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It’s a gas: Nova Scotia tech firm finds its path

Gordon McArthur is president and co-founder of Forerunner Research, which sells devices that measure gas – in particular, carbon dioxide – in the atmosphere and trapped in soil. This information helps environmental researchers, policy makers and oil and gas companies measure CO2 and develop strategies for improving safety and environmental standards.

PAUL DARROW/The Globe and Mail

Sometimes a slow, considered approach can bear more fruit that a mad dash to the finish line.

Forerunner Research Inc. of Dartmouth, N.S., can attest to that. In need of capital last year to fund its research and development of gas-detection instrumentation, the company entered the Small Business Challenge, sponsored by The Globe and Mail and Telus Corp., making it all the way to the final four out of more than 1,000 entries.

Ultimately, though, that's where the journey ended for Forerunner president Gordon McArthur, along with the chance to take home the $100,000 first prize. In hindsight, he wasn't overly surprised at the result.

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"I think at the time we were probably a little young for it," he says. But instead of dwelling on what could have been, he and his three employees carried on.

"We didn't make the same strides that we'd hope to do with the award, but we still did achieve some good growth and did manage to introduce two of three products that we'd hoped to release," he says.

One of its new products is an autochamber, a closed-chamber soil flux measurement system designed for long-term deployment, and the other is a CO2 probe for measuring gas in soil, atmospheric and shallow water conditions.

Both were released with less fanfare than Mr. McArthur would have hoped, due to the company's financial situation. But one heralds a new avenue for the company.

The autochamber was brought to market as part of Forerunner's new partnership with California-based Picarro Inc., and is designed to work in tandem with that company's own gas analyzers. Mr. McArthur calls the alliance "pretty significant," and says he will need to add staff as a result.

In his application for the Challenge contest last year, Mr. McArthur said he had hoped to increase company revenue to $1.2-million from $175,000. The company ended its financial year last month with what he calls a healthy $250,000.

The company is now trying to raise $800,000, half from equity and half from debt, to increase its production-line capacity 20-fold.

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Mr. McArthur is also considering other strategies. The company is putting more resources into sales for the academic research and industrial sectors.

"[We are] trying to find fits for gas migration monitoring, well-integrity monitoring in the oil and gas space, and trying to identify areas and gaps where we can modify our technologies to be deployed in other environmental monitoring applications."

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