On December 1, Y Science hosted a Health Pitching Competition for early-stage startups and pre-startups. Today we had the opportunity to interview Lukasz Surazynski and Maria Lavonen from Auroptic Medical, the startup who won the 5,000€ prize. Below you can find out more about the story of this startup, while here you can watch Lukasz’s pitch at Y Science.
Lukasz and Maria, could you tell us the story of Auroptic Medical?
Lukasz: Auroptic Medical is a startup originating from a collaboration between Oulu University, Oulu University Hospital, and Aalto University, and focused on developing smart biopsy needles to ensure that biopsies are conducted 100% safely and correctly. Everything started when my supervisor, Teemu Myllylä, invited Miika Nieminen, Markus Mäkinen, and Heikki Nieminen to visit the lab premises of the Optoelectronics and Measurement Techniques Laboratory at the University of Oulu. After a casual chat, we realized that the way biopsies are performed is obsolete and quite inaccurate, and our combined expertise (including spectroscopy, medical physics, pathology, radiology, and ultrasound technology) put us in a great position to work on a solution to improve this technology to study diseases like cancer. The following week I received the first samples and I started working on developing the proof-of-concept for a smart biopsy needle, which we then tested first on small animals, then bigger ones and now we are patenting the needle for use in human samples.
What are your roles at Auroptic Medical and what do they entail?
Lukasz: Auroptic Medical is currently composed of six people and I am the CTO of our startup. I have a MEng degree in Electronics and Telecommunication, a second MSc degree in Biomedical Engineering, and also some programming experience, which give me the right background to develop the optical sensor for the needle.
Maria: I am the CEO of Auroptic Medical. In 2020, after ending my work as CEO of Vivago (another medical device company), I joined the Auroptic Medical team and started developing the business side of the project. As background, I have a MSc degree in Engineering Physics and a second MSc in Business Strategy from Helsinki University of Technology (the current Aalto University), as well as 15 years of experience in commercializing medical devices.
The company was founded in 2021. How has the corona pandemic affected your work?
Maria: I applied for the business developer position right before the beginning of the corona pandemic, so the whole hiring process and the work afterwards were mainly online, which was quite convenient since I am based in Helsinki but most of the team is based in Oulu. Of course, when only having virtual interactions, getting to know the team and building thrust was a bit different compared to my previous experiences, but I think we managed quite well.
Lukasz, you are working at Auroptic Medical while also pursuing your PhD. How is it to combine the research and business worlds, and where do you see yourself working in the future?
Lukasz: At the moment, I am sharing my time between my PhD and Auroptic Medical. I like that the topic of my PhD has a concrete application, and once I complete my doctoral studies I think I will probably move to industry because I would like to continue to solve problems with a direct user need. I really believe in what we are doing at Auroptic Medical, so I would like to continue at this company at least in the near future.
As one of the finalists of the Health Pitching Competition, how was your experience at Y Science?
Lukasz: Receiving speaker coaching really helped us prepare the pitch. This guidance was instrumental in building the story and also creating the visuals for the pitch deck, and the feedback of people coming from a different field helped us identify our blindspots (for instance things that were trivial for us but weren’t necessarily trivial for the audience). The jurors were also very competent and provided very useful comments on our project, and I learned a lot from the other finalists as well since the atmosphere was very friendly. Y Science brought us good visibility on stage and we managed to have good discussions with other attendees throughout the event.
Maria: Yes, the event was very professionally organized, and it really helped to raise the interest towards life science innovation during Slush. This event also attracts many investors, which is a big help for the startups on stage looking for funding, so I hope Y Science will continue to take place in the coming years.
What is in store for Auroptic Medical in the near future?
Lukasz: From the technical side, we have now proved that our smart needle works and that it doesn’t require any additional training compared to regular biopsy needles. What we will be working on in the future is mainly improving the software, so we might be looking to hire one or two software developers. And, of course, we will also be exploring other interesting applications for our technology.
Maria: From the business side, we are planning the next level of development of the company within the next six months, which means that we will expand the core team and we will of course be looking for investors to help us take the company further. We are also finalizing the commercialization agreement between the universities involved in the project, and we are evaluating different international companies that could be contracted to manufacture the needle. So this is a very exciting time for the company, and we really believe that our solution will help both clinicians and patients.