Luminate appoints first two women to advisory board

Via the Rochester Business Journal
By:  September 26, 2019

As the third cohort of the Luminate NY accelerator approaches, two University of Rochester alumni have been tapped to join the advisory board.

Jenifer Bunis

Jenifer Bunis

Jenifer Bunis and Linda Smith, both holding bachelor’s degrees in optics from UR, cumulatively bring about 40 years of experience in the optics industry to the board, from tech to supply chain management, marketing and sales. Bunis and Smith are the first two women to join the Luminate advisory board, strengthening the accelerator’s position as a supporter of women in the optics industry.

It’s an important move for Sujatha Ramanujan, managing director for Luminate NY, who sees diversity on the board as critical.

“The population of women in optics is growing but it’s still far from balanced,” Ramanujan said. “With women business owners facing different challenges than men, it is imperative for Luminate to have strong female leaders on the board. Their experience will be instrumental to informing the industry and supporting continued change, with the hopes of opening doors for more women to start companies in this field.”

Bunis is particularly focused on the laser side of the photonics industry, having spent 20 years with Mukilteo, Wash.-based Synrad Inc. There she focused on sealed CO2 lasers, used for die-cutting and other precision manufacturing applications. Bunis worked her way up the chain at Synrad, first as sales engineer, then executive vice president. Bunis went on to become the first female board member of Plymouth, Mich.-based laser manufacturer Rofin-Sinar, which was acquired by Santa Clara, Calif.-based Coherent Inc. in 2016.

Bunis currently runs consulting firm Westlake Photonics.

“As mentors, we get to show it’s not the exception anymore … to have women advising men,” Bunis said. “Most of the cohort leaders — Leslie (Kimerling of Double Helix Optics) is fantastic — but the majority of them are men, so I like the idea of women being able to demonstrate leadership capabilities.”

Kimerling and her nanomicroscopy company Double Helix, based in Boulder, Colo., were the first big winners at Luminate and are currently operating out of Nextcorps’ office at Sibley Square.

Linda Smith

Linda Smith

For Smith, supporting Luminate means supporting Rochester and the tech industry here.

Smith comes to the Luminate advisory board having previously served at Thermo Fisher Scientific and QIOPTIQ in marketing and sales, as well as startup companies commercializing complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) and micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology. In 2005, Smith founded CERES Technology Advisors Inc., an advisement firm focused around photonics companies. Smith has advised on more than 20 acquisitions and financings since founding CERES.

“Rochester is the epicenter in the U.S. for optics manufacturing and new technologies … great people, cool, very highly skilled labor,” Smith said. “But it’s not known for its entrepreneurial leadership … for its access to financing and capital. I’m really excited to be part of that Luminate force to plant seeds on that fertile ground.”

Luminate NY is the world’s largest accelerator based on optics tech, and hosts companies ranging from heart monitoring app developer VPG Medical to Bounce Imaging, the manufacturer of a ball-like camera with six lenses that can be thrown into a burning building to obtain a live panorama of what’s going on inside. Luminate was initially funded by a $10 million, two-year grant through the Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an additional $15 million for three more years of the cohort in early 2019.

Applications for the third cohort of Luminate closed on Sept. 23. The 10 new cohort members will be announced at the third Lightning Awards this fall. Each selected company will receive $100,000 in follow-on funding and a six month stay at the Sibley Building, including mentorship, access to resources and business guidance. In June, companies will compete for a total of $2 million in additional funding.

The second big winner of Luminate was Ovitz, a mobile eye testing company founded by University of Rochester alum Felix Kim.

“I feel that it’s important to have as many different voices heard as possible, whether it’s in the boardroom or the levels below the boardroom,” Bunis said. “Largely because, especially in the optics world, the constituency is not just all white men. The companies making a name for themselves in the optics world, in the photonics world … their employees are diverse.” 775-9692