Luminate Finals 2020 in Review


Round 3 of the Luminate NY startup competition is a wrap! More than 1,500 people from around the world registered for Luminate Finals 2020, held in conjunction with The Optical Society’s first-ever all-virtual Frontiers in Optics + Laser Science (FiO + LS) Conference.

Congratulations to This Year’s Investment Recipients!

While all ten startup companies of Luminate’s third cohort will continue to receive support from the accelerator, six companies were awarded follow-on funding at Finals 2020. Five of these investments were made to companies that met specific criteria, as determined by a panel of advisory board members and judges. The sixth investment was chosen by Finals attendees through a real-time audience poll.

Luminate Finals 2020 winners

Congratulations to this year’s winners, and to all of the startups of cohort 3!

$1,000,000 Winner – Company of the Year:

The number of solar power plants in the United States is growing at a rate of 30% per year, but much of the visible light is wasted by solar cells. SunDensity’s Photonic Smart Coating (PSC) can enhance the energy output of solar panels by 20%. PSC improves the efficiency of opto-electronic devices such as solar cells by enhancing and shaping the spectrum of photons, transforming visible light into infrared light that many devices can more easily use.

Read SunDensity’s RBJ Profile

$400,000 Winner – Outstanding Graduate:
Simulated Inanimate Models (SIM)

Medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and surgical education is one glaring shortcoming — training still involves inexperienced surgeons operating on live patients. Simulated Inanimate Models (SIM) is working to change that with their immersive “flight simulator for surgery” that couples lifelike anatomical models with an AR training system.

Read SIM’s RBJ Profile

$300,000 Winner (Distinguished Graduate):

Bedsores are a significant yet preventable healthcare problem that can lead to severe wounds, amputation, or even death. Rubitection is addressing this problem with an optical probe and mobile app system for accurate, early bedsore detection and care management, with opportunities for the broader skin health market.

Read Rubitection’s RBJ Profile

$250,000 Winner – Honorable Achievement:

A new generation of premium intraocular lenses (IOLs) offers the promise of eyesight equivalent or even superior to pre-cataract vision. However, the adoption of premium IOLs is hampered because small misalignments can cause significant vision problems. AkknaTek’s Lens Reviewer helps eye surgeons ensure safe and accurate lens positioning, increasing successful premium lens implantations and decreasing elaborate post-operative management.

Read AkknaTek’s RBJ Profile

$250,000 Winner – Honorable Achievement:

Farm managers and agricultural service providers lack an affordable, understandable, and easy-to-use system for obtaining nutrient data. Nordetect has developed a lab-on-a-chip system to test soil, water, and leaf samples in a matter of minutes, empowering AgriFood industry players to make faster decisions that impact crop yield and input costs.

Read Nordetect’s RBJ Profile

$10,000 Winner – Audience Choice Award:
Kilo Medical Solutions

Fifteen million infants are born prematurely each year and spend their first weeks in neonatal ICU (NICU) incubators, where overexposure to light and sound can have significant negative effects on their health and overall development. Kilo Medical Solutions is working to combat these challenges with Brise-Solette, an electrical film application designed to mimic the light and sound conditions of a mother’s womb.

Read Kilo Medical Solutions’ RBJ Profile

You Could Be On Stage Next Year!

Do you have a startup built around emerging technology? Luminate is looking for its fourth cohort. Applying only takes minutes and it can be a smart step in moving your startup forward — even if you’re not selected. By submitting an application, you’ll get your startup in front of our world-class advisory board and team.

Submit your application by January 7, 2021.

Get in touch with our Director of Operations, Andy Simon.

Watch the Full Event

Miss the excitement? Want another look at the technology? Watch the full event — including remarks from the CEO of The Optical Society, Liz Rogan, and New York’s Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul; all ten startups’ technology videos and pitches; a panel discussion with members of Luminate’s esteemed advisory board; and the award announcements — or keep reading for a brief recap.

Watch Luminate Finals 2020

Pivoting from the Big Tent to the Virtual Stage

For technology startups, adapting to change and overcoming obstacles is part of the job — but no one could have predicted the challenges that Luminate’s third cohort would have to endure with a once-in-a-century pandemic. In addition to adjusting to a virtual format for the extended accelerator program, cohort 3 startups also had a very different Finals experience than cohorts past. Instead of a 500-person live event during the Rochester International Jazz Festival, Luminate Finals 2020 was streamed internationally as part of The Optical Society’s combined FiO + LS and Quantum 2.0 Conferences.

“This pandemic has not only separated us from each other, it has also perhaps revealed the lack of understanding by many, of the sheer beauty of science,” said OSA CEO, Liz Rogan.

“Science is exciting. Science is challenging. Science solves vexing world problems. With Luminate’s leadership through this event, it reminds us all of the possibilities available to creative and determined minds. It is not a surprise that optics and photonics are delivering solutions during this crisis.”

In her address, New York State Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, remarked on how Luminate underscores Rochester, NY’s reputation as the optics capital of the world. 

“Here in New York, we are a hotbed for innovation,” said Hochul. “In Rochester, we are the epicenter of the OPI industry in North America. We strive to be ahead of the curve and we set the benchmark for the rest of the country to follow. Luminate has invested $7 million in 30 startups to date. Those companies now share a net worth of $160 million.”

Panel Takeaways: Investing Early in Innovative Future Businesses

Luminate Finals 2020 PanelistsHalf-way through the ten startup pitches, Luminate’s Managing Director, Dr. Sujatha Ramanujan, moderated an interactive panel discussion with members of Luminate’s advisory board

  • Dr. Milton Chang, PhD, Managing Partner, Incubic Management
  • Don Golini, Founder, SANICA Ventures and Chairman of the Board, Luminate Accelerator
  • Dr. Darius Sankey, PhD, Managing Director, Innovation Acceleration Capital
  • Linda Smith, ASA, President, CERES Technology Advisors, Inc.

When asked about current industry trends, Linda Smith said:

“Companies offering complete solutions to better manage the supply chain in the photonics area are up more than 10x in investment.”

Dr. Milton Chang shared what he looks for when considering startups for investment:

“I focus on founders with very deep technical knowledge of the field they are in that also have the ability to make a good business case.”

Don Golini spoke to what entrepreneurs should do to ensure they have a good business idea:

”You have to test the market. Try to validate that you have a good or bad idea before you start raising money, before you build a team, and before you jump in with both feet. Really talk to the end users and do that true customer discovery.” 

Chang added:

“I encourage you to poke holes in your own ideas. Find reasons why it will not work, because you’re instinctively finding reasons why it works. That can help you avoid a lot of time wasted.”

Dr. Darius Sankey talked about some of the elements of a good IP strategy:

“The key is to realize where you are filling a gap. If you’re filling a known gap in a large company that has lots of capital to invest, you might be onto something new.”

Luminate Finals in the News

Catch up on all Luminate news here.



Celebrating Luminate companies’ success

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See You Next Month!