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Emerging Companies Deserve Our Support

BioPhotonics
Jan 2018
SUJATHA RAMANUJAN, LUMINATE

We are fortunate to be in a time of great innovation in life sciences and photonics. The ability to work at molecular and nanoscale levels gives rise to advances in so many fields. As most entrepreneurs will tell you, both innovation and the ability to bring a concept to use are tricky and wrought with obstacles. When developing a business in medical technology or life sciences, the patience required from both the scientists and the investment team is significant.

Through Luminate, the world’s only optics, photonics and imaging accelerator and fund, we are able to support emerging technologies financially and provide professional guidance.

In the early stage of a company, when the founders seek seed money, there are many sources. Often supported by angel investors, grants and regional programs, early stage companies can enjoy the excitement and support of seed investment. When a business begins to entertain success, demonstrating recurrent revenues and growth, financial investors and institutions are more likely to provide funding.

It is in the middle ground, where a company has demonstrated a concept but seeks to develop the first clients, that startup organizations often flounder. Luminate seeks to bridge that gap by providing much needed funding as well as the services and support to reach the next stage. The Luminate program invests in 10 technologies and provides six months in Rochester, N.Y., where Luminate is located. Included in the program are manufacturing readiness, sales and service build, and assistance with customer and investor searches.

This program allows my team to give inventors the lift they really need while supporting technology that has the potential to improve the quality of health care, particularly in regions where this can be difficult to access. At the forefront of discovery are techniques that permit imaging at a finer scale and through increasing layers and depth, as well as those that enable medical practitioners to access support by allowing noninvasive analysis and remote diagnosis.

One such company doing this work that Luminate is excited to include in our inaugural 2018 accelerator is Double Helix of Boulder, Colo., headed by CEO Leslie Kimerling. Double Helix’s Light Engineering helps translate 3D information into biological applications by integrating depth information with very high resolution. Double Helix sensors offer high-precision image data ranging at distances under 30 cm and for objects as small as 20 nm. Scientists have quantified the dynamics of T-cell receptors using extended depth 3D superresolution imaging with Double Helix. Another research group used the Double Helix technology to visualize and characterize previously unseen stress granule cores that are associated with ALS and dementia.

Cristina Canavesi, co-founder and president of LighTopTech, another Luminate finalist, uses Gabor-domain optical coherence microscopy, near-infrared light and interferometry to build an image of tissue below the surface. In live tissue, individual cells throughout a volume are imaged. The technology promises to make the move to noninvasive biopsies become more easily attainable and to provide remote facilities access.

Luminate investment Intelon Optics, headed by CEO Dominik Beck, is commercializing a confocal Brillouin spectrometer that is VIPA-based for fast recording of Brillouin spectras in vivo in human ocular tissues. Intelon’s technology scans laser light to noninvasively create point-by-point measurements of biomechanical properties in the eye. Specialized spectral analysis of the scattered laser light determines tissue modulus of elasticity (i.e., stiffness). This data is translated into a simple map that is easy for surgeons and clinicians to read. This approach provides data previously unavailable to clinicians and noninvasive stress-free diagnostic care for patients. As with other technologies, it also has the potential to provide remote diagnosis and consultation for patients and clinicians.

As a member of the board of directors of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, I am particularly excited to support the endeavors of promising women scientists and CEOs such as Kimerling and Canavesi.

Luminate is only one accelerator. We need more efforts like it if we truly wish to aid the success of life-changing photonic technologies. We in the industry with the means and resources should assist emerging companies. By working with organizations such as Luminate or through our independent means, we can help new companies become successful.

Meet the author

Sujatha Ramanujan is the managing director of Luminate, and holds a Ph.D. in electrical enginneering from the University of Michigan. A serial entrepreneur, she started, built and grew startup businesses in cardiac surgical equipment, optical communications and nanomaterial. She has served as a strategic investor and mentor to many startup businesses; email: sujatha.ramanujan@htr.org.

BiophotonicsLuminateSujatha RamanujanMicroscopyspectroscopyBiopinion

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