It is an absolutely daunting challenge to attend a trade show like SPIE Photonics West 2013 and expect to come back to the office with a "comprehensive" view of what is new and exciting in the photonics industry. As one of my editorial colleagues remarked, "I feel like I saw 1% of the show." Truly, the show is awesome for its industry and networking events as well as the demonstration-packed exhibit, but I always feel like I've missed a lot. As an editor for Laser Focus World, that is not a good thing!
So thank goodness for the three-year-old SPIE Startup Challenge! Wow, what an awesome way to discover ten of the top photonics startup companies in our industry--with truly "high tech" innovations--through their rapid-fire series of presentations to a distinguished panel of photonics industry investors and technology experts like Jason Eichenholz of Open Photonics, Patricia Glaza from Arsenal Venture Partners, and Adam Wax of Duke University. The presentations "took off" much like the small plane in the SPIE Startup Challenge logo above. And just what was at stake during the Wednesday, Feb 6 presentations at 3:30 pm?: $10,000 to the top entrepreneurial company with the best technology, and $5000 and $2500 to the second- and third-place winners, respectively.
A video of the winning company and technology from SPIE.TV is included below:
From 20 semi-final presentations (see them here at http://spie.org/x91942.xml as all are worthy of mention) came 10 total finalists, who were each given just three minutes to present their technology to the panel. I feel compelled to list all 10 of them here, including the top winners, just to give you an idea of how much innovation was packed into the competing technologies (HIGHLIGHTED IN ALL CAPS):
FIRST PLACE: FASTCHECK 3D SURFACE INSPECTION SYSTEM; Arun Chhabra and Erik Klaas of 8tree, CO USA
SECOND: LOW-COST BIOSENSORS FOR POINT-OF-CARE DIAGNOSTICS; Ryan Denomme of Nicoya Lifesciences, ON Canada
THIRD: REMOTE IMAGE GUIDED ENDOSCOPIC SURGERY (RIGES) PLATFORM: Frank Palmer of ColdSteel Laser, NY USA
ACOUSTICALLY TUNABLE MASS-MARKET DFB LASER; Michael Engelmann of MACH8 Lasers, The Netherlands
IRSEE CAMERA ADD-ON TO VISUALIZE CHEMICALS IN THE IR SPECTRUM; Jeppe Seidelin Dam of DTU Fotonik, Denmark
RAPID PATHOLOGY AT THE BEDSIDE; Sanjee Abeytunge of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, NY USA
LOW-COST NONINVASIVE DEVICE FOR ORAL CANCER SCREENING; Christopher Glazowski of Memorial Sloan-Kettering, NY USA
SILICON CHIP MICROARRAYS FOR DETECTION OF DISEASE; Swapnajit Chakravarty from Omega Optics, TX USA
DOUBLE HELIX OPTICS TO SEE MORE AND CLEARER; Leslie Kimerling and Rafael Piestun of Double Helix LLC, CO USA
LASER OPTOACOUSTIC ULTRASONIC IMAGING SYSTEM LOUIS-3D; Alexander Oraevsky of TomoWave Laboratories, TX USA
The technologies presented were primarily in the biomedical field, echoing what our staff wrote in our Photonics West 2013 Preview about the emphasis on biomedical optics and the overwhelming influence of the BiOS Symposium. Bio is big business today, especially for low-cost devices that truly displace huge, complex laboratory scale equipment and take medicine closer to the patient in a point-of-care setting.
I spoke with Arun Chhabra, co-founder of 8tree, the company that took top winnings in the SPIE Startup Challenge for its fastCHECK 3D surface inspection system. Chhabra and his co-founder Erik Klaas learned of the competition through an SPIE email while the pair were visiting customers in Bangalore, India just two days before the deadline and decided to enter. In a nutshell, 8tree is working to disrupt the 3D scanning landscape as we know it. Their unique approach rests on 3 core pillars: (1) delivering incredibly easy-to-use (no learning curve) scanners that address specific and chronic market problems, (2) integrating Augmented Reality techniques with 3D scanning to deliver instant analysis, thereby making results immediately actionable and easy to understand, and (3) offering a pragmatic approach to making 3D scanning more affordable so it can be adopted in new, higher-volume markets. Their first product focuses on addressing the chronic problem of 3D surface inspection systems for aircraft rivet inspection. The idea is to displace bulky, complex, industrial inspection systems with small point-and-shoot instruments that deliver a "visual" display that technicians can easily interpret. Watch a demonstration video of their products at http://8-tree.com/resource-center/.
In fact, the one common thread for most of the SPIE Startup Challenge technologists was the desire to significantly reduce the complexity of scientific instrumentation into a user-friendly device that anyone could master in a very short period of time, without sacrificing performance. Look for future World News stories on many of the technologies described here, including 8tree's 3D inspection system, in future issues of Laser Focus World. And next year, don't forget to attend the 2014 SPIE Startup Challenge--I know I'll be there!