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BU post-doc. researcher creates start-up, chosen as MassChallenge contest finalist

Silverside Detector co-founder Andrew Inglis speaks to Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey about his company's lithium thermal neutron detector. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREW INGLIS
Silverside Detector co-founder Andrew Inglis speaks to Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey about his company’s lithium thermal neutron detector. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREW INGLIS

Local startup accelerator MassChallenge announced on Oct. 15 that Silverside Detectors, Inc., a company co-founded by a Boston University post-doctoral researcher, is one of 26 finalists eligible to compete for more than $1 million in cash prizes that could be awarded to their ventures.

Silverside Detectors, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Andrew Inglis, a College of Arts and Sciences graduate who earned a Ph.D. in physics in 2010, said participating in MassChallenge’s startup competition has been a valuable experience for his company, which aims to produce affordable nuclear detection technology.

“MassChallenge was [responsible for] the entire set of resources that we used to learn how to professionally move forward, starting with just a mission, and a vision, and a technology, and creating the foundations of a company,” Inglis said. “They have mentors that give amazing advice and point you in the direction of how to interact with investor and industry leaders.”

Inglis’s company, founded in November 2012, produces and markets flat-panel neutron detectors capable of detecting the plutonium and enriched uranium levels associated with nuclear weapons material, he said.

MassChallenge is a nonprofit organization that hosts a competitive four-month accelerator program in which 128 startups are chosen from a pool that included nearly 1,200 applicants in 2013, according to the release. From there, MassChallenge officials chose their 26 finalists.

These finalists will each deliver a 15-minute pitch on their concept before a judging panel at the Oct. 30 MassChallenge Awards Ceremony, according to the release. The panel will then award $1 million in grants to the most impressive 10 to 20 finalists. Other outside institutions will also be awarding investments in startups at the ceremony.

The technology Silverside creates could have important implications in the promotion of nuclear security, particularly in urban environments and other vulnerable areas, Inglis said.

“We need new types of technology that don’t exist right now,” he said.  “We need many more detectors that can go into many more locations. What we’re trying to do is provide the technological underpinning to the international communication trying to keep our world safe from nuclear terrorism and nuclear threats.”

Silverside  would use prize money to start the manufacturing and distribution processes and test the detectors, Inglis said.

Inglis said he was inspired to found the startup while conducting post-doctorate research on nuclear detection and ways to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism.

“My research topic was making this new type of detector that would be a lot cheaper than the ones that are on the market today,” he said. “That’s what we thought was the biggest problem: the ones that are on the market are fantastic,  [and] they work great, but they’re just really expensive because they come from academia.”

MassChallenge Brand Manager Veronica del Rosario said MassChallenge judges are impressed with the strength and diversity of startups this year.

“We have everything from biotech to general retail and high tech,” she said. “Every single team has their own kind of way of impacting an industry or a life or the world.”

Silverside Director of Design and Visual Lead Max Yellen, a 2011 CAS graduate, said he began researching the technology employed by Silverside as an undergraduate physics student at BU.

“It [Silverside] is going to make for a safer world without nuclear terrorism in it,” Yellen said. “It’s really making up for a lack of these neutron detectors that’s out there now. There’s a pretty big need for them, and we’re there to fill it.”

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