Governor Cuomo Announces Another 120 New Jobs to Be Created as Result of Luminate NY Competition

Via Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Previous Participants in Innovative Optics, Photonics, and Imaging Competition Commit to Growing Their Business in Rochester’s Downtown Innovation Zone 

NYS Funded Competition Complements “Finger Lakes Forward” – The Region’s Comprehensive Strategy to Revitalize Communities and Grow the Economy 

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that two previous participants in the state-funded Luminate NY competition have committed to creating nearly 120 jobs in the city of Rochester’s Downtown Innovation Zone. SunDensity, which originated from MIT and was awarded the top prize of $1 million in round three of the optics, photonics, and imaging competition in 2020, will create close to 60 jobs as it establishes its pilot, high-tech manufacturing operations in Rochester. Round two $250,000 winner Circle Optics, founded originally in NYC in 2017, will also create approximately 60 jobs at the repurposed Sibley Square building downtown. Round two winner, Ovitz, has already established its headquarters in Rochester, and the competitions’ inaugural winner, Double Helix Optics, has actively leveraged the optics infrastructure in the Finger Lakes region by partnering with Rochester optics firms to develop and manufacture new products.  To date, the 40 companies in the Luminate portfolio have created 100 jobs within the region.

“As we work to build back even better all across the state, we are seeing that our ongoing investments in advanced technologies are more than paying off,” Governor Cuomo said. “These strategic investments have already positioned Rochester as a global leader in the optics, photonics and imaging industries and put a spotlight on all this flourishing region has to offer. The Luminate NY competition supports our efforts to move the Finger Lakes forward by attracting even more innovative companies, creating more jobs and spurring economic growth into the future.”

“Luminate NY continues to build upon Rochester and the Finger Lakes legacy for innovation in optics, photonics and imaging,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “The announcements by SunDensity and Circle Optics demonstrate their commitment to the Rochester area, and shows our investments are helping to grow the high-tech industry, creating good-paying jobs and boosting the region’s economy.”

The Luminate NY accelerator is based in Rochester and selects ten promising companies each year to participate in its six-month program. During this time, companies are provided with comprehensive training and resources to advance their technologies and businesses. Round four is currently underway with the finals event planned for this fall. The accelerator competition requires that the winners commit to establishing operations in Rochester for at least 18 months.

Dr. Sujatha Ramanujan, Managing Director, Luminate NY said, “The Luminate Accelerator continues to bring the most promising OPI companies from around the world to the Finger Lakes Region. In addition to our rich research, development, and manufacturing facilities here, these companies are finding that Rochester provides a viable soft-landing for their businesses to establish a U.S. presence.”

The Luminate NY Finals 2020 marked the half-way point of the five-year, $25 million Luminate accelerator program, which is funded through the Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative and administered by Nextcorps. Since its inception, the accelerator has invested $8 million in 40 startups. The companies in the portfolio now share a net worth of $300 million. In addition to providing an estimated 1.5 to 2 times return on investment, many of the participating companies are also establishing U.S. operations or some aspect of research and manufacturing in the Rochester region—which continues to be the epicenter of the OPI industry in North America.

SunDensity’s technology enhances the energy output of solar panels by 20 percent with their Photonic Smart Coating. PSC improves the efficiency of opto-electronic devices, such as solar cells by enhancing and shaping the spectrum of photons, transforming wasted visible light into infrared light that many devices can more easily use. Circle Optics’ groundbreaking technology is able to capture real-time, errorless, 360° video in 12K. Empire State Development is further assisting these companies through the Excelsior Tax Credit Program in exchange for job creation commitments. SunDensity will receive up to $600,000; Circle Optics will receive up to $445,000. Monroe County is also offering assistance. 

SunDensity Founder and President Dr. Nishikant Sonwalkar said, “We are grateful for Empire State Development’s generous support. Luminate and the NextCorps incubator, along with the Greater Boston Economic development team, continue to provide resources and information for SunDensity growth in downtown Rochester.  We anticipate creating a large number of clean energy, high-paying jobs and to contributing to the goal of a carbon zero economy to save our planet from environmental disasters.” 

Circle Optics CEO Zak Niazi said, “Since moving our company to Rochester in 2019, we have brought on board a world-class team of a dozen image scientists, opto-mechanical engineers, and digital camera experts. We are committed to helping grow the local economy by building the next generation of immersive 360-degree capture technology right here in upstate New York.”

Empire State Development Acting Commissioner and President & CEO-designate Eric Gertler said, “The Luminate NY competition is transforming the forward-thinking ideas of these brilliant entrepreneurs into 21st century jobs and spurring economic growth in Rochester’s Downtown Innovation Zone. New York State’s investment in this OPI-focused accelerator is also boosting the broader area economy, as innovative Luminate NY companies commit to establishing roots in the Finger Lakes region.”

State Senator Jeremy A. Cooney said, “The success of these businesses is proof that Rochester can be a hub for tech entrepreneurship. The jobs created as a result of the Luminate NY Competition are an important piece to beginning the economic recovery for our region.”

State Assembly Member Harry Bronson said, “As Chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Economic Development, I join the Governor in encouraging our talented pool of young entrepreneurs to enter the possibilities of the Luminate New York program. I know that the entrepreneurial spirit and the creative minds of our country, combined with the leadership of Luminate New York, will continue to provide the future jobs and economic growth for our state and nation. Today’s announcement from Circle Optics and SunDensity proves that this competition works, building a brighter future for our families.”

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said, “The Luminate NY competition continues to prove its merit in our region and its alignment with the ‘Finger Lakes Forward’ economic growth and development plan. The addition of 120 jobs in the optics, photonics, and imaging (OPI) field in our region at this stage in the competition makes me excited for the future of the Finger Lakes as a world leader in OPI advancement. The advantages of doing business in our region time and time again prove to be a remarkable asset for both young entrepreneurs and established companies alike. I want to thank Governor Cuomo for his dedication to revitalizing and reimagining the economic landscape of the Finger Lakes.”

Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren said, “The addition of these 21st century jobs in Rochester clearly demonstrates the value of Luminate NY and the wisdom of Governor Cuomo’s decision to locate this high-tech business incubator here to help position our region as the photonics and optics capital of the world. I want to thank the leaders of SunDensity and Circle Optics for making these investments in our city and wish them and their employees well as they grow and thrive here. I remain grateful to Governor Cuomo and Empire State Development for bringing Luminate NY to Rochester through Finger Lakes Forward to support our efforts to create more jobs, safer, more vibrant neighborhoods and better educational opportunities for our citizens.”

For additional information about Luminate NY, visit:

Accelerating Finger Lakes Forward 

Today’s announcement complements “Finger Lakes Forward,” the region’s comprehensive blueprint to generate robust economic growth and community development. The State has already invested more than $8.07 billion in the region since 2012 to lay the groundwork for the plan – investing in key industries including photonics, agriculture and food production, and advanced manufacturing. Now, the region is accelerating Finger Lakes Forward with a $500 million State investment through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, announced by Governor Cuomo in December 2015. The State’s $500 million investment will incentivize private business to invest well over $2.5 billion – and the region’s plan, as submitted, projects up to 8,200 new jobs. More information is available here.