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October 17, 2019

BROWSE NEWS RESULTS

69 Results | Page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Last | Next
 
StartupExchange
September 30, 2019

MIT Startup Exchange Announces Fall 2019 Additions to STEX25 Accelerator

MIT Startup Exchange is pleased to announce the addition of five companies to its roster of STEX25 startups. New additions to the program include: Cambridge Crops, Lightelligence, Prescient Devices, Profit Isle, and Uncountable.
MIT Startup Exchange is pleased to announce the addition of five companies to its roster of STEX25 startups for its Fall 2019 cohort:

Cambridge Crops (A new kind of protection for all kinds of foods)
Lightelligence (Accelerating AI at the speed of light)
Prescient Devices (Solving the fragmented IoT challenge)
Profit Isle (Uncover hidden profitability with analytics software solutions)
Uncountable (AI Platform for Material Development)

“Our industry partners tell us that MIT Startup Exchange is one of the most effective channels for connecting them with emerging tech startups,” said Executive Director of MIT Corporate Relations Karl Koster. “STEX25 startups exhibit the high-caliber talent and cutting-edge technology that are hallmarks of MIT. Corporate ILP members continue to engage in advanced discussions and multiple partnerships with these startups.”

STEX25 is a startup accelerator run by MIT Startup Exchange featuring 25 "industry-ready" startups. MIT Startup Exchange adds startups to STEX25 on a roughly quarterly basis, from among more than 1,700 MIT-connected startups. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings by the MIT Industrial Liaison Program’s (ILP) industry liaisons. STEX25 companies collaborate with ILP corporate members through targeted Startup Exchange workshops and showcases, exhibits at ILP conferences, and other events tailored towards industry.

“For the startups that participate, STEX25 provides access to the right potential corporate partners, and at the right level, to senior executives who can make yes/no decisions on moving forward with pilots, and customer agreements. Our ability to impact new tech is clear, and is something that we consistently hear from current and past STEX25 participants,” said MIT Startup Exchange Program Director, Marcus Dahllöf.

Jon Garrity, Cofounder & CEO of STEX25 alumni company Tagup, said: “We acquired major new customers and development partners through the many conferences, founder events, and bespoke ILP member presentations Startup Exchange organized for Tagup. ILP and Startup Exchange have provided more high-value introductions than I can count, and we consider ourselves lucky to be part of their ecosystem."

Dahllöf continued: “Regarding our most recent startups, we continue to be impressed by the innovativeness of MIT founders. We expect them to make a significant impact across a number of industries. Their technologies are broadly applicable and have the potential to revolutionize how big companies operate.”



About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.

StartupExchange
August 13, 2019

RightHand Robotics: Automated piece-picking solutions

Lael Odhner is cofounder and CTO of RightHand Robotics, the Somerville-based robotics company streamlining fulfillment and logistics with automation.
“The problem with picking is, at its core, tied to geography,” says Lael Odhner. Odhner is cofounder and CTO of RightHand Robotics, the Somerville-based startup at the forefront of the new e-commerce automation revolution. Modern day fulfillment and distribution centers are massive structures, spanning up to one million square feet. And while there are a multitude of reasons why these centers have found a home in places like rural Ohio and the Chinese countryside, the low cost of real estate in these areas sits high on top of that list. If you’re looking to save money building a warehouse the size of multiple football fields, choosing a location where real estate is cheap would seem to make sense.

However, staffing these new mega-warehouses is proving difficult. According to Odhner, it’s very much a case of demand outstripping the supply of labor in sparsely populated areas (or even densely populated urban areas, as Amazon’s recent trend of erecting specialty fulfillment centers in city centers proves). “One of the great dilemmas for retailers running fulfillment centers is that they have work that people would rather do, and they have work that is still necessary despite the fact that no one wants to do it,” says Odhner. Very often, that work is unskilled labor like picking and placing.


Lael Odhner
Cofounder & CTO,
RightHand Robotics

E-commerce is expected to be the largest global retail channel by 2021. Chinese e-commerce sales hit $354 billion in 2016, accounting for 17 percent of total retail sales in the country. Meanwhile, by 2020, e-commerce sales are projected to surpass $600 billion in the US, and are expected to account for 16 percent of total retail sales in North America.

The geography problem, combined with double-digit, if uneven, industry growth rates, is resulting in significant pressure on digital retailers to keep their fulfillment centers staffed so products get to consumers on time. “One of the ways retailers can reduce turnover among employees is by automating hard-to-fill positions,” says Odhner. “That’s really where we’re starting, basic pick-and-place tasks. We believe that robotic picking offers a solution that has the potential to make everybody happier.”

Odhner earned his SB, SM, and ScD in robotics and mechanical engineering from MIT. “I came to MIT back in 1999, and I stayed as long as I could. I loved it,” he says. At the Institute, he developed a fascination with the human hand. Specifically, he became interested in “how to produce artificial muscles dense enough to articulate something as complicated as the human hand,” with its 27 independently moving bones.

After graduation, Odhner spent five years at Yale University, working with future RightHand co-founders Leif Jentoft and Yaro Tenzer to develop high-performance, low-cost robot hands for DARPA. Despite exceeding DARPA expectations, Odhner, Jentoft, and Tenzer were interested in pursuing other avenues for their new-found technological breakthrough. “We realized pretty quickly that the real applications for our technology were not military in nature,” he says. In 2012, the team entered their robotic grasping technology in the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, making it to the semifinals of the products and services division.

That same year, Amazon acquired Kiva Systems and its fleet of robots for $775 million.
Founded in 2003 by industry pioneer and MIT alum Mick Mountz, Kiva Systems’ key innovation involved portable storage units and mobile robots dedicated to moving inventory around fulfillment centers as needed for human pickers and placers. Mountz has been credited with creating the market for robotics in e-commerce—by 2025, the global warehouse robotics market is projected to hit $6 billion—and his sale of Kiva to Amazon left a technology gap in the market while pointing the way for roboticists and internet retailers alike.




Their semifinal berth in the MIT $100K competition caught the attention of several large retailers and robotics companies, as well as piquing the interest of Mick Mountz and former Kiva Systems CTO and MIT alum Pete Wurman. “Mick offered great advice about focusing our efforts on a company dedicated to grasping and manipulating everyday objects in the context of e-commerce order fulfillment,” says Odhner.

Today, Mountz sits on the board of directors for RightHand. “RightHand is picking up where we left off [with Kiva Systems],” says Mountz. “Customers saw products coming directly to operators for picking and packing and would ask: ‘Why don’t you also automate this step with a robotic arm and gripper?’ RightHand has, in fact, developed that solution—mastering the critical performance requirements of real-world distribution center environments.”

2018 saw RightHand close their series B round of investment of $23 million led by Menlo Ventures. GV (formerly Google Ventures) also got in on the act, as did Dream Incubator, Matrix Partners, and Playground Global. “It’s very exciting, says Odhner. “We now have the resources to really scale up this technology. We’ve just announced RightPick2, the second major version of our integrated picking system.”

The system Odhner refers to is a grasping appliance (robot arm) replete with customizable end effectors (including suction and fingers) to grasp and manipulate objects. They’ve also designed a complementary machine vision system capable of imaging containers of arriving goods. This integration of software and hardware provides the end-to-end piece-picking solution the e-commerce industry has been waiting for. “We’re seeing a big competitive advantage due to our ability to handle a wide variety of objects with a single robot,” says Odhner.

RightHand is currently engaged with a number of large US retailers and third-party logistics companies interested in designing the fulfillment centers of the future. They’ve also found traction abroad, for example, with PALTAC CORPORATION, a large Japanese pharmaceutical distributor with extremely precise cosmetic standards for their packages. “We’re looking for customers with the largest volume of retail goods we can find,” says Odhner. “We’re interested in companies trying to tackle their own problems with fulfillment or piece-level distribution. Our goal is to handle and distribute the stuff of the world.”



About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.

StartupExchange
July 24, 2019

DUST Identity: Linking physical objects to digital records—securely

Ophir Gaathon is cofounder and CEO of DUST Identity, the MIT spinoff using synthetic diamond dust to create a state-of-the-art supply chain authentication system.
Efficient supply chain management leads to lower costs, higher security, and a faster production cycle. However, as supply chains grow larger, more digital and more dynamic, they become more vulnerable to piracy, counterfeits, and cyberattacks. Due to the global and modular nature of modern manufacturing, asset owners lack full control of their supply chains. Consider, for example, the recent reports pointing to Supermicro’s motherboards and non-approved part injections by subcontractors.

Led by co-founder and CEO Ophir Gaathon, DUST Identity utilizes engineered nano-diamonds to create an unclonable identity layer on any object. The Diamond Unclonable Security Tag (DUST) ensures that trusted and verifiable components are used, and their provenance tracked across their full lifecycle. DUST Identity officially launched in 2018 with $2.3 million in seed funding. The round was led by Kleiner Perkins, with New Science Ventures, Angular Ventures, and Castle Island Ventures also contributing. “There is a real need for a new technology like ours that will ensure supply chain integrity and build trust,” says Gaathon. “We provide unprecedented visibility in both upstream and downstream operations, right down to the individual components.”


Ophir Gaathon
Cofounder & CTO,
DUST Identity


The DUST solution is composed of three parts. First, is a coating made of engineered nano-diamonds encapsulated in a polymer matrix. As this material lands on the surface of objects it creates a wholly unique, unclonable fingerprint or barcode to which data can be anchored. Next, a scanning device allows for authentication of this diamond DUST fingerprint. Finally, they’ve developed an authenticator application that typically exists on the cloud but can be utilized on-premise. “You can think of DUST as a credit card,” says Gaathon. “The point of sale is the scanning device, and then every transaction is verified by our clearing-house.”

Gaathon and his co-founders, Jonathan Hodges and Dirk Englund, began exploring the properties of diamonds for quantum applications at MIT. They discovered that as they made smaller and smaller synthetic diamonds, the quantum behavior of those diamonds began to couple with the environment. This characteristic allows nano-diamonds to effectively function as sensors. Working with Ed Boyden at the Media Lab, they worked on using these nanoscopic diamonds to measure neural activity. “That was a really exciting time for us, working together at MIT. You can think of a diamond as a way to hold quantum numbers at room temperature, which is really an amazing piece of physics,” says Gaathon.

DARPA liked the approach and decided to fund the work. With DARPA’s direction, the team started to look at the security threats facing supply chains—specifically, how electronic parts can jeopardize defense platforms and critical assets. When Gaathon and his colleagues began to work on supply chain security tools, they recognized that a wide range of security solutions existed on the market, from RFID and holograms to security ink tags and DNA marking. However, in most cases, these alternative technologies provide only batch level security, and they are expensive or hard to authenticate, or simply cannot fit on small form factors. Additionally, these alternative technologies are not scalable or globally distributable, nor do they provide clear tamper evidence.

Another benefit of DUST is that it is extremely durable, safe, and possesses a unique set of properties, such as the nano-diamonds’ quantum defects. In fact, when authenticating a DUST Identity marking, Gaathon and his team are actually examining unique atomic defects inside the diamonds that make up the identity. “There are no other material systems that we know of that possess similar capabilities,” says Gaathon.




DUST provides an unclonable physical identity for any object, regardless of functionality. This object-agnostic approach means Gaathon and DUST have been asked to tag everything from semiconductors and hard drives to rivets and screws. Gaathon cites hardware and electronic manufacturing companies that service multiple markets (e.g., defense, aerospace, medical, and automotive) as particularly attractive partners for the young startup.

But the potential applications don’t end there. Gaathon and DUST Identity view the world through a lens of innovation that examines pain points in various industries. For example, how to associate the value of an object by immutably connecting it to trusted data (e.g., verifying that a piece of art is genuine). Verification of the safety and reliability of objects (e.g., safety of food and pharmaceuticals) presents another set of challenges that DUST can address and have a significant positive impact on. Another use case, and one where DUST is finding the most traction these days, is security. “If you don’t know where your parts are coming from, and they are going into high reliability assets, whether that’s defense platforms, data centers, or critical infrastructure, you introduce tremendous risk to those assets—and those risks are coming from your supply chain,” says Gaathon.

Their partnership with German multinational software corporation SAP is an example of their commitment to maintaining the integrity of both the object being tagged and the data associated with that object. DUST Identity validated the interface between the DUST solution and the open-source Hyperledger Fabric blockchain for SAP customers. By design, blockchains are resistant to data modification because data exists in multiple locations simultaneously. DUST Identity provides the critical physical-digital binding between blockchains and the physical world. This ensures that trust between the two is never compromised. “The ability to interface with blockchains is mission critical for us because we understand that supply chains today migrate into that technology.”

At its core, DUST Identity is an asset-centric supply chain security company interested in bringing value to its partners. “We’re passionate about solving supply chain security problems,” says Gaathon. “We want to work with market leaders that understand supply chain requirements and have the ability to influence how they operate.” At present, the DUST team is engaged with partners across industries and sectors, including several Fortune 500 companies.



About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.

StartupExchange
July 1, 2019

Digital help for behavioral health

CompanionMx combines a mobile app with an AI-based platform to help clinicians help people with mood disorders.
“Mood disorder” is a mild term for a major problem in public health, which includes depression, bipolar disorder and other chronic conditions that worsen someone’s emotional state. These conditions are surprisingly common—for example, each year about 11 million U.S. adults suffer at least one major depressive episode—and the clinical monitoring that helps to avoid such episodes has been surprisingly unchanged for decades.

CompanionMx, an MIT STEX25 company, takes on this problem with Companion™, a mobile app-based service designed to help clinicians make smarter decisions for their mood disorder patients. Using AI-based algorithms built from MIT research, Companion measures and analyzes voice and cell phone metadata to quantify symptoms of mental health. These symptoms are then reported to clinicians.


Subhrangshu Datta
CEO, CompanionMx


Early clinical trials have shown that incorporating Companion into regular care for people with diagnosed mood disorders can make a statistically significant improvement in their care outcomes, says Subhrangshu (Sub) Datta, chief executive officer of CompanionMx. “We’re able to provide the right care at the right time from the right level of care provider for people with these disorders,” he says.

A second-generation spinoff
Companion’s core technology is derived from research on automated conversational analysis carried out at the MIT Media Lab’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, led by Professor Alex (Sandy) Pentland. In 2007 the technology was spun out into Cogito Corp., which has pursued two main opportunities. The first is in assisting agents in customer service and call centers, and the second is in behavioral health with Companion.

Much of the early funding for what became Companion came from the Department of Defense. In a first clinical trial at a Veterans Administration clinic in 2013, a prototype system performed well in monitoring veterans with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The National Institute of Mental Health supported further work with the next-stage Companion product, including a clinical trial at two Boston hospitals in which 73 participants with at least one symptom of PTSD or depression completed a 12-week field trial. Reported in 2017, the trial showed that Companion successfully predicted symptoms of depression and PTSD, and that participants were reasonably comfortable using the app.

When CompanionMx spun out of Cogito to fully commercialize the product in 2018, Datta joined as CEO with a personal mission. After Datta himself experienced an episode of major depressive disorder, he had been surprised and disappointed to see that caregivers were making their ongoing decisions based only on intermittent, qualitative self-reported scoring by patients.

In his career as an executive with medical device business units within large manufacturers, “the healthcare system that I knew is completely driven by data that is continuous, repeatable and reproducible,” Datta says. “I just couldn't believe that system didn’t exist for mood disorders. There's no reason for anybody to have episodes like the one I had. We should be able to manage it early so things don't escalate to that point.”




Details on disorders
Companion passively collects two broad types of data from the user’s cell phone, Datta explains. One is voice; the user is regularly prompted to record a quick “audio diary,” the program does not pull voice data from calls or other communications. The other type is passively collected cell phone metadata: call log, text logs and geolocation.

Next, Companion’s cloud service brings AI-based algorithms to quantify behavior health symptoms. Examining the collected audio diaries, “Companion is not looking at words but at speech patterns, which makes it extremely powerful, difficult to game and language-agnostic,” says Datta. “Similarly in phone metadata, it’s looking for patterns on the frequency, diversity and timing of interactions.”

The system’s proprietary AI driven algorithms convert this data into quantitative measures for four symptoms of behavioral health grounded in standard clinical practice: interest, social isolation, mood and energy level.

This information then is summarized in a dashboard delivered to clinicians (as well as the user). “The dashboard gives greater visibility to the user’s behavioral health symptoms on a continuous, repeatable and reproducible basis, so clinicians can detect worsening of symptoms early and do something about it,” Datta says. In a recent clinical study at a Harvard teaching hospital, clinicians used insights from the Companion dashboard to predict mania up to two weeks in advance—advance notice that could help to avoid hospitalization or worse outcomes.

Companion’s clinical component is designed to fit within a healthcare provider’s current workflow, with a social worker or behavioral health counselor periodically checking the dashboard. The social worker pulls in a psychiatrist at the appropriate time when needed, both ensuring appropriate care and improving resource utilization, Datta says.

Building partnerships for behavioral health
Because Companion acts solely as an advisory service for clinicians, it hasn’t required Food & Drug Administration approval. CompanionMx is now rolling out the service commercially.

In March 2019, CompanionMx was selected for the MIT Startup Exchange’s STEX25, an accelerator for “industry-ready” startups that are ready for significant growth. The company seeks to partner with technology firms, pharmaceutical companies and large organizations with employee wellness programs.

Companion’s ability to provide proactive remote monitoring of behavioral health symptoms has shown significant appeal for technology companies, Datta says. At Veteran Affairs facilities, for instance, “we could help open up a whole set of opportunities to really make a difference to address the scourge of suicide among veterans that's happening today,” Datta says.

His company already is working with one pharmaceutical firm, in a clinical study in which Companion acts as a measurement of efficacy for their firm’s treatment.

Among large employers, “mood disorders are a huge challenge that many are trying to address,” Datta says. “They’re looking for partners who can give them the ability to proactively help individuals who have already been diagnosed.” Organizations must, however, consider the organizational culture and commitment to help individuals with mood disorders, “because there often is stigma around it,” he says.

Over time, CompanionMx plans to expand and sharpen its software tools for addressing anxiety and stress related disorders. The company also wants to tailor Companion for both geriatric patients and adolescents—both populations in which depression is a major problem. “Suicide has become the number-two cause of deaths amongst college students today,” he points out.

Additionally, CompanionMx may provide services for people for whom behavioral health concerns are heightened by comorbid health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. “There are many opportunities on that front where we could make a big difference immediately,” Datta says.

Overall, such behavioral health services fit well in today’s quest for “value-based” healthcare among insurers, providers and government agencies. “There are clear outcome improvement and cost savings opportunities when you bring in true evidence-based care driven by objective measures grounded in a strong clinical foundation,” he emphasizes. “This we firmly believe will help us in our mission to ensure no one has a significant mental health episode ever again.”



About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.

StartupExchange
June 11, 2019

Archiving petabytes in pellets of DNA

CATALOG taps into DNA’s extreme density and robustness to meet the soaring demand for massive data storage and parallel computation.
Forget mere “Big Data.” Around the globe, we are generating data at an incomprehensible rate. By one estimate, we’ll create 160 zettabytes (trillions of gigabytes) annually by 2025. And this tsunami of data is now raising a previously unthinkable challenge.

“That’s a lot more useful data than we will have the ability to store,” says Hyunjun Park, cofounder and chief executive officer of CATALOG, an MIT STEX25 startup company.

CATALOG aims to solve this problem with a novel technology that employs the first known form of information storage on this planet: DNA.


Hyunjun Park
Cofounder & CEO,
CATALOG

In recent years, a number of labs have shown the ability to encode and store digital information in synthetic DNA. As odd as it may seem to use the molecule that captures biology’s genetic code for digital tasks, DNA offers compelling potential advantages. “DNA has incredible information density; you can store about a million times as many bits in the same volume as compared to flash drives or magnetic media such as hard drives and data tape,” Park says. “It’s also got an extremely long shelf life; DNA can last for thousands of years.”

The DNA data storage techniques demonstrated in labs, however, have been extremely slow and expensive compared to current storage technologies. One key bottleneck is the time required to synthesize the data-encoding DNA. CATALOG is bringing a distinctive technical approach to speed this process, readying a demonstration system for commercial service this year.

Based in Boston, CATALOG is looking for partnerships with large organizations who struggle with extreme data archival needs—and perhaps take an interest in even more radical technologies down the road to perform parallel computing in DNA itself.

Combining prefab DNA to encode data
CATALOG began with a connection in the lab of Timothy Lu, MIT associate professor of biological engineering and of electrical engineering and computer science. Park, who trained as a microbiologist and was working as a postdoctoral researcher, began talking with Nathaniel Roquet, who was finishing up a doctorate in biophysics.

Roquet was studying a class of enzymes called recombinases that can recognize and manipulate specific sequences within a longer piece of DNA. “These enzymes offer a way to change the state of a DNA molecule, so if you think about it, it is a way to store arbitrary digital information using those different states of DNA molecules, working in test tubes instead of inside of a cell,” Park says.

In CATALOG’s technology demonstrations, “a computer reads the binary data and generates instructions for our liquid handler to move around our premade short pieces of DNA, and combine them in combinations that represents the ones and zeros that we want to store,” Park says. Another machine then collects the encoded DNA molecules and concentrates them into pellet form. To retrieve the information, the pellets are rehydrated and the DNA molecules are read by a genome sequencer, in a method that is essentially error-free.

By midyear, CATALOG expects to complete a prototype machine that can encode about 125 gigabytes of information into DNA every 24 hours, “at a cost that's about a million times cheaper than what's been possible before with DNA,” Park says. The company will offer storage as a service to organizations interested in examining the technology. It plans another major milestone for a next-generation platform offering 125-terabyte-per-day encoding by 2022, as a fully commercial product.

Formed in 2016, the company has raised $10.5 million in funding to date. It faces competition from very large firms such as Microsoft as well as several other DNA synthesis startups. However, “CATALOG is in a unique position where we're positioned to make this a reality within the next year or two, rather than in five or six years,” Park says.




Partnering for pilots
In January 2019, CATALOG was selected for membership in STEX25, a startup accelerator within the MIT Startup Exchange that includes 25 “industry ready” startups that are prepared for significant growth. “The Startup Exchange has been really valuable for us in getting warm introductions to ILP member corporations that could become partners in the long run,” Park says.

“We’re looking for organizations with lots of data that are interested in long-term partnerships who can pilot our machine with us, to see how this totally new storage medium could fit within their data pipelines,” says Park.

Many companies in industries such as entertainment and petroleum production, and numerous government agencies, are faced with the need to archive gigantic amounts of data. “If you’re a large entity like these, you're already looking for a new solution for data archival,” Park says. The two current options are to maintain an inhouse tape library or to outsource the archive to a cloud provider. Both options are far from perfect, with limitations in storage capacity, high expense and serious concerns about the reliability of data retrieval over the years.

“Our partners will influence how we develop our software layer as well as the technical features in the final product,” Park says. “We want to have as many technical and business conversations with these partners as possible throughout the processes, so that we can build the right product around their needs.”

CATALOG is particularly interested in partners who are also intrigued by the possibility of taking an even more radical step into digital DNA computation. “Eventually, we want to be able to compute directly on data that's stored in DNA,” Park says. “We want to build an active information storage system, rather than something that just keeps data on the shelf forever.”

“Using other DNA molecules or enzymes, we could do highly parallel computation on a massive dataset in a way that isn't really possible with classical computing,” he says. “That could solve a lot of problems in computing that are difficult to solve right now.” This approach also could potentially save on computing costs, because it avoids the need to move data from storage into memory for computing and then back again, which demands a lot of energy.

“Our long-term goal is to bring computation to the data,” Park says. “Organizations that want to explore both DNA-based storage and computation could be an ideal match for us.”



About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.

StartupExchange
May 23, 2019

MIT Startup Exchange announces Spring 2019 additions to its accelerator, STEX25

MIT Startup Exchange is pleased to announce the addition of seven companies to its roster of STEX25 startups. New additions to the program include: Arbor Bio, BlinkAI, Cellino Biotech, Nara Logics, Secure AI Labs, Silverthread, Top Flight Technologies, Via Separations, and Zapata Computing.
MIT Startup Exchange is pleased to announce the addition of nine companies to its roster of STEX25 startups for its Spring 2019 cohort:

Arbor Bio (protein discovery for improving human health and sustainability)
BlinkAI (transformative AI solutions from sensor information)
Cellino Biotech (engineering cell therapies at light speed)
Nara Logics (synaptic intelligence for better decisions)
Secure AI Labs (secure analytics across healthcare)
Silverthread (improving software health)
Top Flight Technologies (hybrid energy power systems)
Via Separations (molecular filtration for industrial processes)
Zapata Computing (software solutions for quantum computing)

“STEX25 startups exhibit the high-caliber talent and cutting-edge technology that are hallmarks of MIT, and feedback from industry partners is that MIT Startup Exchange is one of the most effective filters for emerging tech startups,” said Executive Director of MIT Corporate Relations Karl Koster. “We continue to see strong interest from our corporate ILP members resulting in advanced discussions and multiple partnerships.”

STEX25 is a startup accelerator run by MIT Startup Exchange featuring 25 "industry-ready" startups. MIT Startup Exchange adds startups to STEX25 on a roughly quarterly basis, from among more than 1,700 MIT-connected startups. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings by the MIT Industrial Liaison Program’s (ILP) industry liaisons. STEX25 companies collaborate with ILP corporate members through targeted Startup Exchange workshops and showcases, exhibits at ILP conferences, and other events tailored towards industry.

“The selection process for STEX25 is increasingly competitive. We are fortunate to have strong nominators across MIT; from programs such as the Venture Mentoring Service, as well as from affiliate programs, such as The Engine. That said, more and more nominations are coming from founders of STEX25 graduates/alumni, as they have seen the incredible benefits of our program,” said MIT Startup Exchange Program Director, Marcus Dahllöf.

Dahllöf continued: “In our most recent cohort, we see strong representation of AI and tough tech startups, which might have a long product roadmap ahead. The commonality is a deep passion for solving problems that are hard, and where enterprise customers or partners can play a key role in commercialization. MIT faculty and PhDs continue to be well-represented within these startups.”



About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.

StartupExchange
May 21, 2019

Inkbit: The first 3D printer with eyes and brains

Davide Marini is the CEO of Inkbit Corporation, the MIT spinout that has developed a 3D printer that integrates a proprietary, first-of-its-kind vision system that enables feedback control operation and real-time error correction.
Not far from the banks of the Quabbin Reservoir lies the city of North Adams. It’s a place Inkbit’s CEO Davide Marini often visits during fly-fishing expeditions. It is home to MASS MOCA, housed in a formerly abandoned factory complex that once belonged to Sprague Electric Co. and before that to Arnold Print Works. The repurposed complex is a symbol of cultural and economic revival in this former industrial hub nestled in the Berkshires.

But evidence exists, in the form of abandoned and semi-abandoned brick buildings, of the economic downturn that impacted the area. Perhaps former paper mills and factories muses Davide. In these vestiges of a great manufacturing past, Davide sees the future. “My dream is to build out the factories of the future around Massachusetts,” he says. “We could create on-demand 3D printing factories that anybody could use with no need for upfront costs.” It is perhaps a grandiose dream, he’s the first to admit. But it’s a future you wouldn’t bet against if Davide Marini has decided it is worth pursuing.


Davide Marini
Cofounder & CEO,
Inkbit


Davide obtained his BS in Industrial Engineering from Politecnico of Milan and his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from MIT. While working as a researcher developing nanomaterials for bio-applications, he cofounded Firefly BioWorks, a startup that introduced a new multiplex diagnostic platform based on micro-fabricated particles that are individually encoded. Firefly was acquired by British research tools maker Abcam in 2015.

Not long after selling Firefly, Davide was introduced to MIT Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Wojciech Matusik, who had been working to combine the fields of artificial intelligence and manufacturing. Matusik’s long-term goal is to develop fully automated fabrication systems capable of learning from their mistakes and improving over time. As a first step towards that vision, Prof. Matusik wanted to endow 3D printers with eyes and brains.

Marini and Matusik, now CEO and CTO at Inkbit, and their team developed a 3D printer with an integrated ultra-fast optical tomography scanner that surveys the topography of each layer immediately after deposition, so the printer can correct any discrepancy with the expected geometry. “We have built the first 3D printer with eyes,” says Davide. “It is a qualitative, fundamental change in the way 3D printing operates.”

At the most basic level, Inkbit’s platform is more accurate and reliable than existing 3D printers, and it has the ability to integrate external components, such as electronics, inside 3D printed parts. This is possible because the printer’s vision system allows it to see and print around existing objects. But perhaps the most important aspect of Inkbit’s 3D printer is the enabling power of its vision system beyond pure feedback control. “Once you have a machine with eyes, it is the first step towards having a machine that learns,” says Davide.

Imagine you want to make a product with intricate geometry, such as a microfluidic device for diagnostic applications, using a challenging material that has a tendency to shrink after printing. How do you obtain the desired geometry? Current 3D printers have to be meticulously calibrated, and even then, the manufactured parts often do not match the input models. Inkbit’s integrated vision system, on the other hand, volumetrically scans the product as it is being printed. These data are used to train a machine learning algorithm that incorporates material-specific behavior, such as shrinkage or warping, into the instructions sent to the printer. This allows accurate and repeatable printing of parts that are faithful to their desired geometry.

Initially supported by DARPA and the National Science Foundation, Inkbit’s first investor-backed round of funding came in December of 2017 from The IMA Group, a multinational company based in Bologna, Italy, that is the world leader in the design and manufacture of automatic machines for the processing and packaging of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and food. The potential for a more sophisticated form of drug packaging for specific drug delivery applications is what drew the attention of the Italian multinational. The IMA Group remains Inkbit’s largest shareholder to date.

Johnson & Johnson is also one of Inkbit’s strategic partners. The company approached Davide and his team with plans for a medical device. The object in question was too complicated for traditional methods of manufacturing due to an intricate geometry and the fact that it needed to be personalized for each individual patient. The team at Johnson & Johnson was impressed by the fact that Inkbit’s integrated vision system provides digital replicas of every object made. The digital twin ensures 100 percent quality control and traceability, a game-changing innovation for devices that undergo the vigorous scrutiny of FDA approval.




Because 3D printing is a broadly applicable technology, Inkbit is developing partnerships with leading companies from a variety of industries, including aerospace and defense, integrated electronics, athletic apparel, and even cosmetics. Their ideal customer falls into two categories: organizations looking to introduce new products that can’t be manufactured by traditional methods and those interested in disrupting the prototyping process.

“With our printer we can go from prototyping to short-run production, and all the way to volume manufacturing, on the same platform,” says Davide. “No other machine on the market today is capable of volume manufacturing of multi-material parts that are ready for end use.”

The traditional model for 3D printing companies is well established. Put simply, sell printers, materials, and software. On the other hand, with Davide at the helm, Inkbit is focused on working with customers to develop and launch new and disruptive products. This business model goes far beyond printing on demand. Inkbit aims to fully exploit the flexibility inherent in 3D printing, from the design stage to prototyping and full production. In collaboration with customers, they have developed novel biocompatible and high-temperature materials and even helped redesign products to maximize the power of additive manufacturing. “We want to offer a complete solution, where a customer can come to us with nothing more than an idea, and we help them iterate by rapid functional prototyping all the way to production,” he says.

Davide sees a trend towards on-demand remote manufacturing and an open-materials model that provides manufacturers the ability to purchase materials from a variety of sources. “I can envision a world where 3D printing capabilities are distributed,” says Davide. “Anybody with an idea will be able to upload a file and start testing a product and even launch it in the market with minimal capital.”

In many ways it’s a return to the world of the artisan. “My dream is to bring personality into high-volume manufacturing. In the future we will no longer think of brands but of the person who has designed the product. 3D printing can place the power of manufacturing into the hands of the individual.” And that dream begins with Inkbit and the innovation ecosystem powered by MIT. “Being a part of STEX25 is a great honor,” says Davide. “MIT has created an amazing community of entrepreneurs, engineers, and visionaries. In many ways it is starting to feel like how I picture Florence at the time of Michelangelo and Brunelleschi. The atmosphere is incredible."



About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.

StartupExchange
April 19, 2019

Distilled Identity: Solving identity problems in financial services with data driven AI

David Shrier is founder and CEO of Distilled Identity, an MIT spinout that aims to improve financial inclusion and tackle widespread structural issues within the financial services industry.
As CEO of Distilled Identity, David Shrier is using machine learning, biometrics, and AI technology to solve some of the biggest problems in the financial services industry. It’s what brought him to the Institute, and it’s what led him to found Distilled Identity in 2017. Specifically, he started the MIT spinout to address the fact that 3.5 billion people around the world currently have limited or no access to the financial system.

Financial inclusion is a key enabler for many of the United Nations Sustainable Development goals and is essential in supporting overall economic growth. In fact, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests adoption of digital finance could promote financial inclusion, benefiting billions of people, and adding $3.7 trillion to emerging economies alone.

But how do you include someone, if you don’t know who they are? Having pinpointed digital identity as essential to unlocking financial inclusion, Shrier and Distilled Identity are using an AI-driven data science called Social Physics to solve structural problems around identity in financial services.


David Shrier
Founder & CEO, Distilled Identity


Invented and developed at MIT by Shrier’s co-founder at Distilled Identity, Professor Alex Pentland, Social Physics is a new way of understanding human behavior based on the analysis of big data. It forms the basis for everything Distilled Identity does, including their core technology, Predictive Identity, which is delivered in a software as a service model. Shrier says, “We’re now able to identify people to create better identity profiles and credit models, help governments identify citizens properly to better deliver services to them, as well as predict what people are going to do with their money, and help financial institutions lend to them with confidence.”

For example, Distilled Identity is looking to use better identity profiles to solve the $330 billion dollar per year false-decline problem that plagues the financial services industry. Here in the US, your credit card works approximately 99 percent of the time. However, once you leave the country, the approval rates for a valid transaction decrease drastically. Shrier cites a country like South Africa, where the approval rate for legitimate customer transactions hovers around 27 percent. Why? Because of an inability to verify identity.

“We’ve had conversations with the leading credit card networks in the world and they, like we, think false decline is a major problem. It’s important for driving payments and inclusion, and it’s important for helping prosperity in emerging economies as well as helping the economy in developed markets.” Distilled Identity believe they can take card-not-present false declines from 12 percent to near zero percent in developed markets and from as much as 73 percent to near zero percent in emerging markets. And major credit card companies agree. In fact, some of the largest credit card companies and financial institutions around the world are turning to Shrier and his team for solutions to their structural financial services problems around identity.

“We want to be the operating system of identity, credit, fraud and financial services globally,” says Shrier. “That is what success looks like for us.” At present they are in final negotiations with a top-two credit card network, with a $120 billion insurance company, and are looking to partner with governments interested in incorporating their analytics into their electronic identity systems and financial institutions with $5 million to $50 million assets under management.

Shrier refers to what they do as Biometrics 3.0. If Biometrics 1.0 is a fingerprint or facial scan, and Biometrics 2.0 is basic behavioral recognition, Biometrics 3.0 is a much more complex system. “Biometrics 3.0 is a combination of techniques that includes behavioral, physiological, geospatial temporal analysis, and other biometrics in an adaptive Bayesnet. It’s a very complex artificial intelligence system where the different models of behavior talk to each other.”

With a more robust, stronger identity, Distilled Identity builds apps on their platform, including a predictive credit app that is 30 percent to 50 percent more accurate than existing credit scores obtained from traditional consumer credit reporting agencies. They’ve also built fraud prediction apps that identify where fraud is happening today as well as predicting where fraud might happen three months into the future.

A glance at the Distilled Identity founding team bio page reads like a who’s who of heavy hitters specializing in FinTech, big data, and quantitative analytics. The experience housed under one roof is formidable.




Aside from developing a new social science and being a serial entrepreneur, co-founder Alex Pentland is the founding faculty director of the MIT Connection Science Research Initiative. He is also a global thought leader on big data, AI, and digital privacy who currently advises AT&T and the UN Secretary General. Forbes has called him one of the “seven most powerful data scientists in the world.”

Co-founder Alex Lipton was Managing Director of Bank of America Merrill Lynch for 10 years, and is widely regarded as the foremost authority on quantitative analytics. He is a Connection Science Fellow at MIT Media Lab and Visiting Professor of Financial Engineering at EPFL.

For his part, Shrier has developed $8.5 billion of growth opportunities with C-suite executives for Dun & Bradstreet, Wolters Kluwer, Ernst & Young, GE, The Walt Disney Company, AOL Verizon, and Starwood, as well as private equity and VC funds. He councils the government of Dubai on blockchain activity and established the world’s first FinTech and blockchain programs at MIT and Oxford.

Now that Distilled Identity has been named a STEX25 industry-ready startup, Shrier takes a moment to reflect on the importance of a program like ILP: “As a lecturing and Managing Director at MIT, ILP was a tremendous collaborator, getting some of our best ideas into the hands of member companies. And It’s a fantastic resource for global 1,000 companies looking for the great innovation of the future. Now, as the CEO of a STEX25 company, I’m thrilled to have ILP as a partner to help navigate the dialogue with those large, complex organizations.”



About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.

StartupExchange
March 26, 2019

Procter & Gamble-Nara Logics partnership leads to breakthrough for Olay Skincare


Jana Eggers
CEO
Nara Logics

When Procter & Gamble (P&G) wanted to innovate in a crowded market, they turned to a nimble tech startup in the MIT ecosystem: Nara Logics. The result was an Edison Award for Innovation and a Constellation Group Supernova Award for Digital Transformation. The collaboration also led to a doubling of Olay’s ecommerce conversion rates, and gave the brand a platform to engage millennial consumers. Importantly, it helped reduce a key pain point for skincare shoppers—confusion at the shelf—by helping them choose products tailored to their individual needs.

In 2015, P&G was seeking fresh ways to develop its latest product in a skincare market dominated by increasingly tech-savvy customers expecting ever-greater levels of personalization in their shopping experiences.

“We went looking for the best and the brightest,” says Damon Frost, P&G Beauty Chief Information Officer (CIO). “We needed a team capable of truly complementing Olay Skin Advisor with a state-of-the-art recommendation engine.” The decision to engage the services of Nara Logics would prove fortuitous in P&G’s quest to harness the potential of data-driven marketing powered by cutting-edge artificial intelligence.

“You’ve probably heard that AI is a black box,” says Nara Logics CEO Jana Eggers. “Well, ours isn’t. This is one cutting-edge aspect of our technology.” Eggers refers to this as providing “The Why’s” or the reasons behind the recommendations. Nara Logics’ Synaptic Intelligence Platform, inspired by recent research in biological neural networks, quickly merges disparate, siloed data to provide recommendations for decisions that are easy to understand for enterprise and consumer alike.

In fact, this ability to provide “The Why’s” was noted time and again by P&G customers during the pre-launch testing phase as an essential aspect to their appreciation for Olay Skin Advisor. On the strength of a 90 percent approval rate for recommendations and products, it was no surprise that P&G moved from proof of concept to a worldwide launch in such a short period of time.

“P&G is really well known for their consumer testing, so to have them validate our platform’s ability to provide hyper-personalization, and then see such a successful global rollout—that’s big for us,” says Eggers. To date, Olay Skin Advisor is available in countries throughout Asia, Europe, and North America and has amassed over 5 million visits from women around the world.

While Nara Logics’ AI platform is supporting Olay Skin Advisor around the world, Eggers insists that maintaining offices in Cambridge, MA and being members of the MIT innovation ecosystem is an important aspect of how Nara Logics operates. “We’re proud to be affiliated with MIT Startup Exchange and the MIT innovation community in general. Our exposure to Fortune 500 companies through the Startup Exchange has been extremely beneficial.”

“If you’re invited to be one of the companies that gives a presentation to industry members of the MIT Industrial Liaison Program [ILP], it’s always a relevant conversation. ILP programs and events are high quality and productive for us,” says Eggers.

For their part, ILP member P&G sought out a recommendation engine and emerged with a groundbreaking partnership. “After a global search to identify a company leading in their field and a perfect match for this project, it’s no surprise that we wound up partnering with a startup in the MIT innovation pipeline,” says Kevin McCarthy, P&G Associate Director, Global Business Development/Startup Innovation.

Now that P&G and Nara Logics have teamed up to bring the world the first successful application of AI to skincare personalization, they’re expanding on their partnership, initiating new innovation projects together, which means that other personalization platforms like Olay Labs and Gillette’s Shave Advisor are benefitting from the Nara Logics platform.


About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.

StartupExchange
February 28, 2019

iQ3Connect: Virtual reality at every engineer’s fingertips

Cloud service and inexpensive headsets bring VR to the desktop for everyday work and global collaborations.
For engineers working on immensely complex projects such as jet engines or cars, the potential payoffs of virtual reality (VR) are strikingly obvious. VR workspaces have been employed for many years to allow engineering teams explore and troubleshoot their creations along with other key experts in their organizations or partner firms.

To date, this approach has required physically gathering all these professionals in extremely expensive and difficult-to-operate VR rooms. But IQ3Connect, an MIT Startup Exchange STEX25 company, now offers a desktop alternative.


Ali Merchant
President & CEO, iQ3Connect


“Our technology powers a high-performance immersive 3D workspace that companies can use for product engineering and training,” says Ali Merchant, co-founder and CEO of the Woburn, Mass. firm. “Instead of using a 2D collaboration tool like PowerPoint or WebEx, you can simply enter a 3D space along with other members of your global team, with the click of a button, without leaving your desktop.”

The IQ3Connect platform is delivered via private or public cloud and is designed to work on any engineering-strength desktop and VR headset. “Going forward, these collaborative VR workspaces will come to every engineer’s desktop,” Merchant predicts.

Sharing the engineering workspace
Merchant earned his doctorate in aeronautical and aerospace engineering at MIT, where his research focused on designing and analyzing complex turbomachinery components used in aircraft engines.

“About two years ago when low-cost cost virtual reality devices like the Oculus Rift started coming on the market, we saw an opportunity to take that technology platform, developed at MIT over 10-plus years of research, and use it as a foundation to build the IQ3 collaboration platform,” he says.

Working with Yunus Shah, who has held leadership roles at the well-established simulation software firm ANSYS, Merchant focused his startup on the goal of allowing engineers at their desktops to engage via VR with their exact 3D designs.

One dramatic benefit of the VR environment is the ability to understand designs at the same scale seen in the real world. “For example, if you look at an engine on your laptop screen you really can't tell how big it is,” he says. “But in a VR system you can see it at its actual scale. You can actually walk into the nacelle of an engine and then go in between the blades and understand the complexity in a way that is not possible on any 2D screen. That capability completely transforms the way engineers can work and collaborate.”

IQ3 brings this environment to teams; colleagues invited from anywhere on the globe can enter a VR meeting just as they would a normal web conference. “I can work directly on the 3D geometry and engage with my team members, identify problems, make changes to the design, mark it up and essentially complete a design review,” Merchant says. “I can do that much more efficiently and quickly in a VR space, and reduce the number of errors that might occur with conventional 2D tools.”

“Everyone can freely look at the 3D geometry and be completely free to move around in the 3D space, just like you would if you were in a physical factory floor walking around a product,” he adds. “You can work in parallel in this 3D space and then bring everybody together in a meeting. It's a much more productive environment.”

Extending the virtual team
Engineering collaborations can grow as needed in this shared VR space, Merchant emphasizes.

“Typically in a larger product design project, a cross-functional team has to validate the initial prototype design and raise aspects of that design, all the way from the way the parts fit together to how they can be accessed and how they can be manufactured,” he says. “All these questions have to be answered by different teams.”

The IQ3 platform can bring all these teams together in an immersive real-time 3D environment, so that they can work much more efficiently and quickly to resolve problems. “If you can improve the quality of your engineering and solve these problems early in the design process, you can save a lot of time and money,” Merchant points out.

These extended teams can reach well outside the organization itself, incorporating critical suppliers as well. “If communication barriers with suppliers can be reduced, then there's a huge cost savings on both sides,” he says.




Easing adoption
Bringing transformative tools such as VR into an organization is always a challenge, and IQ3 aims to ease the transformation in several ways.

One major ingredient is to deliver high-performance software that works agnostically with hardware and software that is standard in the engineering world.

“We can work with almost any hardware that's out there, so you can use a mix of devices that best suits your company's requirements,” he says. Even engineers who lack VR equipment altogether can still participate in the IQ3 workspace via browser.

Adhering to the latest web standards for delivering VR “gives us a huge advantage over other VR software,” he says. “Working through a browser gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of how IQ3 can be used within an organization. And if you need to bring your customers or suppliers into an IQ3 meeting, all they need is a browser and a headset, and our software does not require any installation.”

The IQ3 platform software also enforces security for the critical engineering data sets brought into the VR sessions, which remain stored in the cloud.

Perhaps most importantly, the company focuses on providing bottom-line benefits for customers. “In our initial meetings with companies, people got very excited,” Merchant recalls. “There was an initial Wow factor, which died off. Then the questions were, what’s the business case and where’s the return on investment?”

“We’ve been fortunate to develop relationships with customers, really understand their business needs and problems, and shape our technology to actually solve those engineering problems,” he says.

In one automotive company, for instance, the previous use of physical prototypes to assess certain problems with parts sometimes resulted in costly errors. “They were able to use IQ3 to solve such problems upfront before they commit to manufacturing, and they're able to do this in a collaborative space,” he says. “They can bring the relevant engineers or even their suppliers and their customers to engage to solve the problem.”

IQ3 is also finding applications in very different engineering fields. One is biomedical engineering, where drug developers can use VR to “walk around” biological molecules. Another is in offshore petroleum. The company has a partnership with 3D at Depth, which uses lidar (surveying based on laser pulses) to map out undersea oil drilling structures. 3D at Depth’s customers can use the IQ3 platform to collaboratively assess the condition of their undersea equipment, which would be a daunting task without combining 3D lidar data with VR, Merchant says.

Sometimes, IQ3 also addresses another type of business need that has nothing immediate to do with product engineering: business data visualization, tapping into the vast data sets organizations are collecting on sales or other lifeblood operating information.

“A large 3D canvas is the best way to visualize these large corporate data sets,” he says. “We can bring the data sets into iQ3 and let participants analyze the data freely in our 3D space.”



About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.

StartupExchange
February 14, 2019

BMF Material Technology, Inc.: 3D precision manufacturing

Nicholas Fang is cofounder and Chief Scientist of BMF Material Technology Inc., a startup focused on the design, development, and production of Microscale 3D printing systems and manufacturing of miniature precision components for industrial applications.
Guided by co-founder and Chief Scientist Nick Fang, BMF Material is poised to revolutionize the 3D printing industry. In 2016, Fang was prototyping ideas at the MIT Nano Optoelectronics & 3D Nano Production Technology Laboratory, which he founded and directs. The idea was to produce high-precision plastic miniature components with a shorter turn-around time and at a lower cost than traditional methods. It was a visit to his lab from Dr. Xiaoning He, now BMF’s CEO, that allowed Fang to recognize the true potential for his technology to become a commercially viable solution capable of disrupting an entire industry. “Dr. He suggested that there are myriad precision use cases for nano/micro 3D printing, including cardiac stents, endoscope lenses, and specific electrical connectors,” says Fang.


Nicholas Fang
Cofounder & Chief Scientist,
BMF Material Technology


Complex, microscopic devices are all around us, in cell phones, cameras, and medical equipment. These structures, including micro adaptors, miniscule connectors, and tiny springs, are essential components for tools used across a variety of industries. For example, there is tremendous demand for complex 3D micro/nano structures in areas that include precision optics, biomedicine, tissue engineering, new energy, HD display, microfluidic components, micro/nano optical components, micro/nano sensors, micro/nano electronics, bio-chips, and optoelectronics.

However, production of these high-precision components can be time consuming and expensive, resulting in significant bottlenecks from prototype to production. At present, CNC machining and micromolding are the standard manufacturing processes. CNC machining is a process whereby pre-programmed computer software dictates the movement of factory tools and machinery. Micromolding entails building a cavity to match the shape of the part required.
Once a prototype is established, injection molding is used to replicate the structure. These methods cost approximately ten thousand dollars per mold with a lead time of up to eight weeks, which is why BMF Materials represents such an attractive prospect to OEM manufacturers.

Fang and his team have entered the manufacturing arena printing plastic parts more rapidly and in a more cost-effective manner than either CNC machining or micromolding. What’s more, BMF’s methods are more effective than traditional stereolithography (SLA), which is widely considered to be the gold standard of 3D printing. Using their nanoArch series printers, BMF Technology Inc., produces plastic parts with 3D micron tolerances that are ten times more accurate and many times faster than conventional 3D SLA processes.

Their printers are the first commercialized high-resolution, multi-material 3D micro-fabrication equipment based on Projection Micro Litho Stereo Exposure (PuLSE) technology, which yields miniature components of exceedingly high resolution and high tolerance, far beyond the scope of traditional or low-resolution 3D printers. All of this thanks to their advanced optical engine design and precision process control.

The optical industry is one area that is in constant need of high-precision, personalized solutions that BMF is capable of meeting. Fang cites eyeglasses, contact lenses, and surgical tools as examples of devices containing complex geometries and engineering-specific materials. As a result, BMF have teamed up with the largest ophthalmic hospital in China, Beijing Tongren Hospital, to produce low-cost personalized contact lenses. Despite the fact that no two human eyes are the same, traditional lenses are made in mass quantities from factory-molded, semi-finished blanks. The advent of personalized free form lenses as designed by BMF and Beijing Tongren could improve the vision of eyeglass wearers while significantly impacting the optical lens industry.

Though still an early stage company, BMF’s innovative technology has received considerable support from interested parties. Shortly after spinning out of MIT in 2016, they received an angel round of investment of RMB 27 million from Green Pine Capital Partners and Mia Capital Partners. In 2017, Shenzhen Capital Group led the series A round investment of RMB 60 million. 2017 also saw BMF receive the 11th Zero2IPO Ventures 50 Awards New Seed award, and they were lauded as “Annual Innovation Company” in the 2017 Shenzhen Innovation List.




“We’re currently focused on industrial areas that require fast, high-value design and product adaptation,” says Fang. Most recently, Johnson & Johnson placed an order for BMF’s nanoArch 3D high-resolution printing system. In addition, BMF’s tech helps power Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, Abu Dhabi, UAE, and National Laboratory of Solid State Microstructures, Nanjing University. They have also developed strategic partnerships with well- regarded Chinese companies like SonoScape and Goertek.

“We believe precision additive manufacturing is capable of addressing some key geometrical and material challenges faced by subtractive machining,” says Fang. “In the future, we expect that micro and nano 3D printing will solve the problems surrounding the evaluation of early stage products and the validation of designs that require precision internal geometries, complex interconnected channels, as well as side openings.”

Fang notes his relationship with MIT ILP as unique and beneficial to the work he does both in and out of the lab. “When I was a researcher, I was very grateful ILP provided a platform for me to interact with industry from different domains and sectors. Now, as a member of STEX25, I recognize the value of a partner like ILP from a different perspective, as a program that can broker high-value introductions to industry members.”

At present, the MIT spinout intent on breaking the bottleneck in high-precision nano 3D printing has offices in Boston, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen. The team also has more than 20 years of scientific research and engineering experience behind them, not to mention a peerless R&D group, including Senior Scientist and MIT Department of Engineering lecturer Dr. William Plummer. “In the near future, with our focus on high-resolution and high-precision additive manufacturing tools and services, together with our industry partners, we aim to overcome the current challenges of producing complex components such as fiber optical connectors and adapters for medical surgical tools with micron tolerances.”



About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.

StartupExchange
February 1, 2019

ClimaCell: Doing weather differently—from observation to forecasting with virtual sensors

Rei Goffer is co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of ClimaCell, the MIT-connected startup using a software-based approach to accurately predict the weather on a global scale.
Traditional weather forecasts are generated by dedicated sensors including satellites, weather stations, and radar. Aside from being expensive to deploy, these standard approaches come with significant blind spots. Satellites can’t detect weather under cloud cover, radar miss ground-level weather, and weather stations only cover small areas—all of which leads to massive gaps in public weather data—the same information used by every weather company. And while radar has improved in the last 50 years, there are no new instruments, and no new layers of data—until now.

ClimaCell tackles the age-old issues surrounding weather forecasting from a unique perspective. “Rather than deploying more sensors, which would cost billions of dollars, we repurpose existing technologies to generate weather data,” says Rei Goffer, co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of ClimaCell. “Our DNA is different from other weather companies,” he says. “We aren’t strictly a group of meteorologists looking for incremental change. We’re interested in disrupting the entire forecasting chain at every point.”


Rei Goffer
Cofounder & Chief Strategy Officer,
Climacell


This end-to-end disruption begins with the fact that ClimaCell is the only weather company using software-based sensing. “We have millions of sensing points that no one else has,” says Goffer. Their software-based approach allows them to observe the environment in a more complete manner, which means they can generate more robust, accurate data, which in turn leads to pinpoint-accurate weather predictions at a micro level in real time. “We can literally predict and deliver real-time forecasts that differentiate the weather on one street to the next,” says Goffer.

They do this by partnering with wireless and cable companies, tapping into millions of wireless signals and satellite networks that are weather sensitive in order to extract data from them. They also use millions of other weather sensors, including IOT devices, to deliver information missed by traditional weather sources. By combining data gathered from over 500 million new sensing points with data from 12,000 traditional sensing points, Goffer and his team have created the most powerful weather engine the world has ever seen. Their proprietary weather models then translate these stores of new data into the most accurate weather forecasts available.

Being the only company in the world using a software-based approach to the weather means a better understanding of what is going on in real time, better modeling, and better products. It also means ClimaCell has had no shortage of interest across a variety of industries. To date, they can count JetBlue, Ford Smart Mobility, and National Grid as investors and partners. “In addition to our unique approach to the weather, our partnerships are what make us special,” says Goffer. We have very strong partners working with us to develop solutions to their industry problems with the intention of taking those solutions to market.”

While the developed world suffers from gaps in weather data, the developing world is almost completely devoid of traditional weather sensors. “Places like India, Brazil, Africa, and Southeast Asia are lagging decades behind what we see here in the US or Western Europe in terms of weather sensors,” says Goffer.

The agriculture industry in particular feels the impact of this disparity. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 60 percent of the world’s population depends on agriculture for survival, with the majority of those people located in the developing world. As reported by World Bank, growth in the agriculture sector is two to four times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest compared to other sectors.

ClimaCell intends to have a major impact on agriculture-driven economic growth, food security, and poverty reduction. “The ability to bring cutting-edge water forecasts into developing places, providing emergency alerts, bringing better flood predictions, better data to farmers. This is what keeps us excited.”




Goffer points out that ClimaCell’s technology will play a significant role in improving uptake of crop insurance in developing countries. In most developed countries, close to 100% of farmers are covered by crop insurance, meaning that if a US farmer’s wheat crop is destroyed due to the weather, the farmer won’t lose their livelihood. In the developing world, uptake of crop insurance hovers around 15 percent, in large part due to a lack of historical weather data. “Providing crop insurance in the developing world is very complicated. Insurance is always based on data; the more you know about the history of the weather, the history of crops, what is actually happening in real time, the lower the premiums and the more farmers you attract.”

However, in the agriculture-reliant developing world, insurance companies offer crop insurance at unaffordable rates, if they offer it at all. “If you can move from having 1,000 sensing points in a country like India—which is more or less what the government has—to having 100,000 sensing points—which is what we at ClimaCell have—the impact can be tremendous,” says Goffer. This means helping millions of farmers, impacting food security, and opening the door to precision agriculture, among other things.

Goffer and his co-founders struck upon the idea for ClimaCell while completing their MBA’s at MIT Sloan and Harvard Business School. “Being accepted into MIT’s Legatum Fellowship was especially helpful as we looked to launch and scale our fledgling company,” says Goffer. “We received endless support from faculty at Sloan and other departments, and we’re still in very close contact with many of them today.

Two years ago, ClimaCell was three friends with a PowerPoint presentation. Today they are backed by US $70 million in Post-Series B funding, with a team of 100 people who are experts in their fields. “Today we’re working on partnerships with some of the largest companies in the world: in the tech space, in energy, and mobility as well, not to mention some big governmental institutions. That’s our way forward, that’s our path to growth and scalability,” says Goffer.

As a select member of STEX25, Goffer understands what it means to be industry ready. “We’ve been serving customers since day one,” he says. “Having greater access to ILP industry members is hugely important for us. I look at the list of companies engaged with MIT and it’s fair to say that ClimaCell can have a tremendous impact on all of these companies, all of these industries. After all, the weather touches everything.”



About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.