In 2016, one of Tim Smith’s clients, a local catering company, wished they could find a device that would alert them if their refrigerators and freezers were not cool enough to comply with food regulations. Tim designed a sensor to solve the problem. Another customer heard about it and wanted the device for his warehouse freezer. “I kept being asked by one company after another for help with this problem,” says Tim.
Tim and his wife Sara decided to start a company that could offer a more sophisticated version of the sensor, and Sensor Check, LLC, was born. “We used the initial sensors to springboard into a new product, the Sensor Check Temperature Monitoring System™ that would monitor temperatures, send alerts when things weren’t right, keep a log for inspectors, and more,” Tim explains. “We also realized that we needed to learn how to wrap a business around the product,” Sara adds.
The Smiths have been friends with Bernard Ferret, Senior Business Counselor at the Mason SBDC, for years. In fact, Tim was VP of Engineering in one of Bernard’s startups. When Tim approached him for help, Bernard signed him up as an SBDC client and directed him to the Innovation and Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), a program of the Virginia SBDC Network.
ICAP finds subject-matter experts (SMEs) to guide inventors and innovators through the process of getting products to market. Once accepted, Tim and Sara worked with SMEs Brenda Brown and Cassity Jones, co-founders of Frontier Kitchen, a food business incubator and a commercial kitchen.
Brenda and Cassity installed a Sensor Check system in two facilities with walk-in refrigerators as part of the process. Very early one morning an alert went out; something was wrong with one of the walk-in refrigerators. Their technician was able to fix the blown fuse before the food temperature reached 40 degrees. If they had waited until the usual time to go to the Kitchen, 6 hours after the alert, $50,000-worth of food would have needed to be thrown out, potentially putting some of their clients out of business.
Tim and Sara are grateful to ICAP. With the SMEs, they were able to create a market segmentation plan, start fund raising, increase their sales pipeline, and become part of the Frontier Kitchen family – all key parts of Tim and Sara’s business.