Last year, in 2013, I noted that the majority of entries in SPIE's Startup Challenge at Photonics West had biomedical application. The winner wasn't bio-focused, but most other entrants were. This year, in 2014, biophotonics swept the competition: That is, all three winners presented biomedical innovations.
Robert McLaughlin of the University of Western Australia received the top prize ($10,000, plus $5,000 in products from Edmund Optics), for a "microscope-in-a-needle": a miniaturized optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging probe that aims to reduce repeat surgeries for breast cancer. Second place ($5,000)—and the event's People's Choice Award—went to Nicholas Durr of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), whose product, called PlenOptika's QuickSee, is a low-cost handheld device able to provides eyeglass prescriptions at the push of a button. The third-place winner was Amos Danielli of MagBiosense, who presented a real-time, easy-to-use point-of-care system able to diagnose heart attack with laboratory-quality sensitivity.
Certainly, there's plenty of optics and photonics innovation in other markets, but I think it is telling that so many startups see opportunity in healthcare. Particularly exciting is the fact that an increasing number of innovations are demonstrating how biophotonics can benefit underserved populations. QuickSee is a prime example, with its ability to produce prescriptions anytime and anywhere to enable vision correction for patients unable to access standard routes of care that the world's wealthier people take for granted.
My guess is that this fact accounts for QuickSee's winning of the People's Choice Award. I look forward to seeing more innovations able to crack open healthcare access for the betterment of humanity worldwide.