Wired In: Leslie Gilliard

Wired In: Leslie Gilliard

On Sundays, staff writer Paul Wood spotlights a high-tech difference maker. This week, meet Leslie Gilliard, 30, CEO and founder of Nardo Technology, which develops rapid and accurate electrochemical sensors for forensic, food safety, agriculture and environmental testing markets. She is finishing up her doctorate at the University of Illinois.


Nardo is in the early stages of making an inexpensive handheld device that public safety workers can use to detect narcotics and explosives. Nardo is named for Leonardo da Vinci, because he was interested in so many different things. Many people think of him as primarily an artist, but he was also an inventor.

How did you become an entrepreneur?

After my undergrad work (in chemistry) at Temple University, I worked in labs, first for an oil company, then three years with the Philadelphia Police Department. While in the forensic lab, I thought about improving the devices used to analyze samples. I didn't care for the 12-hour shifts and wanted to be more of my own boss.

Was the forensic lab like one you see on "CSI"?

We got some weird stuff from the police to analyze. In one case, an officer submitted what he said was a syrup, and it turned out to be urine.

With this tool, officers can eliminate some of the work by correctly analyzing in the field, right?

Yes. The Nardosensor will be able to detect synthetic marijuana, for instance. Drug dealers have been changing the formula to make new versions that get around the law. Because law enforcement agencies have budget constraints, we're making it very inexpensive, around $200. We've incorporated data analytics, so they can geo-map it, identify drug trends, for instance. It will replace things like test strips, which are often inaccurate — testing chocolate or Tylenol as positive for drugs.

What do you do when you're not in school or at Nardo?

I take great pride in giving back to the UI and the Champaign-Urbana community. I am an entrepreneur mentor for the Young Entrepreneur Program at the Champaign Unit 4 School District. I also mentor a senior at Centennial High School to develop her business idea. We are constructing a business plan to start an arts outreach non-profit for teenagers and kids.

What's next for Nardo Technology?

We're participating in a bunch of business competitions. We're hoping to win the Cozad Competition for inventions. And we're about to go through the National Science Foundations Innovation Corps in April; we interview with about 100 companies and deliver a viable product. It's kind of like boot camp for start-ups. I'm told the instructors are very assertive.

Tech tidbits:

Books or Kindle? Books

What are you reading right now? I just finished "Zero To One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future" by Peter Thiel. Now I'm starting to read "Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well Being, Wisdom and Wonder" by Arianna Huffington. The first is on early-stage start-ups. "Thrive" — I really like her book, how she describes working 16 to 18 hours every day on her start-up. The message is to focus on working smarter, not harder.

Wearable electronics? Not yet. I'm not interested in knowing what my heart rate is. The next generation will be much more interesting.

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