Technology  August 22, 2022

Pat Keady sells Aerosol Devices with plans to enjoy Colorado’s outdoors

When Pat Keady’s company Aerosol Devices Inc. suddenly started growing fast, she figured it was time to hand it over to let it grow even more, especially since she’d reached retirement age.

“Because we have such potential and grown so fast, it really needed other people to be able to take it to the next growth stage,” said Keady, former CEO and president of Aerosol Devices, who co-founded and previously co-owned the company with Suzanne Hering. “We’re not going to be able to do it on our own. We need younger blood, more energy and people to take it to the next level.”

Handix Scientific Inc. in Fort Collins acquired Aerosol Devices in June with plans to add that firm’s condensation growth tube (CGT) technology — applicable to virus sample collection — to its line of upper atmospheric research-oriented products. 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, is staying on at Aerosol Devices as vice president of business development to help the company make the transition. The acquiring company, which already works in the aerosol instrument field, is a perfect fit for Aerosol Device’s technology and applications, she said. 

“It’s great for the company, employees, customers and collaborators,” Keady said. “It can continue on and grow at a faster rate than my partner and I would be able to (carry out).”

As a leader, Keady kept her focus on the people and the company, said Braden Stump, senior mechanical engineer for Aerosol Devices.

“Pat has put a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears into the company. She’s always been boots on the ground leading from the front. … She’s always been involved, even in the minutiae,” Stump said. “I know she cares about me and the rest of the team. She wants to do right by the customers, collaborators and employees.” 

After earning a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1987, Keady spent the majority of her career in the aerosol industry. Initially, she worked for 23 years for TSI in Shoreview, Minnesota, as a development engineer serving in various roles, including senior mechanical development engineer for particle instruments. She then moved to Colorado, where she started her own marketing and business consulting business, Keady Marketing LLC, in 2002. She helped businesses with their technology, research and development, and marketing and sales strategies, specializing in aerosol instrumentation for filtration, industrial hygiene, nanotechnology and climate research.

Keady also worked as a research assistant for nearly 1.5 years for the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Colorado Boulder and for more than two years as the director of business development and marketing for Droplet Measurement Technologies, also in Boulder.

One of Keady’s consultation clients, Hering, had licensed her technology to another company that decided not to move forward with it, and she came to Keady for advice. They decided to use that technology as the foundation to start Aerosol Devices in 2014. Hering, president of Aerosol Dynamics Inc., who holds a doctorate in physics, now serves as the technology inventor, licensor and a technical adviser to Aerosol Devices, which has a license to use her technology.

“It was a lifelong dream of mine to own my own company. …When the opportunity came up to create a company, I jumped at the chance,” 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 baseline 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.

Aerosol Devices developed CGT, a three-stage collection apparatus that applies supersaturated water vapor to capture viruses onto a small dish. 

“It enlarges the size of the particles by forming droplets around them,” Keady said. “Micro droplets are easier to capture into a liquid.”

The micro droplets are large enough to collect in a small volume of liquid, so that when they’re captured, they’re not stressed and are able to maintain their viability. CGT allows for sampling of particles from a 5 nanometer to a 10 micron particle size.

This is “a gentle sampling technology using a technique called condensation growth capture that is gentle on microbes, so it doesn’t distress or destroy them,” Keady said.

Before they started their business, Keady and Hering had aerosol sampling technology in place for chemical and biological analysis that they wanted to commercialize for the aerosol research community. That community consisted primarily of universities and government agencies conducting air quality and biological analysis of airborne particles.

“We were in the business for our entire careers, and we felt passionate about making this available to the larger research community,” Keady said. 

Aerosol Dynamic’s most recent success occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, since the technology was particularly suited to collect airborne viruses, while maintaining their viability so that they could be researched. The main question asked at the time was whether or not the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be transmitted as an aerosol. 

“In some regard, we were uniquely at 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 got a huge increase in sales over the last few years (since 2020) because of the need for better sampling technology.”

The technology proved the virus could be airborne and viable and that it traveled farther than the six feet the CDC was advocating, Keady said. The virus was sampled in an active hospital environment, and it was Aerosol Device’s technology that proved it was airborne. 

“Our equipment is rather expensive,” Keady said. “To be able to use our equipment and to do the viability analysis requires specialized skills.”

Aerosol Devices received Small Business Innovative Research grant funding to further develop the technology and integrate it with detection sensors. Instead of collecting samples from the air, the goal is to monitor and be able to give a readout of material from field samples in real time. 

“We don’t have products to do this yet. The challenge with it is the concentration of viruses or microbes in the air is very small — we’re finding detection technology is not sensitive enough for application needs,” Keady said. 

Keady is assisting Aerosol Devices with grants and will continue to help the new owners with business development and transition and integrating the two companies together, she said.

“It will be a while before I’m completely out of the business,” Keady said. “We’ve made a significant difference in the world and have been able to grow. … It’s very satisfying to know you made something out of nothing and brought a real scientific contribution at a time when the world needed it with the pandemic.”

With more time on her hands, Keady plans to garden, hike and spend time in the mountains. She also loves skiing and biking.  

“These are all things I’d like to spend more time on, mountains and nature, without being tied to a computer and a phone,” Keady said.

When Pat Keady’s company Aerosol Devices Inc. suddenly started growing fast, she figured it was time to hand it over to let it grow even more, especially since she’d reached retirement age.

“Because we have such potential and grown so fast, it really needed other people to be able to take it to the next growth stage,” said Keady, former CEO and president of Aerosol Devices, who co-founded and previously co-owned the company with Suzanne Hering. “We’re not going to be able to do it on our own. We need younger blood, more energy and people to take it to the…

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