June 2020 in Review
Be sure to save the date for Luminate Finals 2020! The pitch competition will be held on Sept. 14 from 10:30 AM to Noon EDT at the 2020 Frontiers in Optics + Laser Science (FiO+LS) conference. For the first time, FiO+LS will be held virtually, and sessions will be free to attendees. Our Finals pitch event will also feature a panel discussion on “Investing Early in Innovative Future Businesses” with members of the Luminate advisory board. Registration for the event and conference sessions will be open in late July.
First Virtual Trade Show Seminar, June 9, 2020
Luminate offers cohort companies numerous opportunities to grow their startups. Cohort members are given direct access to experts from companies that are relevant to their startup journey who provide them with best practices in many areas. Through these connections, Luminate companies are able to grow their skills while garnering information about available resources in the Finger Lakes region. With so many optics, photonics, and imaging (OPI) companies and experts in the area, and only a finite amount of time available, Luminate created a Virtual Trade Show (VTS) on Zoom to bring opportunities to the cohort.
The first VTS featured eight professionals who each had 15 minutes to share information about their companies or services, ending with a Q & A with our startups. These guests included:
Brett Cannarozzo, VP of Sales, Navitar, Inc.
An optics tech company offering both off-the-shelf and custom solutions, Navitar prides itself on functioning as a “consultant” for startups, helping them assess programs, identify risks, and provide alternatives, while always being sensitive to budgetary constraints. “Our goal is long-term production and collaborative relationships; not just getting development dollars from startups,” said Cannarozzo. As stated on Navitar’s website, “The key to our success is our consultative approach to solving complex optical problems.”
Amanda Thau, Career Services Coordinator, Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), named one of the top 100 national research universities, is home to almost 19,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The renowned university has been offering experiential cooperative educational programs for 100+ years. RIT students are available to assist companies—including startups—with everything from short-term projects to full time work. Companies are encouraged to contact RIT’s Career Services team, which will match the right student with the right employer, ensuring a mutually beneficial relationship.
Michael Schab, Co-Founder & CEO, NRGXP
As the CEO of NRGXP, Michael Schab and his co-founder have assembled a company dedicated to building and integrating devices in the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem. With a team of subject matter experts in software development, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, industrial design, robotics, and research & development, NRGXP works with companies to develop and refine their products and services in order to create a roadmap for success. “We love working with great ideas that we can help turn into home run products,” said Schab.
Joseph Spillman, Sales and Marketing Group Director, Optimax
Since 1971 Optimax has been America’s largest optics prototype manufacturer, specializing in Asphere, Cylinder, Freeforms, Plano/Flat and Sphere optics in sizes up to 500mm. “The reasons for working with Optimax include our speed since we have the fastest lead time, the precision and quality we offer, and the reliability of our production. We pride ourselves on manufacturing optics better, quicker, and more cost-effectively than other companies,” said Spillman. The company has both confidential industrial partnerships and collaborations with universities and national laboratories.
Tyson Tate, Employer Connections Program Director, University of Rochester (UR)
With over 200 academic majors, UR students have endless opportunities for internships. The Employer Connections Program helps match businesses of all types with the most appropriate students for win/win relationships. “Because our students are so well-rounded by taking courses in a variety of areas that they are passionate about, they present a breadth of knowledge and experience for employers,” said Tate. Internships range from microprograms focusing on a single project to full capstone projects. UR is the fifth largest private employer in New York State and has a student body of 6,500+ undergraduates and 4,600+ graduate students.
Min Chen, Account Manager, Viavi Solutions
Viavi Solutions has two core businesses: network and service enablement, and optical security and performance. Its many areas of expertise include consumer electronics, government and aerospace, anti-counterfeiting, automotive, and spectral sensing. “Viavi has capabilities with engineered diffusers and polymer on glass technology. We work with customers on both standard and custom diffusers, and provide the ability to scale up as demand grows,” said Chen. Viavi’s Rochester facility specializes in optical and mechanical design, along with photolithography.
Jay Eastman, CEO & Founder, Optel
Having founded three startups himself, Jay Eastman is uniquely qualified to work with other startups, knowing much of what they need to do in order to succeed. Optel offers both engineering (lens design and opto-mechanical design; electronic, image sensor, & FPGA circuits and imbedded firmware; application software development; optical and biomedical engineering; and medical device design) and manufacturing capabilities (rapid prototyping, CNC machining, optics customization, pilot production, small-lot and volume manufacturing). “Startups can come to Optel with just a product concept and we will help them develop a prototype,” said Eastman.
Alexis Vogt, Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of Optics, Monroe Community College (MCC) Optical System Program
Worldwide, there is a tremendous shortage of skilled optical technicians to fill positions working with engineers and scientists who manufacture products that require experience in the field of optics. “Too few workers in the optics field impairs the opportunity for innovation. Although this course of study started in 1963 as a feeder program for Rochester companies like Xerox, Kodak, and Bausch & Lomb, today our graduates are working all over the globe. MCC is the nation’s only community college awarding associate degrees in precision optics, and we offer a one-year certificate degree, a two-year AAS degree and a 2 + 2 program where our AAS grads can continue on to the University of Rochester, RIT, or the University of Arizona for their bachelor’s degree,” said Vogt.
Luminate startups also attended workshops on:
- “Corporate Structure” with Mario Fallone, Venture Capital Partner at Harter Secrest and Emery
- “Building a Great Place to Work” with Janine Corea, HR Director, and Gerry Pierce, CEO of HR Works
- “Tradeshow Tips for Virtual and Live Events” with Holly Barrett, Marketing Director at NextCorps and Sandy Sloane, Solutions by Sloane
- “Public Relations on a Shoestring Budget” with Holly Barrett and Sandy Sloane
COHORT III SPOTLIGHT
SaNoor Technologies Inc. is developing laser-based, visible-light communication devices and systems for high-speed, energy-saving, eco-friendly, and safe wireless data communication. Its mission is to provide technical solutions for ultimate connectivity in challenging environments, especially for enabling Internet of Underwater Things (IoUT) to help create an autonomous world. Chao Shen, Technical Lead for SaNoor, talked with us about the company.
What problems is your technology helping to solve and for what target audience?
CS: Today, there are many scientific, industry, security, and recreational activities that take place underwater. The conventional RF systems, including Bluetooth, 4G and WiFi, no longer work underwater due to the strong absorption of microwaves in water, creating a bottleneck for underwater sensing and monitoring. Effective real-time monitoring of subsea pipelines and other infrastructures is greatly hindered. For example, the current cabled subsea pipeline monitoring system suffers from limited mobility and high cost to maintain the camera nodes. Once the high mobility IoUT is developed, users will save up to 70 percent of the total cost in underwater monitoring. SaNoor’s Laser LiFi combines laser lighting and data communications to offer transmission distance 50 times longer and data rates 100 times higher than conventional LED technology on the market.
What trends are you seeing in this industry that support your offering?
CS: The industry has a growing demand for establishing an automatic and labor-saving inspection system of subsea facilities by utilizing robots. Currently, underwater robots are controlled by transmitting signals via cables. This wired communication method limits the operating area of robots and can be susceptible to cable tangling and destabilization of robotic performance due to tidal currents. By employing high-speed and high-capacity communications under the sea, underwater operation and control of robots will increase significantly. Industrial automation for underwater operations will result in both cost and time savings, as well as enhanced safety.
SaNoor’s technology will also benefit the scientific community in the areas of underwater environmental and marine species monitoring.
Beyond Luminate, how have you or are you connecting with potential investors and securing funding, and what are you learning about this stage of business development?
CS: Luminate provides a tremendous number of opportunities to connect with investors, funding sources, and partners. In addition to Luminate, SaNoor has also participated in other business development events and startup competitions, including SPIE Startup Challenge, Seedstars competition, MIT Enterprise Forum Saudi competition, the Nokia Open Innovation Challenge (NOIC), and others.
What type of partnerships are you forming to help develop and commercialize your technology?
CS: Currently, we are aggressively pushing for our beta prototype development. We are in active discussions with several energy, and oil and gas companies with the objective of gaining their acceptance of our vision and performing evaluation on our products.
How has being part of Luminate helped advance your business so far?
CS: Luminate is a unique and invaluable program for photonics innovators. We have benefited from the workshops, interactions, mentorships, and network resources with successful optics entrepreneurs, engineers and technologists, marketing, and business development professionals, just to name a few. The workplace and shared lab facilities have been very helpful to our product development efforts. Prior to Luminate most of our time was dedicated to prototyping and product development. Since being part of the program, we are also working on understanding the market and building our business, sales, and marketing strategies to make sure we are developing useful products for customers. Additionally, we have received legal and financial support, along with advice, ensuring SaNoor is ready for investment.
Where do you hope to be at the end of the year in terms of next steps with your company?
CS: By the end of 2020, we aim to close our Series A round and expand our team to include business development, marketing, sales engineering, and an administrative manager. Our goal is to secure new purchase orders, generate revenue, build up our patent portfolio, and develop new laser optical wireless communication products.
Any advice for other entrepreneurs/startups?
CS: It’s very important to have a thorough customer discovery and market analysis to identify the target market, understand the customer needs, and have a solid proof-of-product market fit. High-tech startups are not built by designing a fine product and trying to sell them, rather by understanding what customers need and producing the right products. Additionally, cash flow and the financials are critical components for any entrepreneurial endeavor and must always be kept top of mind.
COHORT III IN THE NEWS
A series with the Rochester Business Journal
Leading up to Luminate Finals 2020—the exciting culmination of our program where cohort III startups will compete for a portion of $2 million in follow-on funding—the RBJ profiled each of our ten companies. Here are the final two, published in June:
- Haqean tackles sales of counterfeit and pirated goods
- Team Kilo develops lighting technology to aid stabilization and growth of NICU babies
A story on Luminate’s Finals was also featured in the Rochester Business Journal in early July. This story, which outlines the virtual, global venue for the competition and provides commentary from our managing director, Dr. Sujatha Ramanujan, and board chair, Don Golini, is being shared now in hopes you all save the date for the event.
LUMINATE COMPANIES FEATURED IN PHOTONICS MEDIA WHITE PAPER
Luminate Technology Program Manager, Damon Diehl, PhD, spotlights four Luminate companies making major contributions to sustainability initiatives with emerging OPI technologies.
SNAPSHOT: PORTFOLIO MILESTONES
Celebrating Luminate companies’ success
Spotlight: BioChemical Analysis Tools for Sustainable Precision Agriculture
Nordetect, a Denmark-based company and Luminate cohort III startup, is working to transform the future of the agriculture industry through building chemical analysis systems for agricultural and environmental testing that would bring “the lab to the farm”. Andy Simon, Luminate Operations Director, sat down with Keenan Pinto, Nordetect CEO and Co-founder. Watch the video interview to learn more about the company’s journey.
Patenting on an International Scale
Darius Sankey, Luminate board member and advisor, General Partner at Moore Ventures, and former President of Ocean Tomo China, discusses the importance of patenting. He shares his insights on patenting in the global market when working in the optics, photonics, and imaging industry. Watch the video interview.
Intellectual Property Strategy
Darius Sankey, Luminate board member and advisor, General Partner a Moore Ventures, and former President of Ocean Tomo China, explains the importance of having an intellectual property strategy, what it is, how it works, and how it is evolving. Watch the video interview.
As part of the Luminate program, cohort members receive access to connect with and learn from a variety of high-level contacts representing many different industries—all designed to help them further their startups. Recently they heard from John Hart, the CEO of Lumetrics. John is also the Board President of Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster (RRPC) and the Board chairman of New York Photonics, the statewide photonics organization. With more than 40 years of experience in the OPI field, John is well versed in the formation of new companies and has led three startup companies, including Lumetrics®, ASE Instruments, and Holotek, all OPI companies. He graciously invited the teams to connect with him to do a deeper dive into how he might be able assist them further as they begin to structure funding deals.
Interestingly, John’s company was originally located at Luminate’s parent organization, High Tech Rochester (HTR), which was NextCorps’ former name. Being part of HTR was very helpful to John in many ways, such as enhancing the credibility of a new company by providing a public “storefront”. Lumetrics is now in its own large location that features multiple capabilities to support the many types of customers they work with. Lumetrics develops and manufactures precision non-contact thickness measurement and optical inspection systems for medical, glass, food packaging, ophthalmic, automotive, and film industries. Here are some of John’s key takeaways:
- Some of the most important things for startups to do are to find the right champion, raise money quickly, align with the right licensors, and guard your technology.
- Take advantage of the 150+ OPI companies here in Rochester. This can be done individually or through the RRPC. There is so much knowledge and experience right here in our own backyard!
- When applying for patents, you can save a lot of money by using patent agents and doing it yourself. And for a mere $40, copyrighting offers significant value and protects you for 99 years.
- For intellectual property assets, make sure all employees sign secrecy agreements, and remember to add language that assigns any technology they develop to the company and continues those obligations once they leave the company. No exceptions! You may get ripped off by employees, customers, or big companies. Be prepared to sue if you have to.
- There is a difference between stakeholder value and shareholder value. One group might think you are successful and doing a good job, while the other might think the opposite. Success really depends on who you ask. Always keep Winston Churchill’s famous words in mind: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”.