Blue Ocean Grants: looking for new innovations

SPIE Newsroom
24 May 2011
24 May 2011

Since 1992, Ocean Optics has been developing and manufacturing innovative products for optical sensing and other applications. In a search for new pioneering technologies, Ocean Optics, creators of the first miniature spectrometer, has launched the Blue Ocean Grants and Challenges Program.

Jason M. Eichenholz, Chief Technology Officer at Ocean Optics, developed the grant program as a way to encourage the development of new ideas in optical sensing that have the potential of market commercialization. Funding of up to $100,000 is being offered for various stages of development of optical sensing technology.

SPIE Senior Member Jason Eichenholz is CTO of Ocean Optics"We are an idea company," says Eichenholz, a senior member of SPIE and OSA. "The uses for our products are unlimited and we're constantly amazed by the ideas our customers have. One of our systems just went to the moon and we have another system set to go to Mars. People take our systems to the top of Mt. Everest and to the bottom of the ocean. They have been used to measure everything from the salinity of sea water, to ozone depletion, and air pollution.

"Our mission is to change the world for the better via optical sensing. We felt this would be a good way to do that and to get new ideas for future products or future companies. This is really just the beginning of our open innovation program."

Twenty years ago, Ocean Optics was an out-of-the-box idea. The company's miniature spectrometer was initially viewed as a Tinker Toy by many who first saw it. This small apparatus created new markets by allowing people to take the spectrometer to the sample versus the former method of having to bring the sample to the spectrometer. Many of the issues of using full-size spectrometers in the real world were solved this smaller version. Diverse applications such as measuring the ripeness of fruit while still on the tree or saving lives by measuring oxy and deoxy hemoglobin in blood at the bedside instead of in a lab were now possible.

Ocean Optics logo

Today, 150,000 spectrometers later, Ocean Optics now looks to give back to the science and technology community by rewarding and capturing new ideas. The grant is considered "seed money to help new ideas take root."

The grants are divided into two phases. The Phase I grant is up to $10,000 and represents the first phase of a product's development. Winners will have up to six months to progress their idea. At that point, the Phase II grant of up to $100,000 may be awarded. Depending on the quantity of applications, up to 10 Phase I grants and 2 Phase II grants will be awarded.

Most respondents to date have been professional researchers, although students, inventors, or budding entrepreneurs are also encouraged to apply. Applications so far include ideas such as new non-invasive processes of measuring ripening fruit, new medical diagnostic techniques, and new fiber sensing methods.

"A typical recipient might be a university professor or a small start-up company that has an idea," says Eichenholz. "It might be an entrepreneur who's had an idea sitting around for years and wants to go try and do something new. That's the beauty of this program. We won't know until we see them."

Modeled after Gates Foundation system, the entire application for the grant is less than three pages. Applicants are asked to answer two fundamental questions: What is their idea and how will it be implemented/tested?

"We don't want people spending a ton of time on preparing the grant or writing up reports, hence the three page limit of the application" says Eichenholz. "We want to hear what your great ideas are-that's what we're looking for. Our advice to potential grantees is to think outside the conventional box.

"Along with the grant, you will get the chance to work with our team and have access to our engineers and marketing teams. We can help customize products; we can point you in the direction of partners and suppliers and help get things done.

"We also want this to be an interactive process, so if you have a question, contact us before submitting the grant application. We've made it really easy to apply, so if you've got a good idea, please apply."

The first program will continue through 30 June 2011 and applicants from around the world are encouraged to participate.

Ocean Optics will soon be starting the open innovation Blue Ocean Challenges program. Ocean Optics will frequently post to its website specific problems they need help solving and offer cash rewards of $5,000 to $20,000 for the most innovative ideas and solutions.

More information on the Blue Ocean grants

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