A microscope in a needle, a handheld device that prescribes corrective eyeglasses, and a device for heart attack diagnosis are winning projects in the 2014 SPIE Startup Challenge. Hosted by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, the pitch competition was held early this month in San Francisco during SPIE Photonics West, an annual event for the international optics and photonics community.
Cash prizes are funded by Founding Sponsor Jenoptik with additional support from Trumpf, Open Photonics, and Knobbe Martens. Finalist judges were Jenoptik’s Jay Kumler, Samuel Sadoulet of Edmund Optics, Jason Eichenholz of Open Photonics, Bruce Itchkawitz of Knobbe Martens, and Adam Wax of Duke University.
First-place winner Robert McLaughlin of the University of Western Australia received $10,000 plus an additional $5,000 in products from Edmund Optics. The university’s product, a microscope-in-a-needle, is a miniaturized optical coherence tomography (OCT) probe capable of 3D imaging that aims to reduce the number of repeat surgeries for breast cancer.
Second-place winner Nicholas Durr of Massachusetts Institute of Technology received $5,000. The product, PlenOptika’s QuickSee, is an innovative low-cost handheld device that provides eyeglass prescriptions at the push of a button. Durr also received the People’s Choice Award, which includes a fee waiver for SPIE Photonics West 2015.
Third-place winner Amos Danielli of MagBiosense received $2,500. The company’s product, a heart-attack diagnostic device and assay, offers laboratory-quality sensitivity combined with the rapid results and ease-of-use of a point-of-care system.
SPIE will provide support for winners to attend a week-long entrepreneur “boot camp” for further help in refining their ideas.
“Thanks to SPIE and the corporate sponsors, we have seen tremendous advancement in the quality of participants in the Startup Challenge. The businesses who participate are more developed, the technologies are more innovative, and the pitch quality gets better every year. It is an exciting event,” Kumler said. “The growth of the Startup Challenge suggests SPIE has a great opportunity to develop a photonics startup ecosystem that brings ideas, entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors together to advance our industry.”
Winners take home valuable new contacts as well as prizes, recognition, and pitching experience.
“It was an amazing experience. I met a lot of people and made good connections with judges, potential investors, and fellow applicants,” said Danielli. “After the competition, I was fortunate enough to be approached by Hamamatsu’s Head of Business Innovations Group. She suggested talking about future collaboration, which will be great because I’m using their components.”
The winners were chosen from among eight finalists in a public final round at Photonics West. Finalists had three minutes in which to deliver their pitches showcasing optics or photonics technologies or applications presented as the basis for viable new businesses.