Artificial Intelligence

Lightmatter, a startup using light to accelerate artificial intelligence, wins the 2017 MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition


Virtual reality for isolated seniors, a hemorrhage control system integrated into military clothing, and a vaccine that repurposes malicious hacker weapons for good were among finalists’ offerings 

Cambridge, MA, May 18, 2017—Lightmatter, a startup using light to calculate faster and more efficiently than existing artificial intelligence hardware, took home the Robert P. Goldberg $100,000 grand prize Wednesday night after beating out seven teams of finalists during the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition’s Launch Finale held last night on the MIT campus. A panel of judges made up of seasoned entrepreneurs and industry professionals said they chose Lightmatter based on the strength of their technology, business plan, pitch, and team composition. 

To power the next generation of artificial intelligence, say the MIT PhD students behind Lightmatter, a new kind of computing hardware is needed.

“While big datasets and the steady advancement of electronic computing hardware have enabled the artificial intelligence revolution, progress in electronics is slowing as the transistor—the workhorse of modern computers—approaches its fundamental size limit,” says Nicholas Harris, co-inventor of the startup’s optical neural network technology. “At Lightmatter, we're using light to accelerate artificial intelligence. By computing with light, rather than electrical signals, Lightmatter's systems are able to calculate faster and more efficiently than existing artificial intelligence hardware.”

Team members are:

Nick Harris: An EECS PhD candidate and National Science Foundation Fellow studying optical quantum computing and artificial intelligence at MIT.

Yichen Shen: A postdoctoral associate at MIT, he joined the MIT Physics department to study nanophotonics and artificial intelligence. He earned his Ph.D. from MIT in 2016 and is co-inventor of Lightmatter’s optical neural network technology.

Darius Bunandar: Developed software that visualizes night skies that have been distorted by black holes. The blockbuster movie Interstellar recently used this software to create scientifically accurate images. After enrolling in the Physics PhD program at MIT, he joined the quantum photonics lab to investigate artificial intelligence in the context of quantum computation and communication.

Thomas Graham: Currently pursuing his MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management. He previously held business strategy and business development roles at Google and Google X.

“Over the past century, human progress and computational power have been inextricably linked,” says Shen. “Our goal is to power the next generation of computing to build the tools that will move humanity forward.”

Additional awards presented at last night’s finale include the $10,000 Booze Allen Hamilton Data Analytics Prize. The winner, Pipeguard, noted that approximately 20% of all clean water produced around the world leaks from distribution pipes. Their offering is a robot named Daisy that can locate leaks with her innovative skirt sensor while traveling inside the water pipes, accurately locating leaks that are too small for current technology to detect. 

changeWATER, whose next generation portable toilet vaporizes off-line sewage, won the $5K Audience Choice Award. changeWATER is targeting the 2.6 billion people around the world who lack access to safe, dignified sanitation due to a lack of access to power or plumbing.  

The remaining five finalists and their offerings are:

CareMobile Transportation: Fusing a technology platform with a new service model, CareMobile aims to improve Non-Emergency Medical Transportation by leveraging passionate adult care professionals as both drivers and care coordinators, providing empathy-driven, end-to-end assisted-care services.

Legionarius: Hemorrhaging has caused 91% of preventable military fatalities over the past ten years. In response, Legionarius has developed a hemorrhage control system that is integrated into clothing for military and law enforcement professionals. 

NeuroMesh is a managed security and intelligence platform for IoT and Industrial IoT devices. They have created a vaccine for IoT by repurposing malicious hacker weapons for good.

NeuroSleeve has developed a low-cost and automated nerve conduction sleeve for the diagnosis of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The device uses electrical impulses to assess the function of the nerves in the upper limb. 

Rendever: A virtual reality platform to provide cognitive stimulation, socialization and immersive therapeutic experiences to assuage isolation and depression in seniors. 

Jason Jacobs, founder and chairman at RunKeeper in Boston, served as this year’s keynote speaker. He shared the process of how the RunKeeper smartphone app became one of the world's most popular personal fitness programs. He stressed to the audience to choose a problem with deep personal meaning, and how vision should drive one’s capital strategy rather than the other way around.

To date, the MIT $100K has facilitated the birth of more than 160 companies, which have gone on to raise $1.3 billion in venture capital and build $16 billion in market capitalization. More than 30 MIT $100K startups have been acquired by major companies, such as Oracle and Merck. Over 4,600 people are currently employed by MIT $100K companies. Recent IPOs include Akamai (AKAM), net.Genesis (NTG), and C-Bridge Internet Solutions (CBIS). 

Since its debut in 1990 as the MIT $10K Entrepreneurship Competition, it has grown to include three independent contests – Pitch, Accelerate, and Launch – from September through May. Each contest focuses on developing specific founding skills. For each semi-finalist contender, the MIT $100K brings together a network of resources that includes mentorship from venture capitalists, serial entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and attorneys; media exposure; prototyping funds; business plan feedback; and discounted services. Altogether, more than $300K in non-dilutive prize money is awarded to help these new ventures accelerate. 

This year’s gold sponsors were Booz Allen Hamilton, Ernst & Young, Goodwin, Mintz Levin, Prudential, Sanofi, Town Square Trading, WilmerHale and Wolf Greenfield. Silver sponsors were Akamai, AMI, Cydan and SHX. 

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