Via Rochester Beacon
By: SMRITI JACOB | 

Gabe Siegel, CEO of Augmentiqs, makes his pitch for the second cohort in 2018.
(Photo credit NextCorps)

Twenty-two semifinalists, from United States and around the world, will take the stage this week, vying for a spot in Round III of the Luminate NY startup accelerator program.

These businesses, chosen from a pool of 101 applicants, are slated to participate in Luminate’s Lightning Rounds  tomorrow afternoon at the Strong Museum of Play.

Luminate is focused on advancing next-generation optics, photonics and imaging-enabled companies. It aims to find entrepreneurs from around the world who are solving difficult challenges in augmented and virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, machine vision, biophotonics and other fields. Funding for the $25 million accelerator comes from the Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative and is administered by NextCorps.

A number of industries are being represented in this round, including augmented and virtual reality, medical devices and telecommunications.

“We even have startup that has a way to detect driving impairment from marijuana use,” says Sujatha Ramanujan, managing director of Luminate.

To be considered for Luminate, companies must have already proven their technologies at least at lab scale; be incorporated, and have a team of at least two full-time members; and be willing to locate executives in Rochester for the six-month program.

Half of the applicants for Luminate’s third cohort reside overseas. It validates the program’s global impact, officials say. Last year, 33 percent of the startups that applied for the competition came from outside the United States.

For Round III, applications came from 25 countries, including India, Canada, Australia, Israel, Russia, Singapore, and Spain. Fifteen companies from New York applied.

“The 22 semifinalists represent a group that is far more international in composition than previous years,” Ramanujan says. “We also have a higher number of companies that are interested in climate change and making a positive impact on the environment.”

The 10 startups that win the Lightning Rounds will be admitted to the six-month program, which begins January 2020 in Rochester.

Luminate welcomed the following companies as its third cohort on Nov. 7:

Akkanatek

ExPrimary Inc.

Haqean

Kilo Medical Solutions

PixelDisplay Inc.

Rubitection Inc.

Sanoor

Simulated Inanimate Models LLC

SunDensity

Think Outside

Ten startups were selected for Luminate Cohort III
(Photo credit: MS Studio/Sue Zeccola Photography)

The accelerator provides support to startups in the form of an initial $100,000 investment, expert mentorship, access to investors, lab facilities and education. Its goal is to guide fledgling firms through business planning that is focused on commercialization and scale.

Upon graduation in June 2020, the companies will compete for a total of $2 million in follow-on funding.

The accelerator’s management team and global advisory board selected the semifinalists last month. The entrepreneurs then travel to Rochester to pitch their businesses.

This time, Ramanujan says, the accelerator program did things a little differently. It extended the recruitment process by working with more international and diverse organizations, sharing the opportunity with trade groups and professors at university clusters known for optics, photonics and imaging.

“We also increased our efforts to get the Luminate name, and our regional leadership, more out there in the industry,” Ramanujan says. “For example, this year we did several webinars to share what it’s like to participate in the program, and one specifically on all the regional assets we have here in the Finger Lakes that can help accelerate technology development.”

Luminate officials hit the road to promote the program with a presence at trade shows, in addition to other marketing strategies.

“People often don’t characterize themselves as entrepreneurs in the early stages of starting a company, so it’s hard to find them in a data search,” Ramanujan notes. “It takes a bit of trial and error. The needs of those working in OPI also are different than with other technologies. So, we wrote a whitepaper on what you need to consider if you’re a state or entity thinking about setting up an accelerator program focused in this area.”

The program continues to improve. For instance, it has worked to balance its portfolio by diversifying its judging committee to include more international and industry experts. Luminate is taking advantage of foreign startups that want to want to build a U.S. base.

This round not only brought in more technical applications, it attracted female entrepreneurs as well.

“I think this is because the program is getting more recognition,” Ramanujan says. “More people know that it exists and that it’s an opportunity that they can participate in. With Leslie Kimerling winning the first $1 million in Cohort I, it helped fuel the perception that anything’s possible.”

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.