge, and Stephen Scott. Their roles are Chief Scientist, Chief Engineer, and Chief Technology Officer respectively. The start-up’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer is Michael Geppi, a resident of Maryland, while Philip Schiff, also based in Maryland, is Vice President of Operations and General Counsel.
As you might expect, Scott, who pitched the idea at the recent “What’s the Big Idea 48-Hour Launch” (WTBI), explained that the company came about as a result of research that the technical team members had been doing and a discussion session where they talked about opportunities to collaborate.
“Saeed and Jim had worked on a similar concept in the past,” he said, adding, “They worked on a number of problems and this technology came out of that work.” Scott, who has a charter fishing company on the Great Lakes, had also collaborated with Pogge on an idea for the marine industry.
“We discussed our various research activities and decided to focus on radiological detectors,” he explained. “The impact can be enormous . . . a game changer.”
To help us better understand just exactly what problem Timbre Technologies is focused on solving, Scott used a couple of golfing analogies, first comparing the existing competition and then describing how advanced the start-up’s approach is.
“The current technology (on the market) is like trying to determine how many golf balls were hit into a pecan orchard by counting the number of pecans on the ground,” Scott says. “Some balls may have struck a tree and knocked off six pecans, others perhaps only two or three pecans, and many others likely missed the trees altogether. So, while you may know a golf ball came through the orchard, you can’t accurately tell how many.”
He says Timbre’s technology works quite a bit differently. “It is more like observing the splash when a golf ball is hit into a lake. You immediately know it happened and if you count the splashes throughout the day, you know exactly how many balls went into the lake. Quite a bit different than hitting 75 golf balls and then counting fallen nuts.”
Scott says the Timbre Technologies team has run a number of computer simulations and has found that their sensors will have a significantly higher fidelity and density when compared to that of today. He said comparing existing radiological sensors, which are based on 1950’s technology, versus Timbre’s sensor is like comparing that same 1950’s era TV’s picture quality to that of the modern Ultra HD.
Target markets for the technology include healthcare, materials science, environmental and scientific work, personal protection, and homeland security.
“It will be cheaper, faster and better” than anything currently on the market, Scott adds. For the healthcare space, Scott says the sensor, when in a medical device, should fast-track the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. “We are passive. . . a detector.”
Much of the early research has been based on computational simulations, and all of the work has been self-funded thus far. The company is in the final stages of the patent process.
With some of the markets that are being targeted, Timbre Technologies is considering future funding options through Small Business Innovation Research grants and will most likely need other investment as it gets closer to going to market.
“We will continue to be self-funded through our Proof of Concept phase,” he says. “The science is right . . . we can see the golf ball go in the lake.”
There could be two phases of prototypes before the product is in the market. When it is, Scott says Timbre Technologies strategy will be similar to the “Intel Inside” that consumers see on a sticker when they buy a computer. “Our device is semiconductor-based, and we want to manufacture that piece,” he explains.
Participating in WTBI was the start-up’s unveiling to the local community, although it is much better known in Washington, DC for reasons that should be obvious.
“It’s not work,” Scott says. “We’re doing what we love, and we see the great potential in this technology.”