Seattle Sensor Systems Loses New CEO Who Stirred Buzz at Zino Society, Technology Alliance

6/24/10Follow @xconomy

[Update: 4:22 pm Pacific] Seattle Sensor Systems, a University of Washington spinout company that appeared rejuvenated earlier this year by hiring a new chief executive with a new business plan, has suddenly decided to dump CEO Carole Spangler.

Spangler confirmed that she’s out of the picture, but didn’t say why.

“News travels fast. It is true,” Spangler wrote in an e-mail. “My ‘official statement’ is that the board decided to change directions.” [Update: 4:22 pm Pacific. Spangler called later today to clarify that while there was a disagreement between her and the board, she chose to resign.]

This one really surprised me, given that I interviewed an exuberant Spangler just a few weeks ago, and wrote a story about how the company was starting to generate buzz in the local startup community under her leadership. The company, which has roots in the UW genomics lab of Clem Furlong, has developed a miniaturized device to perform surface plasmon resonance (SPR) tests that ordinarily can only be done on expensive equipment in centralized labs. The technology is considered valuable because it can identify an unknown contaminant in, say, a water sample, or a mysterious white powder that might be a bioterrorism agent.

Seattle Sensor has been around since 2002, and has built a couple devices that have been sold to other academic labs, but hasn’t made headlines in the business press. Spangler, a biophysicist with a UW MBA degree, was brought in to revitalize the business and tap into new markets. So Spangler pitched the company at a couple local investor events, held by the Zino Society and the Technology Alliance, on back to back days in April. She did well enough that Seattle Sensor Systems was named the best investment opportunity at the Zino Society’s event and a finalist for its $50,000 investment prize. Perhaps more importantly, she was approached after both events by potential customers from the food industry who urged her to develop the product for quick and easy food safety tests in the field, which might determine whether, say, spinach is contaminated.

Prospects certainly looked promising with a technology that has a decade of UW research behind it, about $8 million of investment from the Department of Defense, a commercial-ready product, and a big new potential market in food safety.

Carole Spangler

Carole Spangler

Furlong didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment on why Spangler is out of the picture. Cathi Hatch of Zino Society had the following to say:

“Yes, Carole has let us know that she is no longer with Seattle Sensor. We were very close to making the decision on the fund winner, but the decision had not yet been made when we heard that she was gone. We were very sorry to hear of the management change. Our investor group was particularly impressed with her and Seattle Sensor, so as investors, we plan to circle back together to decide what our next step will be.”

If I hear more, I’ll be sure to update this space.

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