Vivid Microscopy: Progress through illumination

By Anna Lardinois

Startup Storyteller

Jayson Kurfis, the biochemist at the helm of Vivid Microscopy, knows how to create anticipation. His company, founded in 2018, creates fluorescent markers that aid in laboratory testing and research. The company is on the verge of big changes, but they can’t talk about it. Not yet, anyway.

Kurfis, along with Dr. Dan Sem, have developed a product that makes it easier for scientists to identify oxidative stress markers in human cells. Cells are stressed when they are fighting diseases like cancer, or cardiovascular disease. The patented additive sold by the company causes those stressed cells to take on a green glow, making oxidative stress easy to identify. The tool was created for use in drug development labs.

Vivid Microscopy markers were used in a pre-clinical drug development lab for cardiac disease. The soon- to- be- released academic study of cardiac medication that resulted from the lab work will impact the future trajectory of Vivid Microscopy. But, we’ll have to wait for the release to learn more about what is next for this Milwaukee startup. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, Kurfis – who, it so happens, is red/brown colorblind, rendering him unable to  to use Vivid Microscopy products himself – is happy to talk about the company’s development to this point.

Kurfis began his career in academics, studying cancer at University of Chicago, and then renal disease at Northwestern University. From there, Kurfis took his skills to the business sector, where he has been involved in product development for decades.

Kurfis was working for a Fortune 500 company and looking for new technologies that had commercial possibilities on behalf of the company when he met Dr. Dan Sem, many years ago. The scientists did not anticipate that years later, they would be in business together.

Sem did much of the initial lab work for Vivid Microscopyat Concordia University. Kurfis revealed a key challenge of moving a product from a research instruction to commercial manufacturing is the problem of scale.

“In a small research lab, you’re working with very small quantities. Your goal is to try to find something new that you can move forward and show that it has some viability,” Kurfis said.

He explains that when materials move into commercial production, “you need to be able to produce enough quantity to be able to go out to a larger marketplace. You need to be able to stabilize it. You need to be able to have consistency. That’s one of the challenges, translating it from a small quantity research lab to something that moves up into larger quantities and then you know, hopefully even larger quantities than that.”

Vivid Microscopy now has its own lab in UW- Milwaukee’s Innovation Campus in Wauwatosa. UWM’s Drug Discovery Institute was instrumental in helping the company scale its product for manufacturing.

Kurfis was quick to acknowledge there has been a good deal of support for the company in Milwaukee, specifically mentioning Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). He praised the mentorship and guidance provided by I-Corps at UW-Milwaukee and the National Science Foundation. While he is impressed with the number of resources and support for startups in Milwaukee, he notes the resources can be difficult to find.

For now, we’ll have to wait to learn about what is next for Vivid Microscopy. The partnership between Sem and Kurfis has been a fruitful one, and it seems as if they are looking for lightning to strike twice.  The pair is involved in another venture, Amruth Group. The biochemical company was named a semi-finalist in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest. It is certain to be one of the companies to watch in the coming year.

To learn more about Vivid Microscopy, click here.

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