After a long, hard slog, a Jerome scientist and businessman's revolutionary food safety system has been recognized as a world-class innovation.
Dr. Bruce Bradley received the International Association for Food Safety's 2008 Food Safety Innovation Award this week at the organization's 95th annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. His invention, the Microbial-Vac System, was developed at Bradley's Rocky Mountain Resource Labs and is a wet vacuum surface sampling device meant to collect, isolate and contain pathogens like bacteria and viruses.
Working essentially like a carpet cleaner, the M-Vac sprays down a sterile solution which penetrates below the surface level of its target, gathers up microbes, suspends them and collects them for analysis. The process is a radical departure from traditional sampling methods, offering far greater efficiency and versatility than techniques that are, in many cases, about as crude as using a sponge or swab. While the product was initially developed for use in food safety, its applications include forensics and national defense.
"It was a brainwave," said Bruce's son and vice president of marketing and sales Jared. "The e-coli outbreak in '93 just really bothered him. Some of his first grandkids were born right around that time, and just the thought of the American food system - which you'd think was totally safe with all the technology and resources available in the U.S. - it just really bothered him."
The award - which is sponsored by 3M Microbiology - was given to Bradley based on nominations from his colleagues both within and without the IAFS. The organization counts more than 3,000 individuals from around the world and dozens of leading companies like Applied Biosystems, BD Diagnostics, ConAgra Foods, DuPont and Cargill as members.
"In the microbiology world this is a pretty prestigious conference," Jared said. "Some of dad's colleagues actually submitted the award nomination and support letters for it" I think this is the fourth or fifth year they've actually done this award. " It's quite an honor to receive this."
Rick Ritter, of Idaho TechConnect, said the recognition is well earned.
"If you looked in the dictionary under persistence and passion you'd see a picture of Bruce Bradley," he said. "The message for everybody is you've got to hang in there."
Ritter, who said he'd worked with Bradley for almost all of the past 10 years, added that the M-Vac's journey to market was also a prime example of how small tech start-ups can benefit from support organizations like TechConnect and TechHelp.
"It wasn't necessarily that we always had the answer, it was almost like we were working for the company in terms of helping them find money or find people, or get this work done or that work done," he said. "They were able to use us for that and it didn't cost them anything."
Now that the M-Vac has been commercialized, Jared said new challenges have arisen.
"We've essentially had to create an entirely new mindset on sampling," he said. "Over the past 10-20 years all the emphasis has been on the detection side, on the assumption that a good sample was going into it, but that's an assumption that I wouldn't make."
Citing an attitude bordering on "apathy" among many firms or organizations in the sampling world, Jared said overcoming resistance to new methods has proved to be M-Vac's biggest hurdle. Brandon Armstrong, TechConnect's representative in Jerome, said the organization is still working to support the success of the product.
"They have so much work to do in getting out the door, and raising awareness about it is one contribution we can do for a company that's already gone through the R & D phase," he said.
But with big clients like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the high profile industry exposure M-Vac will get at the IAFP conference, Ritter said it seems likely things will take off for the company, which employs 16 people at facilities in Jerome and Salt Lake City.
"Bruce is just the epitome of our next generation of great companies," he said.
Link full text at the Jerome Business Review.