U Spin-Out Takes Major Strides Forward With New Round of Federal Funding

Vaporsens, a Utah Science Technology and Research initiative supported spin-out from the University of Utah and the developer of a unique chemical detection technology has been awarded a Small Business Innovation Research Phase II grant of approximately $720,000 through the National Science Foundation.


Vaporsens was able to secure the Phase II grant with help from one of USTAR’s outreach centers, the Utah SBIR-STTR Assistance Center (SSAC).  The SSAC is located at the Salt Lake Community College’s Miller Business Resource Center and is a statewide resource that assists innovators and entrepreneurs to maximize their business potential through SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. 

This SBIR Phase II grant will enable the Vaporsens team to reach commercialization at a faster rate and opens the doors to other types of funding, according to Mary Cardon, SSAC director.

“When you have an SBIR phase II grant, you start moving through things a little quicker,” said Cardon. “Winning this NSF Phase II demonstrates to potential investors that the company has been vetted by the federal government, giving Vaporsens a stamp of approval that will open doors for them.”

Vaporsens is developing an “electronic dog’s nose”.  The handheld detector is small, light and can detect the presence of narcotics, explosives, and chemical agents. These detectors can be used to protect critical infrastructure locations, apartment complexes, hotels and ports. It could also be a stand-alone unit that continuously monitors military bases, buildings and subways. The sensor is selective against environmental interferents like cosmetics, gasoline, cigarette smoke and alcohol.

Vaporsens’s technology is based on advanced sensor research by USTAR professor Ling Zang in the U of U’s material science department, and is supported by the Technology Commercialization and Innovation Program (TCIP), the NSF’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, the Department of Defense (DOD) and private investors.  

Ben Rollins, co-founder and CEO of Vaporsens, says this SBIR Phase II award will allow Vaporsens to further develop the technology and test it in the field. The company’s current prototype is a lab version that is undergoing testing for sensitivity, selectivity, interferents, and robustness. The next step with this SBIR Phase II grant will be to move toward a field ready device

“Having funding to perform necessary research and development is critical for us to move out of our current phase and in to a company that has products and revenue,” said Rollins. “It’s all about research and development right now. We are performing tests and making adjustments according to the results of those tests and moving forward from there.”

In addition to the SBIR Phase II grant, last fall Vaporsens wasawarded funding through the DOD’s Threat Reduction Agency, as well as SBIR Phase I and Phase IB grants. A portion of the $2.4 million contract from the DOD enabled Vaporsens to develop miniature gas sensors that are highly sensitive in order to detect chemicals disseminating from clandestine chemical labs. The Phase I grant totaled $150,000 while the Phase IB, which is only given to a company that can match it with investor funding, totaled an additional $30,000. 

“These federal awards validate our advanced sensor technology,” said Rollins. “We spent hundreds of man hours in preparation for a rigorous review of our technology by dozens of researchers.”