April 2020 in Review

For Luminate’s previous two cohorts, the end of April meant our finalists were two-thirds of the way through the program and eagerly anticipating Demo Day in June. With COVID-19 disrupting business as usual, we’ve extended this year’s program through the summer and adjusted to a virtual format. Our companies continue to scale their businesses and technology, connect with industry experts and mentors, and receive regular coaching and support.

Stay tuned for an announcement on a September Demo Day for cohort III. There is much to celebrate, and we look forward to awarding follow-on funding to our most promising startups.

How to Construct a Compelling Grant Proposal

How to Craft a Compelling Grant ProposalNothing guarantees a grant proposal’s success, but complete, well-structured proposals that emphasize why the project is important to the funding agency always rise to the top. Luminate’s Technology Program Manager, Damon Diehl, PhD, offers a ten-step process for crafting a proposal that clearly answers the reviewers’ questions.

Industry Focused Solution Selling

Tips for closing the deal with Karen Mesolella

A traditional sales approach leads with your company’s offering and strengths — but that’s no way to engage a potential client and create urgency to work with you. In April, Luminate startups went through a two-part workshop on solution selling with Karen Mesolella, Field Marketing Manager at Getinge who has over ten years of experience across sales, marketing, IT, supply chain, and manufacturing functions.

Solution Selling with Karen Mesolella
Photo from cohort I’s in-person workshop with Karen Mesolella
(This year’s workshop was conducted via Zoom.)

Before part one of Karen’s workshops, teams completed pre-work that involved selecting and researching a client, including identifying changes in that prospect’s industry, the objectives of their company, and areas for improvement. Karen stressed the importance of coming to the table with your homework done to clearly show that you understand the company you’re meeting with. From there, you can lead to (not with) the value you’re able to add.

“Your discussion really needs to be about the true cost of doing nothing. Guide them into the ‘valley of despair,’ then talk about a clear path forward with your solution,” says Karen.

cuckoo chickWhen presenting an idea of how you and your prospective client can work together, keep in mind that there are competing ideas to beat out. To drive home this lesson, Karen shared a video of a Common Cuckoo chick ejecting the other eggs in the Reed Warbler’s nest it was laid in, guaranteeing its own survival.

On day two of Karen’s workshop, she played the part of an early-stage prospect and ran through mock meetings with each startup. Teams had ten minutes to conduct the meeting, receive live feedback on their delivery, and score each other at the end. (Congratulations to Think Outside for scoring the highest and winning two hours of additional consultation time with Karen!)

“People remember five words, plus or minus two. Seal the deal by closing your pitch with five powerful words that will stick with them,” says Karen.

Other key takeaways from Karen:

  • You can’t have a tired slide deck that’s the same for everyone. You need to shake it up and treat your meeting like a conversation, not a presentation.
  • Pausing is important. Avoid the urge to keep talking, and let your points sink in. Or, let them drive and talk, as long as they’re “driving with you in the car.”
  • Dress for the person you’re meeting with. It’s unfair, but people are going to judge you within the first 30 seconds, before you even open your mouth. Make sure you’re dressed appropriately.

Julian Goldstein, CEO of Navitar

April kicked off an additional opportunity for our cohort members to learn from successful company leaders. We began with a conversation with Julian Goldstein, a forward-thinking CEO who had many stories to share about his experience in the optical solutions business that he and his brother took over from their father. Today, Navitar exports to 52 countries around the world, and Julian thrives on always thinking one to three years down the road.

Here are just a few of his bite-sized insights:

  • “You can have the best widget in the world, but if you don’t go out and sell it or promote it, no one’s going to buy it. Even though it’s important to have a fantastic product, you still have to tell people about it. And then you have to be able to accept criticism.
  • Better to be a dope in a business with a high margin than a genius in a business with a low margin. Point is, it’s not the gross, it’s the net. You’re going to learn over time that it really doesn’t matter how much business you do, but how much you make.
  • You have to have more than one horse in the race. As a company, we had more than one product. And, by being in more than one industry, it allows you to be able to make it here when you can’t make it there. So when you’re thinking about where to sell your product, try to find more than one market to go to.”

Luminate startups also attended workshops on:

  • Employee handbook development, interviewing, and recruitment with HR Works, Inc.
  • How to complete a creative brief and tips for digital marketing with the NextCorps marketing team, Holly Barrett and Kate Leonard
  • Importing and exporting compliance with Mohawk Global Logistics
  • How to launch an effective Kickstarter campaign with Alex Wesley, co-founder of Luminate cohort I startup, Arovia



Cataract SurgeryAs one of the most frequently performed procedures worldwide, cataract surgery is very safe and routine. However, the post-surgical visual outcome is frequently less than ideal due to displacement of the IOLs (intraocular lenses). Unfortunately, this can seriously impact quality of life for patients, leading to lowered patient satisfaction and often, elaborate postoperative management. AkknaTek’s patented Lens Reviewer technology makes postoperative care of dislocated IOLs more manageable and reduces the postoperative refractive issues, thereby minimizing the need for additional surgeries. AkknaTek co-founder, Dr. Edgar Janunts (EJ), shares how the Lens Reviewer technology helps improve cataract surgery outcomes.

What problems is your technology helping to solve?

EJ: In an effort to get the best possible vision through cataract surgery, patients frequently opt for high-end lenses in order to eliminate the need for glasses. Because the implantation of these technologically advanced intraocular lenses doesn’t always work the way they are intended to, the result may be repeat surgeries and higher associated costs. Our Lens Reviewer technology enables ophthalmologists to detect these issues immediately, giving them the ability to address them before additional problems arise. We consider AkknaTek’s innovation to be a win-win situation for every stakeholder in the field of cataract treatment.

What is the market opportunity for the Lens Reviewer? 

EJ: Our technology is based on cutting-edge research, hundreds of clinical studies, and numerous reports in scientific journals. Additionally, the clinical relevance of the Lens Reviewer was confirmed by many ophthalmic surgeons. Because patients today have greater access to more information, they are aware of technological progress in healthcare and are, therefore, more demanding of surgical outcomes. Cataract patients now seek more than just regaining their basic vision; they want visual acuity, higher contrast, and to completely stop wearing eyeglasses. Considering our aging society, this problem becomes even more important for the entire healthcare system.

AkknaTek Lens Reviewer

During our research, we found that the technologically advanced, state-of-the-art intraocular lenses still presented challenges to ensuring these desired outcomes for many patients due to the frequent postoperative refractive surprises. So, yes, our technology presents new opportunities in cataract surgery, along with an outstanding way to change the market behavior in surgical ophthalmology.

What industry trends are you seeing that support your offering?

EJ: In recent years, clinical acceptance of new types of premium lenses has continued to grow, proving that hospitals are adopting new technologies at a faster pace. Further, the number of clinics offering high-end lenses has almost doubled, and the acceptance rate is currently over 70% in the United States. More acceptance means more surgeries, and more surgeries mean more potential issues.

How has being part of Luminate helped advance your business so far?

EJ: Luminate has helped us to accelerate our plans for entry into the U.S. market a few months ahead of our initial plan in terms of FDA approval, and sales and marketing strategy. The frequent support we receive from the world-class mentors and the opportunities to work with other startups in the Luminate accelerator have been crucial to our forward trajectory. Luminate offers us an excellent ecosystem in the field of optical technologies and healthcare, extensive knowledge in diagnostic technologies, and outstanding business connections in important areas of the United States.

AkknaTek CEOs Dr. Edgar Janunts and Lorenz Nicolay
AkknaTek’s co-CEOs, Dr. Edgar Janunts and Lorenz Nicolay, at the 2019 Lightning Awards

Our experience with Luminate has been very positive. The trainings are both intensive and frequent, giving us outstanding opportunities to expand our knowledge in many disciplines. Luminate has introduced us to its robust network of healthcare funds, several of which look quite promising in terms of future partnerships. We have also been introduced to potential business partners, allowing us to speak with them directly in a matter of days. As a European company trying to break into the North American market, the Luminate network has proven to be an invaluable resource for AkknaTek.

What type of partnerships are you forming to help develop and commercialize your technology?

EJ: Since the Greater Rochester area is home to so many optical manufacturers, we are excited to leverage the partnerships we have made to scale our technology to support both sales and marketing in North America. With Luminate’s help, we have formed important relationships with the New York Photonics Cluster and RIT, which helped us connect with numerous ophthalmic companies, as well as new suppliers and manufacturers.

Where do you hope to be at the end of the year?

EJ: While there are still many things on our to-do list, our main focus will be on activities in the marketplace: cultivating customers, extending our marketing and sales activities, establishing new opportunities in both the U.S. and Europe, and growing our marketing and sales teams in the U.S. and North America from New York State.

Any advice for other entrepreneurs? 

EJ: In addition to the necessary entrepreneurial elements of a strong commitment, good product design, and an outstanding core team with proficiencies in many areas, I would advise startups to build relationships with potential customers as soon as possible. The early product planning phase presents the greatest flexibility to evaluate customer feedback and to make the necessary changes. Additionally, in the medical software or device areas, the fulfillment of regulatory requirements will greatly influence your project planning. Don’t underestimate this! Consider having your own team work in tandem with an external company regarding regulatory tasks because after certification, your company will need to follow the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and processes during all your business activities. In addition, think about doubling the time and costs it will take for the initial planning for regulatory efforts. As a startup, you need to have an infinite amount of patience.

Lastly, if you are a team with optical technologies, consider applying and competing for a spot in Luminate. Based on our overwhelmingly positive experiences, we highly recommend it!



We caught up with members of Augmentiqs, a cohort II company that’s turning the microscope into a connected device. Watch the video interview for a glimpse at the exciting future of telepathology and 3D tumor modeling.



We also spoke with ExPrimary, a member of our current cohort that’s working to make bioanalytical tools more accessible and affordable. Watch the video interview to learn how this startup is helping change our approach to disease from reactive to preventative.

A series with the Rochester Business Journal

Rochester Business Journal seriesLeading up to Demo Day — the exciting culmination of our program where cohort III startups will compete for an additional $2 million in follow-on funding — the RBJ is profiling each of our ten companies. 


OVITZ Webinar on May 21

OVITZ webinarOptometrists have been talking about the benefits of wavefront-guided contact lenses for more than a decade, but the technology has yet to be commercialized. OVITZ, a Luminate cohort II company and $1 million follow-on funding winner, recently announced that its xwave system is now in use with 15 U.S. based optometrists. Register for the free webinar to learn about patient results and opportunities from the closed beta program.

RECORDING: Luminate Webinar

Leaders from four startups in our current cohort — ExPrimary, Nordetect, Rubitection, and Simulated Inanimate Models — shared what their experience has been like so far at the accelerator. Get an inside look at Luminate to assess if applying for a future cohort is right for your company. 

RECORDING: Double Helix Webinar

Dr. Anurag Agrawal, principal optical engineer at Double Helix Optics, presents the company’s Light Engineering technology and introduces the SPINDLE® and SPINDLE² imaging modules, phase mask library, and 3DTRAX™ software for 3D super-resolution and whole-cell imaging and tracking.

See You Next Month!