BioInspira: A Versatile Sensor Platform for the Modern Era

by Benson Fan

BioInspira is a startup that emerged from my M.Eng. capstone project. We were developing a versatile sensor platform technology to provide real-time, inexpensive, efficient and portable sensing solutions that vastly improved upon current industry safety standards. Our technology integrated novel bio-derived colorimetrie sensors with advanced imaging technology to detect airborne chemicals.

We knew we were on to something big when we won the Berkeley Big Ideas competition.

Upon graduation, Ray Chiu (M.Eng. 14) and I decided to form BioInspira and were accepted to UC Berkeley’s Foundry, a technology incubator run by Citris, right next to Blum Hall. We are currently developing a small and inexpensive ammonia sensor for industrial safety that provides a clear visual for on-site use as well as strong network integration for remote detection. Although toxic to humans, ammonia is used both widely and in large quantities for a variety of industries, mainly in the form of fertilizer, refrigerant or as precursors in pharmaceuticals. We also plan to incorporate more gas profiles to our sensor technology, eventually leading to a platform that can detect multiple types of gases that can used for a myriad of applications.

Working in a technology startup has been a learning experience. I had to change the very way I thought about the project.

It was no longer about sharing and showing people how amazing the technology was, but rather about solving an unmet need. Technology was no longer the end, but the means to solve a real life problem.

As for startup life, I find it quite similar to when I was in school with the ebb and flow of projects and deadlines. There is nothing 9–5 about it, which I find exciting because you never know what is around the corner. Unlike school, however, I have to get out and track down opportunities because they rarely come knocking on your front door. That said, the entrepreneurship opportunities in the Bay Area are endless — from attending events, getting connected to angels, writing grants, etc.

There are countless aspects involved in the business planning and technical development of our fast-growing startup. When I look back at the past year, it still amazes me to think that BioInspira started off as a simple capstone project in the M.Eng program.