Photograph of Owen Guo

Owen Guo, chief executive of Ispect Technology in Taiwan.Credit: Matthew Szekely

Owen Guo, chief executive of Ispect Technology, explains how his company’s devices help manufacturers to regulate the quality of food products.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

I met the co-founders of Ispect Technology, Ted Wang and Chloe Lee, in 2017 while I was doing my master’s degree in business administration at the National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei City. They were studying for their master’s degrees in photonics and told me about how they used ultraviolet spectroscopy to quickly and easily detect the presence of a virus that commonly affects orchid flowers and leaves. The researchers were interested in how they might commercialize their work, and needed my knowledge of business administration.

What was your first business move?

While at university, our student team participated in a competition to find the best potential start-up company. We won second prize for our orchid-virus detection technology. This gave us the confidence to start our own company. However, we struggled to gain funding and turned in the direction of food quality testing using near-infrared spectroscopy instead.

What does your company do?

We’ve developed a range of applications, such as monitoring the ratio of fat and lean meat in hamburger meat and hot dogs. Our technology can also detect materials that are banned in certain products, for instance pieces of fishbone in dried fish. We now work with one of the biggest food companies in Taiwan, Hsin Tung Yang, which makes hot dogs, sausages, ham and pork chops. We joined a start-up accelerator that has helped us to attract funding from international investors, and we are now trying to sell our technology to the Thai and Japanese markets.

How does your technology work?

We built a detection device that you can take out of your pocket and point at an object. It records the wavelengths of light at near-infrared, which are then collected, uploaded to our cloud server for analysis, and the results sent back in a few seconds. From that information, we can detect properties of food such as the fat, protein and water content, as well as the sourness of fruit, for example. Similar technologies can be easy to use but have a low level of detection accuracy, or they offer high accuracy but need experienced technicians and take a long time to produce results.

How has the trade war between the United States and China affected your business?

To make our devices, we use a special light-emitting diode component that has an unusual bandwidth. Since the start of the trade war, imports of these components from the United States have been delayed for almost three months. To finish our orders on time, we have to buy our equipment from other Taiwanese companies who have the stock, and it costs us three times as much.