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Pitch for surgical tool wins 2015 SPIE Startup Challenge

Aspiring photonics entrepreneurs look for market success with ideas for medicine, acoustics, sensing

13 February 2015

2015 SPIE Startup Challenge winner
Jay Kumler, left, of Founding Partner Jenoptik, congratulates 2015 SPIE Startup Challenge winner Jonathan Gunn of Briteseed.

SAN FRANCISCO, California, USA - Blood-vessel-detecting technology for surgeons,  a  microphone that detects sound with no moving parts, and a plasmonic film that replaces a lab-bench worth of equipment with a robust, portable detector were selected as the top  projects in the 2015 SPIE Startup Challenge. Hosted by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, the pitch competition was held 11 February in San Francisco during SPIE Photonics West, the premier annual event for the international optics and photonics community.

First-place winner Jonathan Gunn of Briteseed LLC pitched SafeSnips, a blood-vessel-detecting technology that gives surgeons critical information to make more confident decisions in the operating room. The platform provides detection, visualization, and information about blood vessels in real-time, before the surgeon makes a cut, for integration into existing minimally invasive surgical tools. A video of the winning pitch is online.

"What we're proud of is that we found a tangible clinical medical need," Gunn said. "Optics research has really brought us to the point where we can create a technology like this and have it used widespread in operating rooms nationally and internationally."

The competition was keen, Gunn said. "I saw five other really awesome teams present. I think that the judges saw that our technology should be feasible and could get built in the next year. That's really exciting for us."

Taking second place, Balthasar Fischer of XARION Laser Acoustics pitched the Membrane-free Optical Microphone. The device requires neither a membrane nor any other moving component to convert sound into electrical voltage, exploiting the fact that sound can change the speed of light.

In third place, Jeffrey Crosby of Picoyune pitched a chemical sensing platform whose patented plasmonic film is highly sensitive to mercury and can be coupled with existing gas monitors. The intended first customers are coal-fired power plants that, by law, need to carefully monitor their output of mercury.

Cash prizes for the winners, including $10,000 for first prize, $5,000 for second prize, and $2500 for third are funded by Founding Partner Jenoptik. Additional support for the training program and the competition comes from Lead Sponsor Hamamatsu, and Supporting Sponsors Trumpf, Open Photonics, Edmund Optics, Perkins Coie, and Knobbe Martens. Edmund Optics also will award the first-place winner $5,000 in products.

Winners were chosen from among six finalists in a public final. 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.

Along with the winners, the finalists were:

Benjamin Hall, for Laser Ablation Tomography (LATTM), a meso-scale volumetric visualization and analysis tool capable of rapidly acquiring structural and compositional data in three dimensions with micron resolution, using laser micro-sectioning and multispectral fluorescent imaging to obtain highly contrasted, colorful stacks of images in opaque specimens.

Kieren Patel, for Opticent Health's noninvasive noncontact diagnostic instrument for the early detection of multiple chronic diseases, producing high-quality, affordable, patient-specific 3D printed medical implants.

Zeev Zalevsky, for OptoCare's noninvasive, continuous, remote optical glucose monitor to provide real-time information regarding glucose levels in the blood stream.

Finalist judges were Marc Himel of Jenoptik Optical Systems GmbH, Supriya Jaiswal of Hamamatsu Corp., Jason Mulliner of Edmund Optics Inc., Bruce Itchkawitz of Knobbe Martens, Mike Mielke of Trumpf Inc., and Jason Eichenholz of Open Photonics, Inc.

SPIE will provide support for winners to attend a multi-day entrepreneur training camp and investor networking session for further help in refining their ideas.

More information about the Startup Challenge is at www.spie.org/startup.

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 235,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided $3.4 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2014.

Amy Nelson
Public Relations Manager
+1 360 685 5478