Brightlamp-Heims Krannert alumnus and Brightlamp CFO Michael Heims joins with other Purdue grads to introduce apps that measure sobriety and detect concussions. (Photo by Rebecca Wilcox)

Just Getting Started

Recent alumni master the business of innovation

Entrepreneurship and Purdue University’s School of Management have a shared history that dates back more than half a century.

The school’s namesake, Herman C. Krannert, became an entrepreneur after a Chicago streetcar accident took his father’s life. He went on to found Inland Container Corp. and create the endowment that helps propel the Krannert School to this day.

One of the school’s first master’s program graduates, Arnold C. Cooper (MSIA ’57, HDR ’05), earned his PhD from Harvard and returned to Purdue as a Krannert faculty member to pioneer the study and research of entrepreneurship in higher education.

And Purdue’s Burton D. Morgan Business Model Competition — introduced through the Krannert School as one of the nation’s first business plan competitions more than 30 years ago — continues to create opportunities for students who seek to bring their ideas and innovations into the marketplace.

Today, countless alumni bolster the tradition, including a new generation of entrepreneurs whose collective vision is helping make — and commercialize — what moves the world forward. Here, we introduce you to four young companies with ties to Purdue and big plans for the future.

An Eye for Innovation

Brightlamp LLC, a computational medicine company that produces consumer ready software for medical diagnostics, is led by a group of enterprising Boilermaker alumni from multiple disciplines, including Michael Heims, the self-described “business guy” that every startup needs to reach a profitable bottom line.

Heims, who earned dual bachelor degrees in finance and general management from the Krannert School in 2016 and serves as chief financial officer, is flanked by longtime friends.

The idea for the company originated with Kurtis Sluss, who received a pair of bachelor degrees in chemical engineering and chemistry from Purdue in 2016 and serves as chief executive officer. Jonathan Holt, who earned his BS degree in electrical and electronics engineering from Purdue in 2017, also lends support.

The trio first met as resident assistants at Tarkington Hall. While Heims earned his chops in Purdue’s Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation program, Sluss and Holt cofounded Brightlamp after participating in Greater Lafayette (Indiana) Startup Weekend 2015, an annual event hosted by MatchBOX Coworking Studio that brings together entrepreneurs to work on new startups.

Heims joined the company in 2016 while working full-time at Eli Lilly and Company as a financial analyst, a position he left in January 2018 to devote his efforts to bringing Brightlamp’s technology to the market.

“I’m in charge of everything from revenue valuations to financial modeling, but my current focus is on investor relations and securing additional funding,” he says. “We have soft commitments from two private capital firms in Indianapolis, which helps bolster the seed funding we received in 2016 from Purdue.”

That initial investment came in the form of a First-Tier Black Award in the amount of $20,000 from the Elevate Purdue Foundry Fund. Operated jointly by officials from the Purdue Foundry and Elevate Ventures, the fund is used by entrepreneurs to advance their startups and innovations through various commercialization activities including market research, product development and prototype creation. More recently, the company received a Gold Award investment of $80,000 from the Elevate Purdue Foundry Fund as well as $50,000 in funding from Ocean Capital in Cincinnati.

When Brightlamp launched, its first product was an application that detects concussions by measuring a response called "pupillary light reflex," which uses an innovative method that requires only a mobile device with a camera and flash to measure the reaction of the pupil.

Although the patent-pending concussion app is still in development, it’s already led to the creation of Brightlamp’s second product, Tipsee, an alcohol analyzer that allows users to conveniently and rapidly assess their consumption without the hassle of added hardware. Using the rear-facing camera on a cell phone, the app records five seconds of video with flash and uses threshold data to calculate intoxication levels.

“The app essentially uses the same method that we developed to detect concussions, but we learned early on that there are a lot of regulatory challenges to commercializing head trauma technology,” Heims says. “It's expensive and it takes a while to actually generate traction. We created Tipsee to get a product on the market that generates revenue more quickly, which is the kind of traction that investors want to see.”

Brightlamp’s initial market research indicates it’s a product with significant potential. “More than a million people are caught drinking and driving each year, and the number one thing they say is they just didn't know whether or not they were okay to drive,” Heims says. "They are looking for some degree of accountability and that is essentially what we are trying to provide with this application.”

Brightlamp currently plans to make the Tipsee app available for use through a low-cost monthly subscription. “For the cost of just half a drink per month you could make more informed decisions to stay safe,” Heims says.

It will be available to download for Apple iOS devices in May for beta testing. “When you download it you'll get three free tests initially. You’ll also get a free test for each friend you refer,” Heims says. “That's one of our propagation methods we’re including to bring more users on board.”

Ultimately, Brightlamp plans to use the revenue generated from the Tipsee app to bring its concussion technology to market. Additional applications that help detect Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and even autism are further down the road.

“Our goal is to make the world medically mobile by reforming the way we interact with technology and our health,” Heims says. “We want to bring healthcare into the hands of everyday people by allowing them access to simplistic diagnostic services for a fraction of today’s costs.”

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