LEARN FROM DAN’S EXPERIENCES IN ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT IN THE OPTICS INDUSTRY
What prompted your interest in optics?
My interest in optics started in high school with a curiosity in physics and how light behaves in the natural environment. This interest became a passion through coursework at the University of Rochester Institute of Optics, where I got to build experimental optical setups in the lab (like Legos for grownups!) and learned how to design lenses. Seeing all the cool ways that optics could be applied in the real world really cemented my commitment to optics as a career.
Describe your early career experiences.
I received my bachelor, Master’s, and Ph.D. in Optics from the University of Rochester. As I mentioned above, it was the early lab and lens design courses that piqued my interest in optics. Having an interest in entrepreneurship, I also took business courses and created a business plan to commercialize the technology I developed during my Ph.D. research. Rather than starting a new business immediately after graduating, I decided to gain experience at a more mature company and began my professional career at Optos, Inc. (now Nikon). There I worked on commercializing adaptive optics retinal imaging technology and helped develop new low-cost versions of their wide-field retinal scanning systems with auto-fluorescence capabilities. Optos was my first exposure to product development for medical devices. This was a fantastic early career experience in learning both engineering and the quality aspects of product development.
After Optos, I spent four years at General Electric where I helped develop new optical technology for industrial inspection, high-throughput fluorescence microscopes, fluorescence-guided surgery, and biometric identification. In 2010, I left GE and moved to Maine to work at Lighthouse Imaging where I led the optical system design for the development of medical endoscopes and imaging products.
In 2017, I had an opportunity to finally combine my passions for optics with entrepreneurship and founded Gray Optics. We have experienced sustained growth in our customer base and the team over a short period of time and are now expanding beyond optical design and engineering to include capabilities such as prototyping, precision optical assembly, and the development of test equipment.
Were you always interested in starting your own company?
Having grown up with both parents operating their own business, I think entrepreneurship was in my blood. Throughout my career, I have explored many opportunities to start new businesses. Through my experience at other companies, I gained valuable insight into the kind of culture I wanted to create in my own business. Trust, commitment, openness, and a high standard of work — these values are the foundation of our team at Gray Optics.
What do you find most rewarding about the work you do?
The freedom and creativity to always work on something new while adding value. It’s a rewarding feeling to have a direct connection to helping customers, providing clear value, and participating in developing technologies and products that can be launched on the market to improve lives.
How would you describe the culture at Gray Optics?
Fundamentally we are a performance-oriented team that values trust, excellence, accountability, and fun at work. We are also dynamic and agile, seeking to continuously improve ourselves and to be strategic around changing market conditions.
What innovations do you foresee taking hold in the industrial, life sciences, and medical device markets?
In these markets, the ability to move fast in product development is not a differentiator anymore, it is now expected by our customers. Technologies for rapid prototyping, or 3D printing of mechanical components continue to mature. We leverage many fabrication methods to accelerate our product development projects. However, for custom optics, 3D printing, and rapid prototyping techniques are lagging. To overcome this, we have developed a design to supply chain approach that allows for significant time savings compared to conventional approaches. I also see the expansion of machine vision and artificial intelligence (AI) as a strong theme in these markets. Combining classical optics and computational methods is a very attractive approach to improve performance and save costs.
What do you consider to be your greatest personal contribution to the technology community?
I am passionate about developing optical systems that enter the market and make a difference in people’s lives. The early work I did at Optos related to non-invasive retinal auto-fluorescence measurements is a great example of this. The basic technologies I worked on have found their way into the current products being sold that now help millions of people every year.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I love spending time with my family and adventures in the outdoors. My current outdoor pursuits include running, biking, hiking, skiing, and climbing. I find that Maine is a fantastic place to live for both quality of life and access to the outdoors.
You’re an avid reader – is there a book you’d recommend to someone who’s just starting a business?
Have a look at my top 10 list on LinkedIn. My top 3 suggested titles are:
The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland
All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton