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From Prototype to Product, with Plenty of Guidance

Aug. 14, 2019
Nuclear Sensors Startup Gets an MEP Boost.

Massachusetts-based Silverside Detector develops nuclear radiation detection technology and is led by a team of physicists, engineers, and entrepreneurs dedicated to reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism. This low-cost, large-area detection technology is designed to transform cities’ preparedness against a nuclear terrorism event, and multiply the effectiveness of law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and other teams who are committed to stopping an act of nuclear terrorism.

Physicist Andrew Inglis, along with Harvard Kennedy School graduate Sarah Haig Baker, co-founded Silverside Detectors in 2013. With the increased threat of terrorism in the U.S. and throughout the world, Inglis and Baker recognized the need for nuclear detectors that could help protect transit networks, storage sites, borders, airports, and other potential targets.

Inglis and Baker teamed up to commercialize high-efficiency nuclear radiation detectors by adapting technology from multiple industries to make radiation sensors robust and low-cost.

Growing Pains as a Start-up

In 2015, Silverside Detectors set up shop at Greentown Labs in Somerville, Massachusetts, where it continued to build and test prototypes. Greentown Labs is a co-working space but also an incubator that provides companies access to resources that startups and entrepreneurs need to grow. Through an expert-in-residence program (created by Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP, part of the MEP National Network) at Greentown Labs, Silverside Detectors was able to connect to other local manufacturers for material selection, design for manufacturing, assembly, PCB design and production, quality controls, and supply chain selection.

The company moved to a permanent facility in nearby Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2016 to begin manufacturing its products, but the co-founders still had difficulties finding qualified suppliers to bring its product from prototype to commercial product. They also felt they needed to better understand the market and reached out to MassMEP for assistance.

MassMEP worked with Silverside Detectors to uncover specific barriers and opportunities related to its product and market factors. An in-depth market intelligence study helped the team strategically prioritize non-government markets for the neutron detector, shaping the ROI on their limited sales budget. A manufacturing readiness review gave Silverside a baseline measure against ISO 9001 standards, and expert consultants assisted the team in prioritizing quality improvements. Silverside Detectors was able to move toward commercialization more efficiently through MassMEP’s mentoring and gained access to quality contacts to create a viable supply chain.

Responding to New Regulations

Although Silverside expanded to private sector customers, its customer base still included offices within the Departments of Defense (DoD) and Homeland Security. This meant that Silverside Detectors needed to comply with the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS in order to keep its contracts with defense agencies. The requirement applies to all DoD primary contractors and sub-contractors in the DoD Supply Chain, and DFARS clause 252.204-7012 requires the protection of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) associated with contracts.  Adequate security for the protection of CUI in defense contracts must be demonstrated by contractor implementation of the security requirements contained in NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-171.

Silverside Detectors was advised that having a System Security Plan (SSP) and Plan of Actions and Milestones (POAM) was critical to proving adherence and adequate security in accordance with DoD requirements. Silverside would need to manage its own compliance with the DFARS regulations and establish a cost-effective cybersecurity program that would mature with the company.

Silverside Detectors needed a plan of how to approach DFARS compliance and a solution that could be put in place quickly and easily to help with the DFARS assessment, without stalling other company initiatives. MassMEP organized a program that leveraged funding options to subsidize consulting engagements paired with the CyberStrong Platform from CyberSaint Security. CyberStrong guides users through the assessment of their implementation of NIST SP 800-171 requirements, as required by DFARS,  and provides gap analysis and recommendations on which of the requirements have been met, and which remain needing to be implemented to increase the overall compliance score while lowering risk in key areas.

CyberStrong guides Information Technology (IT) professionals and non-IT professionals through the assessment framework, control by control, and provides actionable insights on next steps to mitigate risk. The CyberSaint team used the CyberStrong Platform to expedite the process and helped Silverside become DFARS-compliant much quicker than anticipated.

“The challenge of a startup is keeping pace with regulations without depleting company resources,” says Baker, Silverside’s COO. “MassMEP and CyberSaint came alongside our team, guiding them through the compliance standards and leading us to a level of preparedness matching our commitment to excellence. Without their expertise and support, we would not be where we are today.”

As a result of working with MassMEP and industry partners, Silverside Detectors diversified its customer base and became DFARS compliant to protect its government contracts. The company has since doubled its employees and increased sales by 200%.

Kathie Mahoney is the Center Director for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership, guiding MassMEP and working closely with the president and its board of directors to realize the Center's goals. She has an extensive background in grant management, financial oversight, and building a market presence.

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