RAMAT GAN, Israel – Small Israeli startups with technologies for retinal imaging, 3-D wavefront analysis and particle analysis took the top prizes in the new 2012 Startup Contest, held during the Optical Engineering 2012 conference. The conference and the contest were put on by the Optical Engineering chapter of SEEEI (the Society of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in Israel) at Bar-Ilan University in late March.
Applicants had to represent companies or startups less than 5 years old that are registered in Israel and that have no more than $6 million in funding. In the first stage of the competition, applicants submitted a short business plan summary; each submission was reviewed by several evaluators, who then selected the finalists.
The 2012 Startup Contest award ceremony panel, from left: professor Gabby Sarusi of Ben Gurion University, professor David Mendlovic of Tel Aviv University and Core Photonics, professor Liora Katzenstein of ISEMI Entrepreneurship College in Israel, Hananel Kvatinsky of Orbotech, Yossi Tendler of Ernst & Young, and Dr. Rami Finkler of SEEEI. Images courtesy of SEEEI.
The second stage started with a plenary session where each finalist had just seven minutes to introduce the startup. This introduction was followed by a typical “elevator pitch.” The startups also got to display posters during the conference’s morning plenary session, and interested participants and the evaluators could ask questions and discuss the proposals with the entrepreneurs.
Scores were calculated using four criteria: surveys, in which conference attendees selected the startup with the highest success potential; official referee evaluation of the elevator pitch and the poster presentation; evaluation of the technology behind the venture and related strategic planning; and the business model and strategy. The scores were approved by an evaluation committee and announced during a special contest awards session.
The six finalists were Kayon Technologies Inc., with its FiveSite laser diamond evaluator; PML-Innovative Particle-Monitoring Technologies, with its particle monitoring technology; OWLinx, with its free-space optical communications system; AdOM Advanced optical technologies Ltd., with its retinal imager; Acrylicom, with its Ethernet over plastic optical fiber technology; and JeruLux, with its WaveImager, which makes 3-D measurements of transparent and specular objects.
AdOM won first place, JeruLux took second, and PML came in third.
“Internal eye diseases – mainly age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy – are currently irreversible in the sense that once vision cells are damaged, their condition cannot be restored,” said Yosi Weitzman, founder and chief operating officer of AdOM. “For this reason, and since blindness causes enormous suffering and costs, early detection of such conditions is highly valuable, considering there are various surgical and medication therapies that are able to slow down or even stop the progress of the disease, once properly diagnosed.
“Nevertheless, the current technology for proper diagnosis of those diseases – optical coherence tomography [OCT] – is too costly and lacks the availability required for reaching the growing population.”
AdOM’s multimodal retinal imager uses next-generation OCT technology to extend to the larger market of optometrists, general ophthalmologists and screening centers the diagnostic capabilities that currently are available only to retinal experts.
Spectral domain technology presents important improvements over traditional OCT, but OCT remains limited and costly, according to the company’s contest proposal. AdOM’s technology is a new OCT engine that is based on the same fundamental physical principles as OCT, but new implementation extends its performance. A conventional fundus camera can be equipped with a structural imaging module for less than 20 percent of the end-user cost of a modern OCT system, but the performance remains competitive.
Contest entrants displayed posters featuring their proposals.
OCT uses raster-scanned images; AdOM’s retinal imager combines full-field images with oximetry, producing a wide field of view, high resolution, high-speed structural imaging and vasculature examination, eliminating angiography.
The technology is in the proof-of-concept stage. “We plan to release a preclinical version next year that will support regulatory requirements in the US and EU [European Union], and start sales when the product is approved, [an] estimated six months later,” Weitzman said.
The company plans to incorporate metabolic imaging into the basic structural imaging product to enhance early detection of eye disorders.
3-D wavefront analysis
The WaveImager from JeruLux is a new 3-D analysis method that enables contactless, precise measurement of the wavefront (3-D slopes) exiting transparent objects and specular surfaces, using color coding inside classical 2-D imaging systems. The method is patent-pending.
It allows simultaneous wavefront analysis and object imaging at relatively low cost with no moving parts or interferometry. The real-time image processing is straightforward (color = 3-D slope). The device’s spatial X,Y resolution is equal to the camera’s image sensor resolution, and its slope resolution equals the image sensor’s dynamic range. It offers high resolution for continuous surfaces – down to nanometer scale – and a large depth of focus.
“It is basically a wavefront analyzer but with specific characteristics that make it attractive to applications without satisfying solution today,” said Elie Meimoun of JeruLux in Jerusalem. Among other features, Meimoun added, the technology enables simultaneous object imaging and wavefront analysis, which allows mechanical features and their optical properties to show up; also, high spatial (X,Y) and angular resolution is possible, because classical imaging data and wavefront data both are contained in each of the pixels. “[It is] applicable to area sensing as well as to line scanning; no other technology is capable of measuring full 3-D data with a line sensor.”
Target markets include ophthalmology and image sensor fabrication, but the startup’s plans do not stop there. “The technology can be successfully integrated into diverse markets, from tiny objects (MEMS, microlens arrays) to ophthalmic products (progressive lenses, IOL, cornea) and even to the huge mirrors used in the thermo-solar industry,” Meimoun noted.
PML’s automatic continuous online particle analyzer offers information on particle-size distribution down to the nanoscale, particle concentration and particle clustering. It was designed for inspection and monitoring in liquids and gases for use in air and water monitoring, cleantech environments, cement manufacturing, and the pharmaceutical and food industries. Future applications include nanoparticle-based sensors for the automobile industry.
The analyzer is based on a patented method of interaction between particles and a unique structured non-Gaussian “dark” laser beam. The compact system automatically differentiates types of particles – clay, carbon, algae, germs, parasites, submicron viruses and more – according to their optical properties. The system, which can withstand harsh conditions, also offers high sensitivity and resolution in a wide particle size and concentration range.
“Laser-based methods are the prevailing technologies for in-process particle size analysis,” said Dr. Meir Teichner, CEO of PML. These methods fall into two groups – laser diffraction and laser scanning – but these have some pitfalls in terms of resolution, robustness and speed, he added, and PML’s technology overcomes those.
Dr. Meir Teichner, CEO of PML-Innovative Particle-Monitoring Technologies Ltd., accepts the third-place award on behalf of his company.
The technology has been patented in the US, Australia and Israel, and is pending in the European Union; PML already has begun to sell systems in 2012 to teaching and design partners, a desalination plant and a medical device company.
“The markets that will want to adopt the technology first are the cement and pharmaceutical (dry medium),” Teichner said. “In both markets, the need is relatively high. However, those markets [pose] relatively high technological challenges and, therefore, the company has addressed first the wet applications (particles in water).”
Professor Gabby Sarusi of Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva chaired the contest. Until recently, Sarusi was the chief scientist of Elop (Elbit Systems). Eliezer Manor, president and founder of Shirat Enterprises Ltd., chaired the evaluations committee.
The contest committee comprised serial entrepreneurs, optics professors, business managers, financial companies and R&D managers from leading industries.
First prize was a mentoring session with an expert team from Ernst & Young Israel. Second prize was a review of the company’s IP policy by professionals from Orbotech.
Optical Engineering 2012 is a photonics networking event, bringing together practicing engineers, researchers, technology providers, scientists and students. It offers updates on the photonics community as well as a place to exchange information and present papers, posters and technical information.