Vaughan Rising Blog: How to Develop an Innovative Product Quickly
Vaughan scaleup swiftly develops COVID detection device
Like other businesses in Vaughan, Kontrol Energy Corp. was disrupted by government measures to contain the pandemic. Instead of dwelling on how it impacted them, Kontrol considered what this meant for their clients and for the entire global economy.
Kontrol is one of Canada’s top new growth companies with triple-digit revenue growth and 70 employees. They’re a smart building technology company with two verticals: 1) reducing energy cost and consumption and 2) improving air quality and emissions. They work with large commercial real estate clients in Canada and the US, outfitting multi-residential, industrial and institutional buildings with their technologies.
CEO Paul Ghezzi remembers when the pandemic began, “The first thing we noticed really was a lot of our customers started to worry about having service companies like Kontrol on site. And that immediately led to a recalculation of when they could do their capital projects. When could Kontrol come on site? Was it safe?”
“And so around that time,” he continues, “we started to ask the question: if being safe in the space that you’re in is going to be a big challenge for the global economy, what can we do about that? We’re already at industrial facilities managing air quality in real time. Is there a way we could participate in helping solve this global pandemic?”
This problem, combined with their expertise in air quality monitoring, was the seed of a big idea: could they develop a technology that detects the COVID-19 virus in the air, in real time?
Fed by ambition and allies, that seed quickly grew into the Kontrol BioCloud Analyzer. This success story offers a peek inside the R&D process, and how to navigate it as quickly as possible.
Five takeaways from Kontrol to develop an innovative product quickly
1. Lean into your expertise
They weren’t sure at first, admits Ghezzi. “Essentially we got together as a group and we said here’s what we’re thinking. Is this even feasible or possible? Half of us thought we were crazy. Half of us thought we should proceed.”
The logic behind the decision to proceed was that Kontrol already owned a company that had been measuring air quality on a parts per million basis for the past thirty years. The Kontrol team is very adept, knowledgeable, and sophisticated with air quality monitoring equipment. Their extensive expertise includes air sampling and looking for very specific things in the air that should not be there.
The part they were uncertain about was the chemical process. “COVID is not just a particulate in the air; there’s got to be some kind of chemical reaction in terms of identifying it. That part we didn’t know. So we reached out to a number of labs and started the process to find out what it would take to design a system that could detect COVID in conjunction with our continuous air sampling and monitoring. And that’s where it really started to come together,” notes Ghezzi.
2. Recruit new partners
During the Research & Development (R&D) process, Kontrol partnered with independent labs. “The ImPaKT Facility actually has a live COVID virus available, so we were quite fortunate to get our independent testing against the dormant virus and then move very quickly to the live virus,” says Ghezzi. “What we’re working on now is setting a lower detection limit, which is a measure of how sensitive the technology is to the virus. Once we establish that, we move into commercialization. We’re looking to have production coming off the line of BioCloud units in November.”
Another important partnership that Ghezzi was sure to mention is the National Research Council of Canada, which has provided $50,000 of funding to Kontrol. “What’s important about the National Research Council is not the amount of funding because we had the funds in place to do the testing. But when they become part of the process, they go through their own independent validation of the work we’re doing. So it’s very helpful to have that. And they’re essentially the government of Canada scientists. From a controls perspective, it’s external validation, which is very helpful.”
3. Leverage existing relationships
By keeping their initial costs down, Kontrol did not have to raise capital to do the testing. Ghezzi shares, “Our view is we can take the product to production and as customers make purchases, those deposits will help fund some of the production.”
“We’ve got 70 employees,” he adds, “and the approach we’re taking is we’re not building new factories, we’re not building new warehouses. We’ll run the logistics, sales, marketing, and production. All the manufacturing is going to be based in Ontario with third-party manufacturers.”
“What that’s allowed us to do is keep our overheads very low but allowed the manufacturing to happen in Ontario through third parties. We just leveraged our existing relationships to move very quickly. But we’re always looking for new manufacturing partners or third-party contracting manufacturers to talk to,” he says. Heads up then, local manufacturers!
4. Accept you can’t control everything
With the first testing beginning in August and a goal of production starting in November, Kontrol has been working at breakneck speed. Ghezzi says, “The biggest challenge with a new technology or a new product is there’s parts that you control as an entrepreneur and a business owner and a team, and there’s parts that you don’t.
“When you’re developing a new technology or product, timing is always a challenge, and BioCloud is no different because we’re racing to solve the pandemic. But when you’re working with the government, it’s different, because they’re a much larger organization with more processes and approvals required. So I would say that’s been the most challenging.”
When the things he can’t control get frustrating, Ghezzi confides that he takes a step back. “We look at it from the perspective that in March, BioCloud didn’t exist. In only six or seven months, we’ve created a new technology that we think can really be helpful to get through this global challenge. So that’s the other side of it is that we’re moving mountains in a short period of time.”
5. Don’t forget to consider long term application
Ghezzi notes, “We’re not alone in this; there are other technologies coming from the US, and other competitors. I think we’re one of the first in Canada so that makes us fairly unique, but viral detection is a new form of technology that’s coming to buildings and spaces.
“Over the next five years, my view is that every building is going to have some form of viral detection, like we do with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide. It’s a different world. Everything changed for everyone. New technologies are going to help us get through this pandemic and who knows what’s coming in the future. What’s the next pandemic three or four years from now?”
“Right now the detection chamber is single use for a single virus,” Ghezzi explains. “Our detection chamber can be modified to track other viruses such as Legionnaires’ disease or H1N1. Right now COVID is the immediate focus. In the future, our hope is to have one detection chamber for multiple viruses. But that’s going to take a bit more R&D and some more time.”
Rising to the challenge of pandemic problems
Thanks to a lot of hard work and sheer drive, Kontrol Energy has come up with a solution to a global problem. Ghezzi explains, “With today’s challenges, people often don’t feel safe in the spaces they’re in. We have nothing in a space that says I’m okay in the space I’m in right now and that’s really the big debate in the economy: how do we move forward without shutting down? I think technologies like BioCloud can play an important role in that.”
The first units will likely go out to their existing customers in Canada, but Kontrol is building a global distribution network to see the units go far and wide. Back in Vaughan, they’re creating new jobs to support the technology, while maintaining their core business too. Kontrol is doing everything it takes to make an innovative pivot which will ensure that more businesses and people make it through the pandemic safely to the other side.
The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.
The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business. The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.