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Software for analyzing microscopic images poised for big market success

CAMM Research Specialist John Sosa,John Sosa at the Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis (CEMAS)To keep up with the high demand for their expert microscopic analysis capabilities, the team at Ohio State’s Center for the Accelerated Maturation of Materials (CAMM) needed a more robust image analysis software.

For quite a while, CAMM had been pushing the limits of ImageJ, ubiquitous freeware provided by the National Institutes of Health, and were not satisfied with repurposing Adobe Photoshop plug-ins to quantify objects in alloy microstructures.

Ohio Regents Eminent Scholar and Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Professor Hamish Fraser knew what a next generation microscopy image analysis software should do, but he couldn’t build it himself. So in April 2007, he approached a graduate student on his team he had heard was pretty good at coding.

“I’ve always had a passion for coding, but never took any courses,” said CAMM Research Specialist John Sosa, who is also an Ohio State engineering alumnus. Fraser offered the challenge of developing the tool CAMM researchers needed—specifically for micrographs of titanium alloys—and Sosa accepted. MIPAR image analysis software was born.

MIPAR is capable of identifying and measuring features from nearly any digital image. A user-friendly interface and the ability to batch process multiple images differentiates it from other software in the market. Once a user has developed a “recipe” of analysis parameters for a specific image, it can then be applied to other similar images, resulting in dramatic productivity improvement.

“MIPAR extracts data that feeds into a neural network, which will take the image data—what we call inputs—and produce a set of mechanical properties essential in predicting the overall strength of a material,” explained Sosa.

At first, neither Fraser nor Sosa were thinking about a commercialized product. But by 2014 they had an inkling that the need for MIPAR extended beyond CAMM. A beta version of MIPAR was introduced in late 2016, and “version 1” sales began in January 2017. As of May, they have sold more than 25 annual software subscriptions to research labs across the world. When combined with free trial versions, more than 1,500 scientists and engineers are currently using MIPAR.

A $50,000 Accelerator Award from the university’s Technology Commercialization Office in 2016 allowed for further product development, customer validation and market analysis. This grant also enabled Sosa to hire essential part-time staff—recent welding engineering grads Joan Lee and Daniella Morris—to assist in day-to-day management tasks, marketing and outreach and rigorous product testing. Their ability to work out of offices at the Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis (CEMAS) provided valuable proximity to world-class electron microscopes.

Screen shot of MIPAR's convenient batch processing engineScreen shot of MIPAR's convenient batch processing engine Sosa and Fraser have just launched a company and are in negotiations to license the technology from Ohio State. Sosa will be the fulltime CEO of the startup, MIPAR Software LLC, which will be located in nearby Worthington by July. The company also recently applied for a State of Ohio Technology Validation and Start-up Fund grant to accelerate growth.

Outside of direct sales, MIPAR is in discussions to establish a promising partnership with FEI Company, a world-leading electron microscope manufacturer. Tabletop microscope distributor NanoImages is also discussing a similar agreement to exclusively offer MIPAR to their customers.

“NanoImages found out about us through LinkedIn,” said Sosa. “They were impressed by MIPAR’s versatility and intuitive interface and said they’d like to offer it as an exclusive, value-added feature to all of their customers.”

Sosa estimates the global market opportunity to be in the hundreds of thousands of potential users spanning a wide array of research disciplines and industries.

“If you consider just all the materials science and engineering labs in U.S. universities, you’re talking tens of thousands of users,” Sosa explained. He added that biomedical research may eventually be MIPAR’s largest market.

By year’s end, Sosa expects sales of 100 annual subscriptions, which are currently priced at $3,000 for a commercial seat and $1,500 for an academic seat. Networked seat licenses cost 50 percent more.

But through the end of the year, the company will offer free initial MIPAR annual subscriptions to their fellow Ohio State researchers.

In addition to supporting Buckeye innovation, Sosa offered another reason for Ohio State campus labs to take advantage of the offer, “Anything ImageJ can do, MIPAR will make your life much easier. And anything ImageJ can’t do, MIPAR probably does.”

To learn more about MIPAR, visit www.mipar.us.