AST’s environmental sampling products shed light on pollutant exposure in air and water in a format that simplifies the work flow of our customers. The Ultrasonic Personal Air Sample (UPAS) was recently used in a CSU research study analyzing the air pollution and resultant health outcomes of cookstove use in rural Honduras (Read More). Additionally, the On-Target Water Testing Kits have been used extensively in Colorado to measure particulate content in stream and tap water, as well as in Peru to analyze cooking, drinking, and cleaning water for villages.
How an Idea
Became a Company
Founder John Volckens shares his memories on the origin of AST:
“[Chuck and I] quickly discovered that our research collaborations were leading to ideas and inventions that could probably find a home on the commercial marketplace. Chuck, having done this before, convinced me (over a period of more than a year) that it would be a good idea for us to start a company together. I was hesitant at first, because I didn’t want a second job, but I did have a very talented Masters student, Dan Miller-Lionberg, who was finishing up. I knew that if we could get him involved, he would be the brawn of the company at the early stage while Chuck and I wrote grants to fund the company.
Our first sales were through academic contacts. I would present my research at academic conferences and people would come up afterwards and say ‘How do I get this technology? I want to use it.’ I would let them borrow some of the prototypes we had, but quickly it became clear that we needed a way to get more product made. That’s also why I agreed to start the company with Chuck. Eventually, we had a couple people come to us and say ‘we’ve got a big project, we need 200 of these’ and so I sent them to buy 200 from the company. The company probably wasn’t ready to sell 200 at that time, but they couldn’t refuse that kind of offer. So, I made some introductions between the company and colleagues who wanted the technology – then I got out of the way.”
Why AST continues to inspire me to commercialize
“This idea that came out of my lab is helping to inspire new generations of research and accountability for air pollution on a global scale. We have just put serial number 1000 of our air sampler out the door. We have also had some interesting (and unexpected) milestones – for example, NASA is putting our air sampler on the space station in 2 years. But really, 1000 air samplers across 30 countries worldwide is probably what I’m most proud of. We are helping people understand and measure air quality in their homes, neighborhoods, towns, and cities, and as a result, empowering all these people to be able to take action, since they can measure and understand how the air quality in their area affects their health.
The other great thing about having a startup company in a university town is you get access to a strong pipeline of employees. We have both undergraduate and graduate students that get internships at the company . Then, after they graduate, sometimes we are able to hire them after having been, essentially, training them to do that job for a year. Being able to mentor students in my research group is one thing, but then watching them get gainful employment here in town, that’s not something I realized would happen when I started this.”
– Founder John Volckens