A Long Island maker of anti-vaping products is fielding 240 inquiries a week from schools and other institutions around the country and abroad after its vape-detection units were featured on the "Today" show.
Concern about the vaping epidemic among high school students is fueling growth at Soter Technologies LLC, turning the four-year-old company profitable for the first time, chief executive Derek Peterson said.
He said the company is on pace to sell 800 of the FlySense devices in November after the "Today" appearance in September. The latest version of the Long Island-made device, which carries a list price of $995, also detects smoke and measures temperature, humidity and sound levels. The sound sensor does not record conversations, Peterson said, but measures decibel levels. Piercing a pre-set decibel level--an indication of possible bullying in schools--triggers an alert.
The company, which Peterson said was bleeding cash last year, now forecasts revenue of about $7 million for 2019, primarily from the education market.
New markets and products will fuel growth at Soter even if demand for e-cigarettes cools, he said.
"We have many oars in the water," said the veteran of Holtsville barcode pioneer Symbol Technologies. "2020 looks to be a bigger year with the new products we're going to release. Vaping is driving the business this year, but it won't be driving the business next year."
The company, which has sold more than 7,000 FlySense vape-detectors worldwide, moved from Hauppauge into a 5,000-square-foot facility in Ronkonkoma last month. After launching with four employees, its staff has grown to about 35, Peterson said.
The rectangular FlySense devices are about the size of conventional smoke detectors and send alerts when sensors reach pre-programmed levels.
Controversy surrounding the safety of vaping has generated headlines across the nation.
Forty-two people have died nationwide and last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of vaping related illnesses has reached 2,172. Investigators suspect a thickening agent used in some vaping products may be responsible for the illnesses.
This month, the outbreak prompted New York to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21, and Apple to remove vaping-related apps from its app store.
E-cigarette manufacturer Juul, which has been criticized for marketing products that appeal to teenagers, last week said it will cut $1 billion in spending and 650 jobs next year as it restructures. Earlier this month, Juul said it would stop selling mint-flavored vaping pods, reportedly popular among teenagers.
Adam Wandt, a profesor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, said it is widely known that e-cigarettes, also known as vape pens, do not set off traditional smoke detectors. That knowledge tempts vapers to use the devices in "nontraditional environments" like schools and movie theaters, Wandt said. "This is an epidemic for kids."
Peterson said government regulatory efforts to ban teenage vaping will drive youngsters "underground."
He said Soter, founded under the name Digital Fly in 2015, includes educational materials on creating a vape-free campus when it sells a FlySense device.
"Devices are necessary, but devices don't change behavior," he said. "Schools are looking to us as subject matter experts."
Another Long Island company, A+ Technology & Security Solutions Inc., a unit of Advance Convergence Group of Bay Shore, makes the competing Halo vape detector, part of that company's suite of security, monitoring and communications devices.
In an email, David Antar, president of A+ Technology, said that concerns about the health effects of vaping have led to a dramatic increase in the sales of Halo, though the device represents a small portion of the $30 million in revenue of Advanced Convergence Group, which also makes video surveillance and door access products.
Antar said governmental efforts to bar teenagers from buying vaping products will have scant effect.
"Students will still find a way to get access to vaping products as they have with cigarettes," he said.
Peterson said Soter is in talks with a major airline to sell detectors for aircraft lavatories as it seeks to expand beyond the education market.
Also in the Soter product lineup: FlySights, which monitors public posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and flags threats against a person or school; SoundBoard HR, which lets employees anonymously report corporate misconduct; GlueBoard, which lets students anonymously report incidents and tips, and Redact, which lets schools cost efficiently blur the faces of students in videos to comply with privacy laws.
At a glance
Soter Technologies LLC, Ronkonkoma
CEO: Derek Peterson
Employees: About 35
Projected 2019 revenue: $7 million