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ARM Innovation Hub
6 July, 2011 - 15:19 By News Desk

Owlstone Nanotech targeted US from Day One

Owlstone co-founder, Billy Boyle

Owlstone Nanotech was born to be a transatlantic business. With the original concept devised on the back of a beermat, it always looked a heady brew.

Using its leading edge nanofabrication techniques, Owlstone developed a complete chemical detection system on a chip – a ‘dime size’ Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometer, with the ability to rapidly monitor a broad range of chemicals at very low quantities with high confidence.

Co-founders Billy Boyle, Andrew Koehl and David Ruiz-Alonso were so confident in their innovation that they suspended their PhDs in 2004 to pursue the opportunity.

The chemical detection element of the technology appeared to have so many potentially cutting edge applications.

But chief among these were military and homeland security applications given that the western world – and particularly the US following 9/11 – was on constant anti-terrorist alert.

According to Boyle, “this focus on military and security applications made the US a primary target for us from Day One.

“For that reason we incorporated in the US and in 2006 we appointed as CEO Brett Bader, who had been general manager and vice-president of Smiths Detection Americas division.

“The model hasn’t altered. It was always determined that all the R & D and product development would be handled in Cambridge where we can tap into great engineering skills and terrific science. Because America was identified early as our main market for sales, the commercial interface was designed to be handled from America and that remains the case.”

Owlstone has raised $14m development capital to date and Boyle says the company is under no pressure to manufacture an exit. The company has a broad base of investors so any future exit might just as likely be a trade sale as an IPO. But the company has so much more it wants to achieve.

Boyle said: “We also identified fairly swiftly that our technology had a ready use in broader applications, such as medical instrumentation and medical diagnostics. We remain convinced of the opportunities in the medical arena and intend to work hard to exploit the technology in these areas.”

Endorsements keep coming for this vibrant young business. In March, Owlstone won the inaugural Cambridge Graduate Business of the Year Award – run by Business Weekly in conjunction with Cambridge University’s Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning.

Boyle said the company was “incredibly grateful’ for the support and encouragement it had always received from fellow Cambridge entrepreneurs and institutions.

“Cambridge will always be our main hub for R & D in the future. It has been great for getting people to work for Owlstone and is a phenomenal place to be.”

For more on the company and its capabilities, visit

• Photograph shows: Owlstone co-founder, Billy Boyle

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