By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Founders of start-ups really like to see success for their babies, so an email message we received last week was not a surprise. Yet, there’s something very special about this particular company and the pride one of its Co-Founders expressed.
We published our first story about Hubble Telemedical Inc. in mid-2012, just months after both the company and teknovation.biz were launched, and we continued to follow the start-up through its acquisition in early 2015 by Well Allyn, Inc.
Our special interest in Hubble was based on the unique role model that it served by combining the expertise of two researchers who, in spite of being 400 miles apart, did not let distance detract them from building the young company focused on remote diabetic retinopathy screening and analysis in primary care and other convenient settings.
Co-Founder Ed Chaum is the Plough Foundation Professor of Retinal Diseases at the Hamilton Eye Institute at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC). Ken Tobin is a Corporate Fellow and Founding Director of the Electrical and Electronics Systems Research Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
The two met in 2004 when a 12-person delegation from the UTHSC visited ORNL. As described in our initial story, Chaum was skeptical that any benefit would come from the visit, but he quickly had an “Aha! moment” after hearing about Tobin’s research on content-based image retrieval. It was the solution Chaum needed to fill a gap in the product he wanted to offer.
At the time of the acquisition, Chaum told us, “Hubble Telemedical started 10 years ago as a concept and has always been about changing the health care paradigm and the way we screen for diabetic eye disease, to make it accessible, efficient, and effective in reducing vision loss and blindness. Being part of a world class health care company like Welch Allyn now creates an opportunity to scale Hubble into an innovative national enterprise to achieve these goals.”
In late March, Welch Allyn announced a breakthrough that makes screening in primary care offices very practical. Here’s that announcement () and the brochure on the new Imager ().
“As you know Hubble was acquired by Welch Allyn last year,” Chaum wrote in his email. “They have rebranded our TRIAD network as the ‘RetinaVue Network’ and are expanding nationally with a new hand-held fundus camera for diabetic retinopathy screening. It was formally launched last week. I thought you would enjoy seeing this. Ken’s and my little company has come a long way.”
We did enjoy seeing it and, yes, the company has gone far, but the kicker was the last sentence: “A great story for UT, ORNL, and tech transfer.”
Yes, it truly is. A key goal in the late 1990s decision that drove UT and Battelle Memorial Institute to join together and bid on the management contract for ORNL was to leverage the research assets of both. We’ve seen many great accomplishments . . . from the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education to numerous Governor’s Chairs and Joint Institutes. But there’s also Hubble and the spotlight it shines on collaborative research that produces new companies.