Picture yourself headed to an impromptu meeting, a presentation tucked away in the hard drive of your smartphone. You walk into a conference room, an array of suited executives stoically facing you as you attempt to hook up your iPhone to their digital projector, only to find the machine doesn’t support the phone.
Or maybe you’re meeting some friends at a coffee shop, anxiously awaiting a chance to show a video of your new puppy, only to find them huddled over your shoulders trying to catch a glimpse of the video on your sideways-tilted phone. Or you’re on a train and are simply tired of straining your eyes as you try to catch up on “Black Mirror” via your smartphone.
Arovia has an answer. The Houston-based company is the producer of the first collapsible projection screen. It is about the size of a hardcover bible when closed. A single button opens a flap that pops out a 24-inch white screen, much like an umbrella. Hook up your phone to it and you have an instant television, which even in well-lit rooms holds impressive definition. Dubbed the spontaneous pop-up display, or SPUD, it’s an idea with a nearly endless array of applications, from consumer to industrial settings and everywhere in between.
“To my knowledge, we’re the first company to make a display which can fully collapse in all dimensions down to a smaller size,” said CEO Alexander Wesley. “Our first product is a 24-inch display which can collapse to the size of a book.”
Luminate is not the first round of attention Arovia has received from the tech world. In 2016, the SPUD’s Kickstarter campaign was one of the most popular on the site, garnering $711,397 in pledges from 1,901 backers. So far, pre-sales for SPUD have hit the $1 million mark. Wesley sees the product filling a critical market gap.
“Seventy percent of the people that have bought it so far have been traveling professionals,” Wesley said. “So people using it for a desktop size screen when they’re working out of a client’s site, the office, coffee shop, airport, co-working spaces, trade shows and presentations. Some people are using it for consumer applications, you know, a portable TV for around the house or when they’re traveling. There’s also military applications, education applications—it runs a full gamut.”
While Arovia was formed in Houston, Wesley has roots at the University of Rochester, graduating in 2011 with a master’s in optical engineering. For Arovia, however, Wesley isn’t quite sure where the company will ultimately call home.
“As a company, it’s really difficult to know—you go where the problems are,” Wesley said. “Optics is one of our bigger issues, so it makes sense to be here. But inherently, we have a presence in China as well, because that’s where our projectors are manufactured. Our company isn’t really settled enough to even think about a headquarters. It’s inherently kinetic, which kind of matches the target customer we’re really going after, too. It gives us an opportunity to live their life.”
While Arovia is young, the legwork on setting up their intellectual property is more or less done. The company now holds patents in the U.S. for the first wrinkle-free, collapsible projection screen, as well as the mechanics allowing for the pop-up display. Meanwhile, the team—composed of Wesley and fellow co-founders George Zhu, chief technology officer, and Justin Mintzer, chief marketing officer—is working hard inside the accelerator to put rubber to the pavement with their technology. As Wesley puts it, “we’re doing cool stuff every day.”
“We look at ourselves as the creators of this new industry, the collapsible display industry,” Wesley said. “And in the future, we’re looking at having touchscreens, operating systems, larger screen sizes, things like that. There’s really just so much we can do with our core technology.”
Spotlight on Luminate
Ten companies composed of some of the brightest minds in the field of optics, imaging and photonics are fine-tuning their technologies inside NextCorps’ Luminate accelerator. The winners of November’s first Lightning Awards, these companies each received $100,000 in funding, free residency in the accelerator and access to High Tech Rochester’s web of resources and mentoring. In June, the most promising of these 10 will receive a total of $2 million in follow-on funding. Leading up to June, the Rochester Business Journal will feature profiles of the companies holding the keys to the next chapter in Rochester’s history as the world’s imaging center.