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Office-based, Non-invasive Prostate Cancer Treatment Is Top Winner of 2019 SPIE Startup Challenge at Photonics West

The laser-based technology, presented by Avenda Health's Co-Founder and COO Brittany Berry-Pusey, treats prostate cancer in the clinic while preserving quality of life

11 February 2019

2019 SPIE Startup Challenge

WINNING SMILES: Kathrin Brenker, OptoBio Labs (3rd place); Sean Wang, B&W Tek (judge); Jim Oschmann, SPIE President; Sam Rubin, Thorlabs (judge); Homan Yuen, Fusion Fund (judge); Brittany Berry-Pusey, Avenda Health (1st place); Darius Sankey, Ocean Tomo China (judge); Sujatha Ramanujan, NextCorps & Luminate Accelerator (judge); Tim Kennedy, Edmund Optics (judge); Hossein Heidari, Radiance 4D (2nd place)

BELLINGHAM, Washington, and SAN FRANCISCO, California, USA - A technology company that aims to shift prostate-cancer treatment from an invasive surgical setting to a brief, office-based visit, won the top award at the 9th annual SPIE Startup Challenge at Photonics West on Wednesday, 6 February.

Avenda Health's Brittany Berry-Pusey presented the winning pitch, nabbing a combined first prize of $15,000. Radiance 4D's revolutionary 3D printing technology, which speedily prints the complete volume of an object, came in second with a cash prize of $5,000, while Opto BioLabs, which combines optogenetic research with flow cytometry, landed in third with $2,500.

"I feel so honored," said Berry-Pusey following the announcement. "There are so many great entrepreneurs here, and they're all doing amazing things. I'm really excited to see how my fellow competitors are going to advance in the future: I think we all have such a great future, and it's so exciting to have such a good community around us."

Avenda Health's win, she added, will help the nascent company with its next steps: "We are treating men with prostate cancer. Today's standard of care has its complications, and we think there's a way that we can improve outcomes for men, reduce healthcare costs, and make it a win-win for everyone: if we can reduce costs and transform an expensive, hospital-based procedure into a situation where a patient can go in over their lunch break for a treatment of prostate cancer that's less invasive than surgery, that just uses local anaesthesia, that takes less than an hour, that's big. And it's only possible because of photonics, because of the lasers that we are using."

The SPIE Startup Challenge, which showcases new businesses that are addressing critical needs with photonics, is enabled by Founding Partner Jenoptik, Lead Sponsors Edmund Optics, Thorlabs, and B&W Tek CEO Sean Wang, and Supporting Sponsors Trumpf, MKS Instruments, and the Luminate Accelerator. Competition judges include venture capitalists and business-development experts who vet the applicants for their business case, financial case, and competitive advantages. Finalist judges included:


Timothy Paul Kennedy, Edmund Optics
Andrea Körtvélyessy, JENOPTIK Inc.
Sujatha Ramanujan, NextCorps; Luminate
Sam Rubin, Thorlabs, Inc.
Darius Sankey, Ocean Tomo China
Sean Wang, B&W Tek
Homan Yuen, Fusion Fund


Avenda Health was one of six finalists, selected from a group of 35 semi-finalists, vying for more than $85,000 in cash, prizes and in-kind industry support provided by event sponsors. All semi-finalists receive training and marketing packages to support their venture. In a fast-paced event that reflects industry expectations, the participants were scored on pitch delivery, competitive advantage, quality of the financial case, and trajectory of the company.

Other exciting new technologies and commercialization plans presented during the finals included Leuko Labs' non-invasive, white-cell monitoring device for chemotherapy patients; dermadiagnostics' non-invasive, wearable patch that allows for improved detection of high-risk biomarkers of malignant gynecologic cancer; and Unistellar's Enhanced Vision Telescope, an innovative combination of optics and image-processing technology that makes astronomy more accessible as well as offering a shared-platform experience.

Three SPIE Early Stage Entrepreneurship Travel Grants, awarded on the basis of participants' written application, went to LiveFocus' Hanyang Huang, PolarNon's Mariia Timofeeva, and dermadiagnostics' Eydis Lima, covering their travel to Photonics West as well as full access to the conference.
Since its inception in 2011, the goal of the SPIE Startup Challenge has been to help new entrepreneurs refine their business case, analyze markets and develop a network of connections to help drive their new venture. Winners and finalists also receive media promotions, and additional training opportunities as well as industry support.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, an educational not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based science, engineering, and technology. The Society serves 257,000 constituents from 173 countries, offering conferences and their published proceedings, continuing education, books, journals, and the SPIE Digital Library. In 2018, SPIE provided more than $4 million in community support including scholarships and awards, outreach and advocacy programs, travel grants, public policy, and educational resources. www.spie.org.

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