When innovation gets so impactful that the industry starts working against you

An interview with Sheila Nirenberg, Founder, and CEO of Bionic Sight and Nirenberg Neuroscience

When innovation gets so impactful that the industry starts working against you An interview with Sheila Nirenberg, Founder, and CEO of Bionic Sight and Nirenberg Neuroscience

This podcast interview focuses on product innovation that has the power to give blind people their sight back and make robots see and interpret exactly what we see. My guest is Sheila Nirenberg, Founder, and CEO of Bionic Sight and Nirenberg Neuroscience.

Sheila Nirenberg

Sheila Nirenberg is a professor of neuroscience at Cornell Medical School and the founder of two start-up companies in New York City – one that develops new kinds of prosthetic devices (Bionic Sight, LLC), and one that develops new kinds of smart robots (Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC).  Her lab at the university focuses on basic science, and her companies take what’s learned in the lab and use it to develop solutions to real-world problems.   

She’s won numerous awards for innovative research, including a MacArthur “genius” Award, and has been featured in a TED talk, a BBC documentary, a PBS documentary, the Discovery Channel, Scientific American, as well as many peer-reviewed publications. The reason? Her work on cracking the neural code of the retina i.e. the code the retina uses to communicate with the brain to allow us to see.

And that inspired me, and hence I invited Sheila to my podcast. We explore what’s still broken in deep-learning approaches and how that holds us back. We dig into her breakthrough – and what opportunities this enables for remarkable innovation that impact all of us. During our conversation, she shares some of her biggest challenges which were often led by the limited mindset of humans rather than driven by limitations in technology. She also shares her vision on what it takes to shape a software business that people keep talking about. 

Here are some of her quotes:

My claim to fame is that I cracked this code in the retina, so the transformation mathematically from images to the signals that leave the eye, and go to the brain, 

As soon as I did that, I realized immediately the application of it is that you can make an artificial retina that could restore sight to the blind. 

And then I was thinking, well, if I could make if that really were true, and I can make send the same signals to the brain, why couldn’t I send it to a robot’s brain? So I quickly patented that and started a second company.

During this interview, you will learn four things:

  1. True value can arrive when we challenge ourselves to find innovative approaches that require exponentially less data
  2. That often technology is not the issue to drive meaningful change, but skepticism, fear, and narrow mindedness – and how to go about that 
  3. The lessons to be learned on how to go about funding and taking the Venture Capital route
  4. The big lessons around having grid and perseverance to succeed

For more information about the guest from this week: