A New Company Lifts Off
New company lifts off from StFX students and researcher’s creation
Moves forward on the international stage
ANTIGONISH, NS – St. Francis Xavier University’s Earth Sciences researcher Dr. Dave Risk and his students have not only taken their research outside the classroom but have launched a company selling the invention they created.
Forerunner Research Inc. is based on groundbreaking technology created by Dr. Risk and his students. Forerunner's instruments are used for long-term monitoring of CO2 and other gases.
The company has already acquired large national and international clients and has hired some StFX grads that have the right skills and enthusiasm. “We have a broad range of clients, from scientists in Alaska studying the effects of warming climate on soils and ecosystems, to crop scientists, to oil and gas companies who need to monitor Carbon Capture and Storage and/or Enhanced Oil Recovery operations,” says Dr. Risk.
The company was founded by three of the inventors of its core technology offering - Earth Sciences professor Dave Risk, and graduate students Nick Nickerson and Gordon McArthur. Mr. MacArthur, President of Forerunner Research, now runs the company full-time, and the business employs several StFX Earth Sciences staff and students.
The company is growing at such a fast rate it recently moved to a larger location - the Innovacorp Technology Innovation Centre in Dartmouth. “During my undergraduate degree in chemistry, there were times I felt I should have studied business, but now I believe that no matter what you study you can be an entrepreneur,” says Mr. McArthur. “In my opinion the two most important prerequisites are having a good idea and making the decision to turn it into a business.”
Forerunner is now in discussions to secure licenses for other related StFX technologies to span into new markets. The company is scaling up its activities, and is starting to look for investment to support expansion.
Though still finalizing business strategy and some aspects of instrument design, it is already providing custom instruments to university researchers and companies, owing to early demand. It has also been commissioned to develop and provide new spin-off custom instruments for a major crop science company. The company has also secured a monitoring service contract at a major Oil and Gas CO2 injection site.
“We've certainly had lots to learn in terms of business, and obviously we're still learning,” says StFX grad Nick Nickerson, head scientist and co-founder of Forerunner. “One of our problems is that we are in a niche market where most of our customers have PhDs or are engineers of some sort, and want to deal with peers. So we've had to cater to those expectations, which mean running lean on business expertise. We haven't always made the right decisions but we're starting to accumulate some good advisors.”
Forerunner is a good example of the StFX Industry Liaison office working to push products into the real world. “Great overall synergy -benefitting health and safety, monitoring of global change, moving technologies into the real world, hiring graduates, pushing royalties back to university,” adds Dr. Risk.
“Dr. Risk and I have been working together on his soil-gas research and related technologies for over six years now, starting with small $5,000 to $10,000 research grants, to where we are now with five patented technologies, well over $ 1 million in research support, scores of students with hands-on business and industry experience and of course, his spin-off company Forerunner Research,” says Andrew Kendall, Manager of StFX Industry Liaison Office. “It is very gratifying to me to see this knowledge-based business become established in Nova Scotia, retain and employ the highest quality students, and of course confirm StFX’s role as a critical component of economic development in this province.”