Encouraging entrepreneurship in biophotonics

There were many good lessons for entrepreneurs and their supporters at the 2013 Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council's (MassMEDIC's) MedTech Investors Conference (November 1, 2013; Boston, MA).

Education was a theme that began with the location of the event—the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Boston—and the opening address by UMass president Robert L. Caret, Ph.D. "Elected officials need to be reminded that an educated workforce is critical," said Caret, who was happy to report that the UMass system has boosted by more than 50% education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines since 2007. He also told an inspiring tale of the system's investment in life sciences, including a new $45 million Center for Personalized Health Monitoring; a new $95 million integrated bio and life sciences cluster; and M2D2, the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center that aims to connect UMass's resources with medical device firms in the state.

Add this to the efforts of many other Massachusetts-based education centers (think Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT, Boston University, and Tufts—which, by the way, are leaders in biophotonics), and it's no wonder that the state is—according to Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives president and CEO Kevin O'Sullivan—number one in the country in biomedicine and life sciences per capita.

Caret, who trained as a chemist and serves on the life sciences board for the state of Massachusetts, told his own story of the critical role of mentors in his academic life. That story was echoed in advice from Akhil Nigam on what could make the critical difference for growth of biotech: "Mentorship," he said. Nigam, founder and president of Mass Challenge (an organization that serves to connect entrepreneurs with the resources), said that mentorship is needed in all areas, including management, legal, reimbursement, strategy, and finance. He challenged audience members to get involved in supporting the industry on a personal level, as did O'Sullivan, who praised Massachusetts' "pay it forward culture" and asked listeners to "give back to entrepreneurs."

Of course, entrepreneurs were in abundance at the conference, and many took the stage to describe their technologies. Among them was NinePoint Medical's Chuck Carignan, who described his company's optical coherence tomography (OCT) system for gastroenterological applications that has recently added the capability of laser marking to indicate tissue for resection. Donna Brezinski, MD, of Little Sparrows Technologies described an inexpensive portable phototherapy device designed for ease of use and effectiveness to treat surprisingly common and dangerous severe neonatal jaundice in limited-resource areas. And Sharon Fan of GestSure Technologies explained her company's interface system that allows surgeons to interact with an imaging display through gesture, adding efficiency and removing the temptation to cut corners.

The lessons offered at the MassMEDIC conference certainly apply beyond Massachusetts. What will you do to support biophotonics development in your area?

Barbara GoodeBarbara Goode
Editor in Chief

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