What do you get when you combine two University of California at Berkeley Mechanical Engineering PhDs with an equally impressive National Science Foundation iCorps curriculum? An award winning team solving a tough environmental problem—mercury detection.

During their doctoral programs at Berkeley, Jay James and Jeff Crosby discovered a better way to detect the harmful mercury emissions present in a range of industrial settings. Mercury emissions from utility and industrial coal-fired boilers will be regulated for the first time under the Clean Air Act with compliance expected by 2015-2016. Companies are expected to spend an estimated $150,000,000 per year on mercury analysis in the United States alone.

So how did the pair turn their discovery into a revenue generating product? “iCorps was huge for us.” says Crosby, who credits the program with much of their success. Picoyune was part of the first regional cohort in 2013 and won “Best Team Overall”.

“The Lean Launchpad process got us out of the building and we conducted over 100 customer interviews.” After hearing repeated reports of large, installed monitors that “never worked” and instruments that were “too complicated”, the pair realized they had to create a reliable, portable and easy to use device.

Lessons learned during the iCorps program also led them to understand that pricing was less of an issue than they had hypothesized. In addition, they discovered that an OEM model for their sensor was a way to reduce both technical challenges as well as the need for a sales infrastructure.

Picoyune continues to thrive, winning first place in the Energy & Clean Tech track of LAUNCH 2014. They are on track to receive another NSF SBIR grant and will be part of the upcoming cohort at SkyDeck.

Good things come to those who get out of the building!