Every time you or a loved one goes under the knife, there is a two percent chance the surgeon will accidentally cut a blood vessel. While this may seem like a small number, according to Briteseed co-founder Paul Fehrenbacher, over 20% of these patients die.

Numbers like these inspired Northwestern graduate students Paul Fehrenbacher, Muneeb Bokhari, Jonathan Gunn and Mayank Vijayvergia to found Chicago-based startup Briteseed. Their product, SafeSnips, aims to prevent accidental blood vessel snips during surgery by using infrared technology, and so far they have been wildly successful.

After winning the Techweek LAUNCH this past June, the young company rode a wave of hype, picking up the grand prize on July 18 in a medical startup competition sponsored by the New York Healtcare Innovation Group, garnering invites to Techweek LA 2012, and becoming the first graduate student-founded startup company from Northwestern to be invited to join Chicago Innovation Mentors, an exclusive, healthcare sector mentoring group. According to Fehrenbacher, since their success, VC firms and angel investors from across the country have been knocking on their door, keen to invest in SafeSnips. So what is SafeSnips, and how does it work?

How It Works

Currently a patent-pending technology, SafeSnips detects blood vessels during surgery to prevent accidental bleeding leading to patient death. It consists of a blood vessel detector built upon near-infrared-technology. How do near-infrared rays come into play? The key lies in hemoglobin, an iron-containing and oxygen-transporting protein in our red blood cells. Incidentally, according to Fehrenbacher, “this hemoglobin absorbs near-infrared rays more than surrounding tissue. Using a novel algorithm, this absorption difference can be used to provide surgeons with the location of blood vessels while using surgical cutting instruments.”

And because hemoglobin flows freely throughout the blood vessel, detecting its presence allows for diameter and orientation measurements of the blood vessels, too, as well as how fast the blood flows. According to the SafeSnips website, the detection system is fully automatic and continous, thus adding to the surgeon’s (and patient’s) peace of mind.

Students…and Entrepreneurs

It’s hard enough going for your JD, MD, or pursuing engineering school. Indeed, graduate school in and of itself is a full-time job. Launching a Medtech startup alongside their studies has taught the young co-founders the importance of time management, dedication, and most importantly, perseverance. “Do not get discouraged and be perseverant,” is Fehrenbacher’s message to struggling entrepreneurs, “I am a firm believer that ‘I will’ is more important than ‘IQ’.”

Fehrenbacher likens his startup’s journey to surfing the high tides. “Like surfing, starting a company requires focus, agility, and having a destination in mind,” he says. “Equally important is having fun despite the long hours and inevitable frustrations.”

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