Surprising result led to drug-detection startup IDEM Systems

Orlando has a startup scene that has been consistently on the rise. One way to get over any sort of obstacle is attention.

In “Friday’s Featured Startup,” Orlando Tech News puts the spotlight on a young company in Central Florida that has either made news lately or is an up-and-comer that the community should pay attention to. The format will change but the goal will not: we highlight what is going on around town and build a narrative that showcases entrepreneurs here.

How can you be featured? Be a young(ish) tech company, headquartered in Central Florida – more specifically the Orlando metro region. Let’s connect and feature your company. The goal is to make this a weekly offering so please reach out.

This week, we feature David Nash and IDEM Systems

  • Note: Answers edited for clarity

What is IDEM Systems?

IDEM spun out of UCF, revolving around technology invented by cofounders, Dr. Richard Blair. Our hardware and software will streamline the drug intelligence collection process for law enforcement, which will allow them to adequately combat the U.S. drug epidemic.

How did you first connect with Blair?

I worked for him as a researcher throughout my undergrad, grad school and post-doctoral years at UCF. The original idea for the tech came out of the chemistry lab.

What was the thought behind IDEM?

Initially, the idea was to help crime labs develop more efficient screening methods to quickly identify certain drugs they had trouble dealing with – specifically a drug known as BZP. Richard developed this method to help his crime lab friend out, and it worked better than expected. Not only did it work to screen for BZP, but it worked for cocaine, PCP and many other drugs.

When was the “aha” moment?

A few years ago, a Central Florida police department put a man in jail for three months because his Krispy Kreme donut glaze tested positive for meth when a police officer did a roadside drug test on a suspicious substance in his vehicle. There are many stories like this involving soap, chocolate, cotton candy, sugar, tea leaves and even air testing positive for a drug. Those wrongfully arrested have sued the municipal or county government and ended up getting settlements from their cases, settlements technically funded by local taxpayers. Richard’s idea evolved into a product that would minimize the wrongful arrests based on false positives police drug tests and prevent taxpayers from having to foot the bill for government litigation-related expenses stemming from these kinds of cases.

When did you get involved?

In the early 2010s as an undergraduate research intern and later a graduate researcher in chemistry. We were funded by the Department of Justice in 2012 to carry out fundamental research on the drug testing method and implementing it into a field device for police. Richard and I would always discuss commercializing the tech and having me run the company, but I never really thought of that to be a realistic outcome until 2015.

Why will this product succeed?

Law enforcement cannot be effective in drug interdiction if they are always two steps or more behind new drug trends. Because our technology leverages modern technology such as a handheld electronic device, mobile apps, the cloud and machine learning, police will be able to accurately test for a drug’s identity at the crime scene and compile that drug test result with past data to obtain valuable drug intelligence all within minutes instead of the months it currently takes. Faster drug intelligence will allow for quicker police responses to community drug threats and ultimately help get illicit drugs out of our communities and away from vulnerable citizens.

On Orlando’s tech scene: “I came out of the academic tech community at UCF, and I’ve noticed that there was always a disconnect between the UCF startup community and the Orlando startup and investor community. One thing (VentureScaleUp) provided was exposure to that Orlando startup and investor network. It’s awesome to be able to learn from mentors that have already been in my shoes and found success with past ventures and bounce ideas off of peers that are currently in my shoes.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: IDEM Systems has landed $1.3 million in grants from the National Science Foundation through UCF’s I-Corps program. Nash appeared at VentureScaleUp’s demo day this summer to showcase what it had learned through its accelerator program.