When Pat Keady’s company, Aerosol Devices Inc., suddenly began to grow rapidly, she thought it was time to hand it over to keep it growing, now that she had reached retirement age.
“Because we have such potential and have grown so quickly, it really took other people to take it to the next phase of growth,” said Keady, former CEO and president of Aerosol Devices, the co-founder and former co-owner of Aerosol Devices Corporation Suzanne Hering. “We won’t be able to do this alone. We need younger blood, more energy and people to take it to the next level.”
Handix Scientific Inc. of Fort Collins acquired Aerosol Devices in June with plans to add the company’s CGT (condensation growth tube) technology — suitable for virus sampling — to its line of products for research in the upper atmosphere. Handix Scientific will use the technology to develop real-time instruments that can detect physical, chemical and biological properties of atmospheric particles.
Keady, who lives in Fort Collins, will remain with Aerosol Devices as vice president of business development to help the company make the transition. The acquiring company, which is already in the aerosol instrumentation space, is a perfect fit with Aerosol Device’s technology and applications, she said.
“This is great for the company, employees, customers and employees,” Keady said. “It can go on and grow faster than my partner and I would be able to (perform).”
As a leader, Keady remained focused on people and the company, said Braden Stump, senior mechanical engineer at Aerosol Devices.
“Pat has put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the company. She’s always been on the floor from the front. … She was always involved, even in the little things,” Stump said. “I know she cares about me and the rest of the team. She wants to do the right thing towards customers, employees and employees.”
After earning a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1987, Keady has spent most of her career in the aerosol industry. She first worked for TSI in Shoreview, Minnesota for 23 years as a development engineer in various roles including senior mechanical development engineer for particle instruments. She then moved to Colorado, where in 2002 she founded her own marketing and business consulting firm, Keady Marketing LLC. She assisted companies with their technology, R&D, and marketing and sales strategies, specializing in aerosol instruments for filtration and industrial hygiene, nanotechnology, and climate research.
Keady also served nearly 1.5 years as a research associate for the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Colorado Boulder and more than two years as Director of Business Development and Marketing for Droplet Measurement Technologies, also in Boulder.
One of Keady’s consulting clients, Hering, had licensed her technology to another company that decided not to proceed with it, and she came to Keady for advice. They decided to use this technology as the basis for founding Aerosol Devices in 2014. Hering, President of Aerosol Dynamics Inc., who holds a PhD in Physics, now serves as a technology inventor, licensor and technical advisor to Aerosol Devices, which has a license to use their technology.
“It was a lifetime dream of mine to own my own company. … When the opportunity to start a business presented itself, I jumped at it,” Keady said. “We decided what if we did ours because we believed in it.”
Aerosol Devices develops, manufactures and supplies products that explain what’s in the air to provide a basis for determining how to keep it clean, improve predictive models and protect people and animals from infectious airborne pathogens, including the SARS-CoV 2 virus, can be protected.
Aerosol Devices developed CGT, a three-stage collection device that applies supersaturated water vapor to a small dish to capture viruses.
“It increases the size of the particles by forming droplets around them,” Keady said. “Microdroplets are easier to capture in a liquid.”
The microdroplets are large enough to collect in a small volume of liquid, so they are not stressed upon capture and can maintain viability. CGT enables the sampling of particles with a particle size from 5 nanometers to 10 micrometers.
This is “a gentle sampling technology that uses a technique called condensation growth capture, which is gentle on microbes, so it doesn’t distress or destroy them,” Keady said.
Before starting their company, Keady and Hering had an aerosol sampling technology for chemical and biological analysis that they wanted to commercialize for the aerosol research community. This community consisted mainly of universities and government agencies that performed air quality and biological analysis of airborne particles.
“We’ve been in the business our entire careers and we felt passionate about making this available to the larger research community,” said Keady.
Aerosol Dynamic’s recent success has come during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the technology was particularly suited to collecting airborne viruses while preserving their viability so they could be studied. At that time, the main question was whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be transmitted as an aerosol or not.
“In some ways we were uniquely in the right place at the right time when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We had this new technology, so we were uniquely positioned to address that,” Keady said. “We’ve seen a huge increase in sales over the last few years (since 2020) due to the need for better sampling technology.”
The technology proved that the virus could be airborne and viable, and that it traveled farther than the six feet the CDC advocated, Keady said. The virus was tested in an active hospital setting, and it was Aerosol Device’s technology that proved it was airborne.
“Our gear is pretty expensive,” Keady said. “To be able to use our equipment and do the profitability analysis requires special skills.”
Aerosol Devices received Small Business Innovative Research grants to further develop the technology and integrate it into detection sensors. Instead of collecting samples from the air, the goal is to be able to monitor and read the material from field samples in real time.
“We don’t have any products for that yet. The challenge here is that the concentration of viruses or microbes in the air is very low – we find that the detection technology is not sensitive enough for the application requirements,” said Keady.
Keady supports Aerosol Devices with grants and will continue to help the new owners with the business development and transition, integrating the two companies together, she said.
“It’s going to be a while before I’m completely out of business,” Keady said. “We have made a significant difference in the world and have been able to grow. … It is very gratifying to know that you made something from nothing and made a real scientific contribution at a time when the world needed it because of the pandemic.”
With more free time, Keady plans to garden, hike, and spend time in the mountains. She also loves skiing and cycling.
“These are all things I’d like to devote more time to, mountains and nature, without being tied to a computer and a phone,” Keady said.