SPIE Startup Challenge

3D nanoscale-imaging system wins challenge.

01 April 2016

A 3D nanoscale-imaging system, marijuana breathalyzer, and a disease diagnostic tool made with refrigerator magnets and a laser pointer were selected as the top projects in the 2016 SPIE Startup Challenge. The competition for early-stage photonics entrepreneurs was held during SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco, CA (USA), in February.

First-place winner Double Helix of Colorado won the grand prize with its 3D system that can image at the single-molecule level inside individual cells. The company was cofounded by Leslie Kimerling.

Kimerling won over a group of expert judges with a system that can provide unprecedented imaging detail at the nanoscale level to speed the drug development process. The Double Helix system has the potential to reduce the time involved in bringing targeted therapies to market. It provides early verification and validation of the efficacy of drug therapy mechanisms in action.

Taking second place was Diagnostic anSERS with its marijuana breathalyzer. The Maryland-based company uses surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) for its tool for law enforcement who need a roadside drug test for suspected impaired drivers. Sean Virgile, cofounder of Diagnostic anSERS, made the pitch.

In third place was Disease Diagnostic Group, founded by John Lewandowski. The company hopes its diagnostic tool, Rapid Assessment of Malaria, or RAM, which is made from refrigerator magnets and a laser pointer, can be used to help diagnose diseases like malaria even before people show symptoms, thus saving lives and treatment costs. The test can provide an accurate diagnosis in less than 60 seconds.

Startup Challenge founding partner Jenoptik provided the cash prizes: $10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second place, and $2,500 for third. Supporting sponsor Edmund Optics also provided $5,000 in Edmund Optics products for the first-place winner.

Additional support for the event came from lead sponsors Axsun Technologies and the National Science Foundation (NSF), and supporting sponsors Edmund Optics, Trumpf, Open Photonics, and Knobbe Martens.

photo: winners of SPIE Startup Challenge 2016
Judges, winners, and sponsors at the 2016 SPIE Startup Challenge.

SPIE provides support for winners to attend additional entrepreneur training and investor networking sessions for further help in refining their ideas.

Winners were chosen from among six finalists in a public final competition. Each had five minutes in which to deliver their pitches showcasing optics or photonics technologies or applications as the basis for viable new businesses.

Earlier in the week, 25 semi-finalists participated in a full day of training on business plans, funding, marketing, and presenting a business pitch.

Other finalists, who receive up to $2,000 in registration fees and travel stipends for additional entrepreneurial training were: Bold Biometrix with its blood-pressure monitoring patches; Bodle Technologies, for its reflective displays for wearables; and Stream Technologies’ spectral camera lens.

Judging the final round were business development experts and venture capitalists: SPIE Fellows Marc Himel of Jenoptik Optical Systems and Jason Eichenholz of Open Photonics; SPIE Senior Member Mike Mielke of Trumpf; SPIE Member Sam Sadoulet, president of Edmund Optics; Bruce Itchkawitz of Knobbe Martens; Jenny Rooke of 5 Prime Ventures; Peter Whitney of Axsun Technologies; and Mark Wippich of LightWave Advisors.

More information and videos from the 2016 SPIE Startup Challenge: spie.org/startup

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