September 19, 2013

A Word With the Boss: CEO sees big things in microscopic images

By J. Craig Anderson canderson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

As president and CEO of Fluid Imaging Technologies, Kent Peterson has taken the company from a tiny niche player serving oceanic researchers to a leading provider of fluid imaging technology to a broad range of commercial customers.

click image to enlarge

Kent Peterson followed his entrepreneurial drive to help found Fluid Imaging Technologies, now based in Scarborough.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Founded in 1999, Fluid Imaging in 2012 received a $500,000 development award from the Maine Technology Institute to supplement $4 million in private equity funding.

The company, which moved to new, 18,000-square-foot headquarters in Scarborough recently, produces a piece of equipment called a FlowCAM that analyzes and photographs microscopic particles suspended in fluid. Peterson describes it as "a microscope on steroids."

Hundreds of companies and organizations now use the technology, and the company's staff has grown to 40 employees.

Q: How did you get involved with Fluid Imaging?

A: I was involved with pioneering a wastewater-treatment technology years ago, looking for feedback on the behavior of process at the microbial level, and there was no instrumentation at that time that could report or analyze what was happening at the subvisible level in the process.

Speaking with somebody at Maine Technology Institute, they said, "Huh. That sounds like something that was just invented at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences (in West Boothbay Harbor and East Boothbay). I will make an introduction."

I was completely enamored with the possibilities of what the new technology could do, where it could be employed, and how it could be used globally, because it just didn't exist prior to that time. And then (co-inventor) Chris Sieracki and I joined forces.

Q: Is your background in science or business?

A: I'm a financial guy, and my training is in financial administration, but I gravitated toward operations and corporate management, and then moved into the entrepreneurial end of the business. That's where I really found my calling. In fact, my thesis in undergraduate college was on entrepreneurial (endeavors) and how to start a business. That was the title. And at that time, nobody knew the term "entrepreneurial endeavors."

I guess I knew all along that I wanted to start and run my own business.

For many years when I was in financial administration, it was all multinational, big-company stuff, but I really found my sea legs when I was associated with a small, high-tech, high-growth-possibility enterprise.

Q: How do you figure out who might be interested in the products you make?

A: I suspected the upside potential for this technology very early on. When I think that the fundamental functionality is a microscope on steroids, I think of how many applications there are for microscopes around the world, of which there are tens of thousands, and of course millions of microscopes in laboratories all around the world. To some extent, the FlowCAM can assist or overshadow microscopy work, just because it's about a 1,000-fold increase in terms of productivity without user error or fatigue.

When it comes to finding new applications, a lot of times we will go to trade shows displaying instrumentation, and a lot of the potential users will see what it does, appreciate it and come to us saying, "Can we try this?" or "Can we try that?" We then have to triage the many opportunities and pick and choose the ones that have the most follow-on commercial prospects.

Q: What helped prepare you for your current role as president and CEO?

A: From the time I was in college, when I started my own business, to the time I started to get into new, fast-growing companies, what I learned was you need to embrace the unexpected and deal with it. If somebody doesn't like change, you don't have much of an appetite for a fast-growing, hectic-pace environment. There are people who enjoy it and there are people who don't, and I respect both.

(Continued on page 2)

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