Posted: December 01, 2010
Tech startup: Beacon Food SafetyBy Eric Peterson
BEACON FOOD SAFETY
INITIAL LIGHT BULB: Growing from a partnership between medical-diagnostics startup Beacon Biotechnology in Aurora and Templar Cos. in Greenwood Village, Beacon Food Safety takes the Beacon BrightSPOT Reader to the meat market.
"We realized (Beacon's) technology with minor adjustments was directly transferable to the food industry to identify food-borne pathogens," says Templar's Bill Locatis, who serves as the chairman and CEO of Beacon Food Safety. "It's a use that's there right now. It's about solving a problem that's killing people and making people sick."
With respective backgrounds in food and IT, Locatis and his partner at Templar, Steve Stroud, licensed the technology for exclusive use in the food industry in partnership with Beacon Biotechnology.
IN A NUTSHELL: The patented BrightSPOT Pathogen Detection System utilizes a disposable USB-compatible device that tests samples for different food-borne pathogens with a "micro-miniature optical device." Locatis says the technology detects "all of the regretfully popular pathogens," including salmonella, E. coli and listeria.
"There is no instrument required," Locatis says. "It's a chip. It looks like a USB thumb drive and is a throwaway device." Employees at meat-processing plants swab surfaces, and instead of sending the samples to outside labs for testing - a process that requires a petri dish and 48 to 72 hours, if not longer - they wipe the swab on the device's port and plug it into a PC or PDA and get results "in a matter of minutes," he says.
The product can save users from costly recalls of contaminated goods, but can also allow companies to dump their current "quarantine-and-hold" strategy, he adds, noting that waiting for test results on a big delivery of meat can cost as much as $1 million daily. "There are a lot of different testing schemes, but they all take hours to perform. Speed and accuracy is our game."
Locatis says the business model calls for the licensing of the Beacon system to distributors. "We have some of the world's largest sanitation and food-safety service providers interested in distributing and being channel partners," he says. "We have the only technology of this sort anywhere - period."
"A rapid test like Beacon's would be useful in the food industry because now testing takes anywhere from two to five days," says Dr. Lawrence Goodridge, associate professor of food microbiology at CSU. "At that point, the food's been shipped to the grocery store. If we find ways to test food faster, say in less than a day, in theory the bad food could be pulled from circulation before it ever makes it to the grocery store."
THE MARKET: Beacon's first target market is the live protein market - beef, swine and poultry - and future markets are produce and dairy. "We estimate our market at being a billion-dollar market," Locatis says. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates food contamination bears indirect annual costs of $150 billion.
FINANCING: The shareholders have invested $3 million in the company to date, and Locatis says he is currently working to close a round of $3.5 million. "That takes us to mass production," he says.
where: greenwood village | FOUNDED: summer 2009 | www.beaconfoodsafety.com
"It's like putting on night-vision goggles. It's a little like
giving a food processor a crystal ball. Our technology is
truly a tipping point."
- Beacon Food Safety CEO Bill Locatis
Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com