In 1997, after finishing her PhD and starting up Imagen in Cambridge, MA, Pamela Lipson would get phone calls from her mentor Alex d’Arbeloff, chairman of the MIT Corporation. “Focus,” he’d always tell her. Lipson had devised algorithms that could rapidly identify and classify digital images. Venture capitalists wanted them, but for far-flung applications: to improve Web searches for images, or for face recognition, video-database indexing or pharmaceutical R&D. But it was not clear any of these emerging markets would embrace Lipson’s technology. In a quest for real customers, Lipson bet on inspection of printed circuit boards. She adapted Imagen’s software so it could identify production errors from a digital snapshot without misidentifying normal variations in parts. She designed a straightforward interface so users could easily modify the software. Inspections using Imagen software enhanced productivity without introducing lag. “What used to take five minutes now takes 20 seconds,” says Paul Keating at Teradyne, which has rights to use Lipson’s technology. Now that’s focus.