(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of five articles describing the companies that will make pitches during Tech 20/20’s “Entrepreneurial Imperative 2012” conference November 12 and 13 at the Knoxville Marriott.)
Shaun Gleason was one-half of the team of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) scientists who founded ImTek, a small animal imaging company, in 1999. He’s now back at the lab, but he and a different long-time ORNL colleague – Jim Goddard – are the co-founders of a new start-up called Innovative Vision Solutions.
During a recent interview with teknovation.biz, Gleason and Goddard talked about their research collaboration over several decades and how that has come together in the new start-up that will be presenting during the “ThrottleUp!” competition at next week’s “Entrepreneurial Imperative 2012” (ei2012!) conference.
At its heart, Innovative Vision Solutions is focused on a markerless motion correction approach for people undergoing medical imaging tests using technologies such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The correction of motion-induced image blur is critical to the clarity and accuracy of the images that are captured.
“You can tell people to lie still,” Gleason said, noting that it is not always possible, and that the use of anesthesia is expensive and has undesirable side effects on the patient. He cited children, who move, as well as those with diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. “Normal breathing even introduces some motion.”
“It is an add-on to existing machines,” Goddard added in explaining how PET and MRI owners can take advantage of the product that the company hopes to be selling in about a year. For now, Gleason and Goddard, who have some angel investment, are finalizing details of a license with ORNL. Gleason says that they are also “going for SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) funding and will secure another angel investor under the right conditions.”
They see their initial target markets as researchers, hospitals and others who want to retrofit existing units. “This will help us get into the market to validate the technology,” Gleason said, adding that Goddard “has had positive interactions with Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, UTK (University of Tennessee Knoxville) and University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.”
Over the long-term, they hope to become an original equipment manufacturer supplying scanner companies.
The duo first started collaborating in 1989, soon after Gleason arrived at ORNL, and first worked together on motion-corrected medical imaging in the early 2000s. “Here we are years later,” he added.
At the time, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) was providing motion correction funding with a focus on small animals. The research was mostly marker-based . . . “put markers on the animal and use them to track the animal’s motion,” Gleason explained.
There was an interruption in their work when Gleason and Mike Paulus, the other ImTek co-founder, went on entrepreneurial leave to focus on ImTek.
“When Mike and I left in 2004, Jim took over my technical role,” Gleason said. “When I came back in 2008, I became the Group Leader,” overseeing the research team that included Goddard.
“The research transitioned into non-marker based systems,” Gleason said. Goddard explained that “placing the markers on the patient is time consuming and inconsistent. It’s much better to use intrinsic features such as facial features, rather than extenally placed markers, to acquire measurements.”
DOE funding ended, but the research was continued through technology maturation funding that ORNL has provided and which is focused on getting promising technologies ready for commercialization.
The co-founders say that Goddard is primarily focused on technology development and Gleason on business development, but they also back-up each other as needed.