SPIE Startup Challenge

Optical surgery guide wins SPIE Startup Challenge.

01 April 2015

Blood-vessel-detecting technology for surgeons, an optical microphone that detects sound, and a plasmonic film sensor packaged in a portable detector were selected as the top projects in the 2015 SPIE Startup Challenge.

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

“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 added. “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, SPIE member Balthasar Fischer of XARION Laser Acoustics (Austria) 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 (USA) 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.

photo FROM SPIE Startup Challenge 2015
SPIE Startup Challenge participants, l-r: SPIE President Toyohiko Yatagai, Jeffrey Crosby of Picoyune; Mike Mielke of TRUMPF, Balthasar Fischer of XARION Laser Acoustics, Jason Eichenholz of Open Photonics; Supriya Jaiswal of Hamamatsu; Marc Himel of JENOPTIK Optical; 1st-place prize winner Jonathan Gunn of Briteseed; Jason Mulliner of Edmund Optics; and Bruce Itchkawitz of Knobbe Martens.

Founding partner JENOPTIK funded cash prizes for the winners, including US $10,000 for first prize, $5,000 for second place, and $2,500 for third. 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 awarded the first-place winner $5,000 in products, and SPIE will provide support for the winners to attend a multi-day entrepreneur training camp and investor networking session for further help in refining their ideas.

Winners were chosen from among six finalists in a public competition at SPIE Photonics West in February. Out of 37 applicants for the Startup Challenge, 18 were chosen as semifinalists to make pitches at Photonics West. The field was then narrowed to six finalists who had three minutes in which to deliver their pitches on photonics technologies or applications as the basis for viable new businesses.

  • View the videos of the six finalists making their SPIE Startup Challenge pitches at SPIE Photonics West

The finalists included Benjamin Hall (USA), for Laser Ablation Tomography (LATTM), a mesoscale volumetric visualization and analysis tool capable of rapidly acquiring structural and compositional data in three dimensions with micron resolution. The technique uses laser microsectioning and multispectral fluorescent imaging to obtain highly contrasted, colorful stacks of images in opaque specimens.

Kieren Patel (USA) was a finalist for Opticent Health’s noninvasive noncontact diagnostic instrument for the early detection of multiple chronic diseases. The startup is also producing high-quality, affordable, patient-specific 3D-printed medical implants.

Yoav Sintov, representing SPIE Fellow Zeev Zalevsky (Israel), was also a finalist who presented his case for OptoCare’s noninvasive, continuous, remote optical glucose monitor to provide real-time information regarding glucose levels in the bloodstream.

Judges for the final round were SPIE Senior Member Jason Eichenholz of Open Photonics, SPIE Fellow Marc Himel of Jenoptik Optical Systems, SPIE member Supriya Jaiswal of Hamamatsu, Bruce Itchkawitz of Knobbe Martens, Mike Mielke of TRUMPF, and Jason Mulliner of Edmund Optics.

More information about the Startup Challenge and a video of the winning pitch is at spie.org/startup.

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