SPIE Startup Challenge

Mini OCT probe wins 4th annual SPIE Startup Challenge.

01 April 2014

Western Australian researchers fighting breast cancer with a miniaturized optical coherence tomography (OCT) probe capable of 3D imaging have won the fourth annual SPIE Startup Challenge. Medical devices to improve human health also swept the second and third prizes at the international technology contest.

Associate Professor Robert McLaughlin, from the University of Western Australia’s Optical and Biomedical Engineering Laboratory, won the top award for his presentation of the team’s “Microscope in a Needle” project. He received a $10,000 cash prize, $5,000 worth of Edmund Optics products to support further commercialization of the technology, and the opportunity to attend a week-long entrepreneur “boot camp.”

The OCT probe inside a needle is designed to help surgeons remove tumors in breast-cancer patients and reduce the number of repeat surgeries.

McLaughlin fought off tough competition from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and University of Toronto as well as technology companies to win.

The fast-paced business-pitch competition held at Photonics West in San Francisco in February invites new entrepreneurs to pitch their light-based technologies and products in front of a judging team of business-development experts and venture capitalists.

Robert McLaughlin with his microscope in a needle.
Courtesy of Joey Cobbs
Microscope-in-a-needle for improved surgery

“Our goal is to commercialize a technique that can help guide surgeons to perform safer, more effective breast-cancer surgery. We are lucky to be working with an excellent team of surgeons, pathologists, and radiologists in Western Australia,” McLaughlin said.

He explained the need for his microscope-in-a-needle technology: “We have made a device that helps a surgeon find the edge of a tumor. It’s a mini-fiber-optic probe inside a needle that helps perform biopsies below the skin’s surface.

“This will improve success of surgeries, help to remove tumors completely and should reduce the 25% figure of repeat surgeries currently necessary when malignant material is missed the first time,” he said.

Medical innovations take 2nd, 3rd prizes

The second prize of $5,000 was awarded to SPIE member Nicholas Durr of MIT and PlenOptika for QuickSee, an innovative, low-cost, handheld device that can provide eyeglass prescriptions at the push of a button. The technology is designed to help people living in low-resource countries to obtain appropriate vision correction.

Durr also received the People’s Choice Award, which includes a fee waiver for Photonics West 2015.

Third prize of $2,500 went to SPIE member Amos Danielli, founder and CEO of MagBiosense, for a heart biosensor designed to speed the diagnosis of heart attacks.

Winners are all eligible for the boot camp and take home valuable new contacts as well as recognition and experience pitching their business ideas.

Photonics startup ecosystem is growing

“It was an amazing experience,” Danielli said. “I met a lot of people and made good connections with judges, potential investors, and fellow applicants. 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 SPIE Startup Challenge is supported by founding sponsor Jenoptik, as well as Trumpf, Edmund Optics, Open Photonics, and Knobbe Martens.

Jenoptik’s Jay Kumler, who was a judge, had high praise for the quality of the technologies, pitches, and participants at this year’s Startup Challenge. “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,” he said.

Also judging the finals were Samuel Sadoulet of Edmund Optics, SPIE Senior Member Jason Eichenholz of Open Photonics, Bruce Itchkawitz of Knobbe Martens, and SPIE Fellow Adam Wax of Duke University.

Finalists in 2014 SPIE Startup Challenge

In addition to the three winners of the SPIE Startup Challenge, five finalists who made their pitches at the competition in San Francisco were:

  • SPIE member Matthew Muller, cofounder of Swept Image (Canada), for SweptVue, a microscope with on-demand precision depth mapping.
  • Peter Skovgaard, CEO and cofounder of Norlase (Denmark), for a stable, low-noise, compact, visible diode laser system.
  • Eric Wandel, vice president of Innovative Photonics Technologies (USA), for an all-optical analog-to-digital converter on a photonic integrated chip.
  • Christian Weedbrook, CEO of QKD Corp. of Canada, for fiber-optical data-encryption systems and solutions for secure communication lines using quantum physics.
  • SPIE Fellow Zeev Zalevsky, head of electro-optics at Bar Ilan University and CSO at Z-Square (Israel), for minimally invasive, disposable, multi-functional microendoscopy.

The call for applications for the 2015 SPIE Startup Challenge will open in late October.

More information and videos of the winning SPIE Startup Challenge pitches.

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