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From measuring the martian atmosphere to making beer better – UK’s Keit now raises £1.4m

High-tech industrial hardware startups really don’t make the headlines as often as they should, because Pokémon Go, the Kardashians, Donald Trump…

But Keit‘s team can say they’ve done work on making beer better, as well as on a mission to Mars, and the Oxford-based startup has just raised £1.4 million in equity funding, so they definitely deserve a moment in the sun.

Keit has created a probe that helps companies that work in “high value liquids” industries, from chemicals, to energy, to food a drink, measure what’s going on inside their concoctions, in real time.

Spectroscopy, as it’s known in the business, isn’t anything new – it’s high school science, remember shining a light through a glass prism? Well, Keit’s technology uses the mid-infra-red part of the electromagnetic spectrum, shining light into liquids to reveal the presence or absence of certain chemicals depending on the amount of light that’s absorbed.

The spectrum sends a radio signal back to a PC, either wired or wirelessly, with a human-readable data analysis of what it’s been able to ‘see’. That means it can help its users quickly detect if something has gone wrong with their industrial-scale batch of beer, so they can save it from spoiling, as well as being used as a quality assurance tool.

Keit CEO Dan Wood speaks anecdotally of large companies today that, in order to test oil they have produced to check for counterfeits, staff have to post cans of it back to their labs. What Keit has done, aided by its work trying (and ultimately failing) to get to Mars, is create a small, robust device that’s immune to vibrations from equipment and grease from the production line. The MicroFTS device also has to not explode in environments where it’s coming into contact with highly explosive materials, of course.

Keit lives on Oxford’s Harwell Campus, site of the world-famous Rutherford Appleton Laboratories space hub and now the UK Space Gateway. It’s pretty much the home of big government science in the UK and now it’s also inhabited by high-tech spin outs, like Keit.

What Wood is most excited about is how his company’s innovation will mature just as new biorenewables firms are hitting the mainstream to replace traditional petrochemicals.

“Many big oil companies have already spent huge amounts of money on their industrial kit, which they’re unlikely to just replace,” he says. “But there’s a huge amount of innovation happening in biorenewables and the industry is moving fast, so it’s particularly emotionally satisfying to be involved in this area.”

He said Keit is right at the beginning of its commercial journey but the MicroFTS, which currently looks like an armoured shoebox with a probe coming out of it, will soon be handheld and battery powered. Right now, the company is also dependent on third-party detector technology.

The £1.4 million round was led by Harwell Campus science investor Longwall Ventures, and joined by the British Business Bank and the Regional Growth Fund-backed Angel Co-Investment Fund, plus public research investor Rainbow Seed Fund.