Rob Qualls: Breaking Barriers with Technological Innovation 

Rob Qualls | SAAM Inc. - Technological Innovation | The Entrepreneur Review

As we step into the dynamic landscape of 2023, the business world is brimming with potential, driven by visionaries who are set to shape the course of industries and economies. Various business leaders have demonstrated exceptional acumen, innovation, and adaptability, positioning themselves as beacons of inspiration for entrepreneurs and professionals. Rob Qualls (CEO & Board Member of SAAM) is an extraordinary entrepreneur and tech maverick whose relentless pursuit of excellence has earned him a reputation as one of the most influential figures in the world of technology. He has consistently challenged the status quo, pioneering cutting-edge solutions that have disrupted traditional norms and sparked unprecedented advancements.

Passion and Perseverance

Rob’s career began in 1981 when he was working as a sales representative for a regional industrial battery company. In 1985, he was promoted to become Regional Manager Trainee. However, he chose to leave the company to fulfil his dream of working in marketing. Rob Qualls began working for one of the largest automotive battery companies in the world, which was his dream job. It included traveling across the US, meeting different people, and working with various small businesses in every state. According to him, this was almost the perfect job he could achieve. However, the company was acquired a couple of years later and Rob’s position was eliminated. 

Rob Qualls was offered another position in sales, but he declined it to pursue his passion for marketing. After spending some time in the corporate world, he gained a reputation for being innovative and creative. On multiple occasions, he was advised by individuals who inspired him to start his own business and supported his decision of leaving the job. In 1998, he left the corporate world and started his first business, pursuing diagnostic smart sensing for diesel engines. However, Rob Qualls came across the challenges associated with a start-up and his business ultimately failed as he did not have the right talent to take it forward. 

Rob Qualls refused to give up on his dreams. He started rethinking his strategy, identified the right talent, and established a new company, Sentelligence. The company was focused on the development of smart, diagnostic sensors for diesel engines. It experienced considerable success by introducing patented diagnostic technology for the quality of DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid), mandated by the EPA. In 2011, the company licensed the technology to Measurement Specialties, (now TE Connectivity), and in a short period, the Sentelligence DEF technology became a highly successful DEF quality sensor. 

The Turning Point

Due to the changing political environment and EPA regulations, there were problems with Sentelligence’s pursuit of diagnostic sensing in emissions. It was a feast or famine for the company. 

In 2016, Rob Qualls decided to pivot towards consumer safety, using existing Intellectual Property to develop technology associated with the safety and security of consumers. This technology turned out to be the “Ambient Air Monitor” currently in development as an Air Quality and Safety Device. The technology is capable of measuring chemical changes in the air indicative of smoke, fire, and gas leaks with a planned introduction of the first portable safety device, in  2024.

In November 2019, after encountering some turmoil in the market over the change in strategic direction, Rob Qualls decided change the company’s name to SAAM (Spectral Analytical Air Monitor) and avoided further market confusion. The company successfully achieved its fund-raising goal, proved the concept, and aligned with a tier-one company that is an innovator in the fire technology space. Today, SAAM has achieved the goal to onboard talent to the new team. These goals were set by Rob and his team from the very beginning in January 2019. 

Specializations and Developments

SAAM specializes in NDIR diagnostic sensor technology or diesel engine, developed by Sentelligence. It had come up with an Ambient Air Monitor that was designed to determine the quality of Natural Gas in engines. The technology was discovered by accident that could detect chemical changes in the air specific to smoke, fire, and gas.

Later, with the help of the same technology, the company began the process of building the infrastructure, including an engineering team, to adapt the technology to consumer safety. Since the existing technology has been around for 50 to 70 years, SAAM was inspired by the need for fire safety machinery which was the first one of its own. 

SAAM is capable of producing a variety of services, however, currently, it is focused on smoke alarm technology using novel, patented, technology for the detection of toxic chemicals. Its system works differently from others in the market altogether with different technology. It detects chemical changes in the air indicative of smoke, fire, and gas, essentially becoming a pre-emptive technology alerting occupants of a potentially catastrophic event before it happens. 

SAAM has decided to go one step ahead by building a strategy to align with a tier-one company that has the necessary experience in the fire technology space. It accomplished the deal in February 2022 after a year-long discussion and negotiations. Today, the tier-one company is the largest shareholder of SAAM and is playing a vital role in the advancement of SAAM’s technology by offering encouragement and support in all areas of operation. 

Surviving through Tough Times

During its initial days, SAAM faced various challenges that contributed to it becoming one of the most successful companies of its type. One of them was about team members and funding. In the beginning, the company had to focus on building an effective and qualified team that was instrumental in raising funds. Soon, the whole team pulled success together and built an experienced crew.

The only challenge remaining was raising funds. The team first approached the Venture Capital (VC) market and failed to receive a proper response. It was found that VCs had little or no interest in investing in hardware since it was very costly and there was the probability that too many things could go wrong, like defective products, market unacceptance, warranty expense, inventory expense, and customer service training and expense, etc.

The SAAM team is an essential part as the higher management identified the importance of talent quality and provided aggressive equity packages and contracts. Hence, the team it brought onboard included exceptionally talented people with varying degrees of responsibility to fit the requirements of the organization.

With all the growth in business operations, COVID-19 has left some negative implications for a few organizations. During the pandemic, some businesses were able to adapt immediately while some failed to do so ,they did not survive. However, SAAM was capable of surviving through the tough times as it was well-positioned to adapt to the ongoing changes in the industry. Being an experienced start-up, it worked remotely during the pandemic, kept expenses under control, waived salaries, self-funded, and shifted to online meetings. SAAM was also successful in raising funds. 

Advanced Sensor Technology

SAAM’s Sensor technology combines the best of all technologies in the world. It utilizes its patented absorption spectroscopy fused with a light-scattering particle sensor to give a more detailed readout of air quality. The particle sensor of technology is capable of detecting particulate matter as small as 1um and as large as 10um. Combined with the absorption spectroscopy technology, the S-Series detects not only particulate matter but a broad spectrum of gases, volatile organic compounds, and environmental conditions. Analysis of these can provide an alert to levels that pose health risks. 

To date, one of the greatest achievements of SAAM is the successful relationship developed with a tier one. This relationship has proven to be an accord that will benefit both companies for decades into the future. The Sentelligence experience allowed for the introduction of SAAM which also became a well-known global company specializing in the development of smart fluid and gas sensors, including the globally successful DEF sensor.

Prioritizing Consumer Safety 

Innovation is the key to every successful business and SAAM’s innovative, patented, air quality detection device will be the first of its kind NDIR (Non-dispersive Infrared) technology. The technology is a 4-in-1 portable air quality safety device that can be taken while traveling or sending away with children to college,sitting   on a table to seek toxic chemicals while measuring changes in the air indicative of smoke, fire, and gas leaks, providing users, and especially parents, peace of mind. 

In the digital health category, the S-Series product of SAAM was named a  CES 2023 Innovation Awards Honoree. SAAM  utilizes patented technology and artificial intelligence to reduce detection time, warn residents, and save lives while monitoring the air in homes for contaminants that impact public health. Moreover, SAAM was named in the 50 Fastest Growing Companies of the Year 2022. The company was appreciated for the idea of providing consumer safety products using its existing Intellectual Property from the diesel engine diagnostic portfolio as the impetus for developing new and innovative technology.

Rob Qualls believes in this quote from Winston Churchill that says, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” 

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