Diving Further into Deep Tech


NextCorps, the nonprofit administrator behind the Luminate accelerator, was recently awarded a $4.5 million innovation grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to test a replicable model for better supporting the needs of early-stage, deep-tech businesses. The model, called the Accelerator Ignition Program, will harness curriculum from Luminate and NextCorps’ Manufacturing Accelerator.

“The early-stage time frame is when some of the most transformative innovations emerge, yet it’s also when startups are the most vulnerable,” said Dr. Sujatha Ramanujan, Managing Director, Luminate. “This acceleration model will give them a safe harbor, as well as the time and support needed to initiate their first profits and grow their businesses.”

Read the announcement.

Highlights from Luminate Finals 2023

In case you missed it, seven companies received investments at Luminate Finals 2023 last month. The Theater at Innovation Square in Downtown Rochester made the perfect venue for the big checks, confetti, and a thoughtful keynote conversation with Dr. Pulakesh Mukherjee on the changing investment landscape for deep tech innovations. More than 800 people joined the livestream of the startup pitches and award announcements from 36 different countries, making this the farthest-reaching Finals yet! If you joined us, thanks for being part of this slice of Luminate history.

Catch the recording here.

Oculi Named Company of the Year

Baltimore-based Oculi took home the top honors and $1 million for technology that promises to redefine computer vision. The Oculi SPU™ (Sensing and Processing Unit) is the world’s first smart programmable vision sensor, combining the efficiency of the human eye and the speed of machines to make computer vision faster and more efficient.

Charbel Rizk, CEO of Oculi, Luminate 2023 Company of the Year

“This funding is really critical at this stage because we’re growing,” said Oculi CEO, Charbel Rizk. “We have a lot of interest from the market and we want to get a product out the door as soon as possible, so this is going to help us execute our plans a lot more efficiently.”

Those plans include making Rochester, NY Oculi’s new home base.

“The Luminate program, team, and the region surpassed my expectations. I learned so much about the beautiful Finger Lakes region and the relevant ecosystem that exists here. Had I known that earlier on, it would have been my company’s home from day one,” said Rizk in an interview with the Rochester Beacon.

Congratulations to All Our Winners!

This year’s Outstanding Graduate Award and $400K in funding went to Digiteyez, a medtech company from Washington, DC that’s digitizing the vision industry to deliver eyecare on demand. Clear, its quick and easy online eye test, can be taken by customers anywhere, from any device.

For the first year ever, we had a three-way tie for the title of Distinguished Graduate. Quantune Technologies of Germany; NanoPattern Technologies of Chicago, IL; and Swave Photonics of Belgium all took home $200,000 investments.

Rochester’s own Photonect Interconnect Solutions received the Honorable Achievement Award and $50,000. Photonect’s laser technology replaces traditional glue-based methods for connecting optical fibers to photonic chips, an innovation that can significantly lower data centers’ power consumption.

The Audience Choice Award and $10,000 cash went to Israel’s QART Medical, earning the most votes from the audience for its breakthrough product, which is positioned to reshape the practice of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).

Applications Open for Cohort 7

If you have a startup with a solution that’s enabled by optics, photonics, or imaging, we want to hear from you! Luminate awards $3M in funding annually to companies developing emerging solutions in almost every industry, from anywhere in the world, and participation is primarily remote. Apply by January 8, 2024.

Questions? Sign up for a free info session. Luminate staff and recent graduates will give you an idea of what it’s like to participate in the accelerator and the many ways it can advance your business.

Wednesday, 11/16/23
1:00 PM EDT
Sign Up

Wednesday, 12/6/23
1:00 PM EDT
Sign Up

Thursday, 1/4/24
1:00 PM EDT
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Luminate is Hiring!

We’re looking for an Operations Manager to help run the world’s largest accelerator for optics, photonics, and imaging. Candidates don’t need to be familiar with optics, but passion for the local startup ecosystem is essential!

Join a team that’s working hard to advance promising early-stage companies through funding, business training, and industry connections.

Learn more and apply.

SunDensity Cuts the Ribbon on State-of-the-Art R&D Facility

SunDensity, Luminate’s 2020 Company of the Year and $1M investment recipient, celebrated the grand opening of its new research and development lab after two years of testing and validating its technology. The new facility shares a home with Luminate in the historic Sibley Square building in downtown Rochester, NY.

Luminate’s Dr. Sujatha Ramanujan said, “By opening their facility in the same place where they incubated — in the heart of Rochester’s Innovation Zone — SunDensity is helping to revitalize our city and to expand economic development opportunities within our rich OPI and entrepreneur ecosystems.”

SunDensity’s groundbreaking Photonics Smart Coating (PSC™) technology enhances the efficiency of solar panels, increasing energy output and reducing the cost of renewable energy production. The cleantech innovator is in growth mode, with 15 full-time employees and counting. 

Read more from Empire State Development.

Portfolio Wins

Labby Inc. was recently awarded an NSF Phase II SBIR grant to advance its work pioneering real-time milk testing technology straight to the dairy farm fields. Labby plans to use the funding to further its tech commercialization and pursue product improvements that would expand its platform to include more animal disease predictions.

Last month, Labby also made Luminate history as the only portfolio company to become a member of the Institute of Optics’ Industrial Associates Program. This comes on the heels of wrapping up cohort 6 of the Luminate accelerator, and a $250,000 win at Grow-NY’s 2022 Food & Agriculture Business Competition. Labby is currently focused on growing its team in a new Rochester, NY office Keep up the great momentum, Labby!

Arovia, makers of the Splay 2-in-1 display and projector solution, scored a feature in Entrepreneur. Arovia CEO and Co-Founder, Alex Wesley, shared the inspiration behind the business, challenges faced, and advice for entrepreneurs looking for funding.

Qunnect has partnered with NYU researchers to establish a secure communication network for transmitting data between the company’s headquarters and the university’s Washington Square campus. The university is calling the announcement a “technical milestone” that will expand underground communication networks in the city.

Rubitection took home first place at the National Black MBA Association’s 2023 Scale-Up Pitch Challenge for its skin assessment tool that gives caregivers confidence in their early assessment and care management of the skin. Congratulations, Rubitection!

Lightspeed Photonics is one of only seven deep tech startups selected to participate in the fourth cohort of Applied Ventures’ ASTRA (Applied Startup Technology & Research Accelerator) program. Way to go, Lightspeed!

Mesodyne was featured in National Defense Magazine for its LightCell generator, which puts out five-to-10 times the wattage per pound of current tactical batteries, helping extend mission durations.

Finals Fireside Chat: Accelerators “Bridge the Gap”

“Just because it’s excellent science, doesn’t mean it’s a great business.” That was a key takeaway from Dr. Pulakesh Mukherjee during his fireside chat with Luminate’s Dr. Sujatha Ramanujan at Luminate Finals 2023. Mukherjee, Managing Partner at Imperative Ventures, reflected on a common challenge that exists when PhDs and others with deep backgrounds in science go to make the leap from the lab to market. 

“Without scale there is no impact,” said Mukherjee when asked what’s shaping innovation and investment in deep technology. “Whenever we look [at technology] from an investment perspective, we ask, ‘Can you scale?’”

Making the transition from sound science to viable product means mastering the business piece, and Mukherjee noted that accelerators like Luminate can help. 

Catch the full fireside chat.

See You Next Month!