NG-Sensors: Real-time solution for food contaminant testing

NG Sensors are on a mission to make food safer, while cutting the time and costs necessary to do so. They won EIC Accelerator funding in the second round of 2021 for the SAFE-FOOD project, which aims to develop their innovative portable mass spectrometer; capable of rapid, on-site food contaminant testing. Catalyze provided funding application support to NG Sensors for their successful submission. We spoke with Hugo Nikkel, Head of Sales and Marketing at NG Sensors, to hear more about their product and EIC Accelerator award.

Food safety inspection: health risks and high costs

Food safety inspection currently occurs in parallel to food sorting and processing. Samples from each batch are sent to laboratories for detection of contaminants, such as pesticides, toxins, bacteria, and antibiotics. If detected above regulatory limits, entire batches of food are destroyed. Such food safety incidents are estimated to cost the European economy €143 billion per year. In addition, consumer health is put at risk, because unsafe food products may reach supermarket shelves before contaminants from a given batch are detected.

Resultantly, this has created a huge demand for solutions that can reliably assess contaminations at the source and in real-time, thereby effectively reducing food waste and improving food safety.

NG Sensors: bringing real-time solutions for a safer world

Founded in 2017, Next Generation Sensors (Maastricht, NL) have applied their proprietary mass spectrometer-based technology to develop a user-friendly, portable mass spectrometer capable of measuring food samples within minutes. The handheld molecular contaminant screener (HMCS) offers a cost-effective and less time-consuming alternative to current testing procedures, and is the first time a mass spectrometer has been miniaturized without compromising sensitivity.

As Hugo explains, the device offers a highly dynamic solution for a range of circumstances: “The screener is like a platform technology that can be applied to different sectors within the agro-food diagnostic market. It’s the unprecedented inlet system, the software and algorithms that make it possible to use HMCS to detect different substances – by non-technical users. For instance, if a customer wants to measure a new set of contaminants that they are concerned about, we only need to add those compounds to the library.”  

Next Generations Sensors’ Handheld Molecular Contaminant Screener. Image from NG Sensors

EIC Accelerator project: SAFE-FOOD

Under the SAFE-FOOD project, NG Sensors will focus on commercial, regulatory and pilot studies to ensure market readiness and commercialization of HMCS, towards its approaching market launch.

Hugo describes the importance of their EIC Accelerator win: “Being part of a select group has already opened several doors for us. We are finding that investors are regularly checking up on our progress, while our commercial partners have gained extra reassurance. Furthermore, the win adds value to the company, and brings us closer to market – we can do more validation and demonstration projects, and make a broader roadmap for our future.”

Finishing, Hugo adds, “For us, we really wanted the EIC win because this is a very big grant that really allows us to build a company and grow out of this stage of going from project to project. With this contribution from EIC we are able to get there.”

Collaborating with Catalyze for the EIC Accelerator

After consecutive refinement and improvements to their proposal, NG Sensors won on the second resubmission in the second round of 2021. As Hugo mentions, the collaboration with Catalyze began after a meeting at StartLife, Europe’s longest running and leading agrifoodtech accelerator – and strategic partner of Catalyze.

Hugo explains, “We met Neeltje (Catalyze Green & Sustainable Innovations – Business Unit Manager) at StartLife and discussed with her the opportunities. She pointed out some interesting opportunities to us for smaller programs that we went on to apply to ourselves. But for these bigger programs like EIC it was quite obvious to us that we would not do that ourselves. And that’s why the relation with Neeltje was very helpful.”

Developing the winning proposal

As Hugo explains, the successful collaboration between NG Sensors and Catalyze came down to great teamwork, which fuelled the development of the winning proposal.

Hugo says, “It was a good process, a strong co-production: we got a draft, we added information and sent it back. With an application like this, which looks many years ahead, we do not always know exactly what we have to do. Here Catalyze’s support was very useful, because there are experienced people working at Catalyze who challenged us to think differently.

“Of course Catalyze can help with all kinds of nice figures and schemes. But most important is that that they take the lead in setting out the process, keeping up to speed with progress, and are also critical about the information that you provide.”

Catalyze is proud to partner with NG Sensors and make valuable contributions towards their mission to improve detection of harmful substances in our food, bodies, and environment.


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