Luminate, the largest Optics, Photonics and Imaging (OPI) start-up accelerator program in the nation hosted its first ever competition in Rochester this week, nearly twenty years after New York Photonics began its statewide advocacy mission for the industry. It was a really good event, and this is only year one.
OPI was recognized in 2014 by the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council as one of the region’s key strategic industries. It became an important component of the Council’s Finger Lakes Forward plan that was funded through New York State’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative two years ago. As part of that plan Luminate was created.
The region has been recognized as an innovation hub in optics for about 150 years, starting with Bausch & Lomb. During the late twentieth century decline in employment at Eastman Kodak, Bausch & Lomb and Xerox, a network of small, innovative OPI firms emerged that today employ more than 5,000 people. When combined with firms employing more than 500 people, that job number is greater than 17,000, supporting one in 14 families in the region. Of the roughly 120 OPI companies in the Finger Lakes Region, nearly all have been experiencing growth, some in double digits during the past three years.
Last year Rochester hosted the Centenary Celebration of the OSA, an organization founded in Rochester, and two weeks ago hosted the biennial SPIE Optifab, the largest optical fabrication conference in the nation. In October, Optifab hosted more than 2,000 attendees at a sold-out Riverside Convention Center.
“Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, Rochester is at the vanguard of photonics and imaging once again, building on a rich optics legacy,” said Lieutenant Governor Hochul, who attended the competition. “The Luminate NY competition is evidence of the economic growth taking place. The region is quickly becoming a world hub in this arena due to a rich supply of workforce talent and potential, moving the “Finger Lakes Forward” with great momentum.”
The competition received interest from more than 100 applicants from around the world during this first round, including teams from Canada, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Scotland, India, China, Russia, Qatar, Lebanon, Israel and the United States.
The 10 selected finalists (three from Rochester) include:
In Augmented and Virtual Reality, Sensors, Instrumentation, Image Recognition:
Bounce Imaging – Boston, MA
Double Helix LLC – Boulder Colorado
Think Biosolution – Dublin, Ireland
Positive Science – Rochester, NY
Tarsier Optics, Inc. – Baltimore, MD
Each company will receive an initial investment of $100,000 and will be a part of the initiative’s first cohort, which will launch in January 2018 at the newly renovated Sibley Building in downtown Rochester. The 6-month program will assist these teams with their ideas to accelerate their commercialization. At the end of the program, the teams will compete on Demo Day, where they will vie for over $2 million in follow-on funding. Funding for the $10 million program is being provided through the Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative award, and is being administered by High Tech Rochester.
The Luminate NY initiative will support the selected innovators as they grow their ideas in Rochester with help from industry experts, businesses and local universities. The program aims to assist entrepreneurs who are interested in solving challenging industry problems, including, but not limited to: machine vision, inspection, biophotonics, security, surveillance, augmented and virtual reality, and autonomous vehicles.
Luminate NY Managing Director Sujatha Ramanujan said, “We are so pleased to be able to work with 10 such promising companies. With the creativity, energy, and capabilities of these start-ups and the guidance and support of the optics industry headquartered in Rochester, NY, we expect great success from the Luminate NY cohort. From innovation comes growth and promise.”