Ten optics and photonics startups are competing in NextCorp’s Luminate NY accelerator program to work on the development and commercialization of their business.
Luminate is a six-month residency at NextCorps in Sibley Square. The residency includes mentorship, access to resources and $100,000 in follow-on funding. Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative is providing funding for the $25 million program. On Demo Day, which is usually held in June but is TBD due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the most promising of the 10 companies will compete for up to $2 million in additional funding
“Companies in this year’s Luminate cohort are working on a remarkable range of optics applications,” said Luminate NY managing director Sujatha Ramanujan. “Although they each have unique needs, our region’s optics, photonics and imaging ecosystem is providing the centralized resources critical to furthering their development.”
Leading up to Demo Day, the Rochester Business Journal will profile each of the 10 startups in the cohort.
There are an estimated 750,000 surgeons in the United States and Europe. These surgeons often learn new skills by performing on live patients, which is both risky and economically inefficient.
Simulated Inanimate Models manufactures synthetic, lifelike models of humans to train surgeons without risking a patient’s life. SIM’s training models can replicate all steps of an operation, including pre-operative planning, imaging and procedure-specific functions.
SIM fulfilled its largest order of phantoms in November for the American Brachytherapy Society’s winter workshop, a two-day brachytherapy training session for urologists and radiation oncologists. In addition to being accepted to Luminate, SIM recently received three SBIR/STTR seed funding awards and is now applying for the National Science Fund SBIR Phase 2.
Michael Wilson, chief operating officer of Simulated Inanimate Models (SIM), shares how SIM uses hydrogel models (called phantoms) and Augmented Reality Training System (ARTS) to provide real-time performance, feedback, guidance and certification for surgeons.
What problems are you helping to solve?
Michael Wilson: Despite our health care system producing the best surgeons and medical care in the world, surgical education still involves operations on live patients due to the lack of suitable alternatives. If you go to a teaching hospital for even a routine surgical procedure, such as needing to have your appendix removed, it could be the first time that surgeon is actually cutting into a human being. Training and simulation have become incredibly advanced in other industries — the airline industry being the gold standard — but training tools that give surgeons a lifelike experience don’t really exist. More than that, the educational paradigm is outdated, as it relies heavily on one-on-one instruction between the expert surgeon and the trainee.
Why should surgeons in training turn to SIM?
MW: Two reasons: The realism of the phantom and the educational value. There are plenty of trainers out there that are made out of durable synthetic materials like rubber or silicone, but the actual value offered is very low because that’s not what our bodies are made out of, therefore the stiffness, texture and feel can be off. Our models are made of a water-based hydrogel, offering a much more realistic hands-on experience. Additionally, we custom engineer our models to include aspects of specific diseases, such as tumors or blood clots, valuable features that are lacking in other physical training options.
We developed the AR instructional component because of what we call “the busy surgeon problem.” If you provide an inexperienced resident with the most lifelike phantom, they will still require instruction and likely turn to an attending surgeon for help. But attending surgeons simply don’t have time to be teaching outside of the operating room and will encourage residents to attend a live surgery and observe there, and possibly to even participate under supervision. Our product solves for the time limitations of expert instructors by not requiring their presence.
How did your team get started?
MW: Our CEO, Jonathan Stone (M.D.), is an attending neurosurgeon at Strong Memorial Hospital. He created the models during his residency at the University of Rochester, developing them with Ahmed Ghazi (M.D.) in Urology. Our core team came together when Jon presented at a biotech networking event called BioBeers three years ago. I met Jon there as a biomedical researcher, a Ph.D. post-doc looking to move out of academics into the entrepreneurial space. I saw the problem that Jon was talking about and the potential for the solutions he was proposing, and it was something I wanted to be a part of. At that event, Jon also met our chief technology officer, Steve Griffith, who has 30 years of experience in electrical and computer engineering, including flight simulation. He also saw the potential to take principles of high-fidelity training and immersive education and apply them to surgery.
The fourth member of the team, Nelson Stone (M.D.), is Jon’s father and an internationally renowned clinician, academic and serial entrepreneur. He’s started several medical device companies that underwent successful exits. You can imagine he’s really an incredible resource to have on the team.
What do you hope to accomplish through your time at Luminate?
MW: Six months from now, we want to have secured funding for the full commercialization of our product, to have built out our sales and marketing plan and be consistently implementing it and to begin seeing the subsequent jump in sales. We see Luminate as an absolutely key resource for that trajectory.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to entrepreneurs just starting out?
MW: Get used to stepping out of your comfort zone and embrace it. Coming to SIM from a life science academic background, at some point I had to do customer discovery, market research and financial projections for the first time. I had to give a pitch and make a sales call for the first time, to speak with people and try to convince them to buy our product. A lot of scientists come to entrepreneurship with lots of technical success, patented IP and published papers, and they may have this impression that their skillset is relatively specialized and focused. The reality is that they’re proficient learners and doers. If you take time to try and learn something new or different, you might find you’re pretty good at it.
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