March 2020 in Review

With stay-at-home orders and many of our cohort teams unable to travel to the U.S., the Luminate accelerator has needed to pivot our model during the global COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful to report that our startups and staff are well, and our program continues with the use of video conferencing and adaptable seminar leaders, mentors, and participants. Extending our wishes for your health and safety!

Saving Vision with Light: Five Startup Technologies that are Revolutionizing Eye Care

Saving Vision with Light white paperEarly detection is critical for treating damage and diseases of the eye. Luminate Technology Program Manager, Damon Diehl, PhD, highlights five companies that are enabling a new generation of compact, powerful, and affordable ophthalmological imaging tools. These advanced diagnostic instruments permit early intervention and facilitate the development of breakthrough treatments, ushering in an era of personalized medicine that is both powerful and accessible.

How to Capture Investor Attention

Tips for winning business plans from Derby Management

Derby Management Jack Derby and George Simmons
Derby Management’s Jack Derby and George Simmons

Attracting investors and securing sales are among the most difficult and important challenges startups face. In month three at Luminate, teams went through a two-part interactive boot camp with Jack Derby, Head Coach and President, and George Simmons, Senior Partner at Boston-based management consulting firm, Derby Management.

Both Jack and George have held the titles VP, President, and CEO for varieties of companies and are also partners in Boston-based venture capital firms. They look at hundreds of business plans a year, and maintain valuable connections to different funds and investment groups. Their boot camp hit on elements of an effective business plan, what venture capitalists look for, and their “rules” for raising money, gleaned from decades of experience.

“It’s not so much the business plan as the planning — the mental process. Do you understand the interrelationships of the different elements, the cash tradeoffs of changing one thing versus another?  If you have that down, it’s really impressive to an investor,” says Jack. 

Derby Management Business Planning Architecture

Before they broke off for one-on-one sessions with our startups, Jack and George walked through “investor math” to give teams a sense for the cycles VCs invest in and the risks they weigh with each deal. They also touched on “Smarketing” (the process of integrating sales and marketing) and the steps to moving a customer from TOFU (top of the funnel) to BOFU (bottom of the funnel).

“Investors really understand sales and marketing today. They’ve become experts over the last 10 years, because that’s where they used to lose a lot of market. Nobody is going to invest in your company unless they know about your marketing — we need to read about that in your business plan,” says George.

Other key takeaways from Jack and George:

  • Venture-backed companies are 150x more likely to create jobs. If you can make a big hit at the angel and seed phase, that’s great, but you’re eventually going to need outside capital. Your success rate will be astronomically better than if you were to try to go it alone.
  • Investors are planning on your exit or sale, ideally after 5 years. This is a very different approach than trying to grow slowly with internally generated funds.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of being coachable. Investors are looking for CEOs who are honest and want their input. They gravitate towards individuals who say, “I believe this is the answer, but here’s what we don’t know. What do you think?”

Luminate startups also attended workshops on:

  • Navitagting patents with patent agent Lou Horvath
  • FDA and grant guidance with Scott Roseborough, President/CTO at En Route Tech, a consulting group that identifies grants and investment opportunities, and streamlines product development by defining a regulatory strategy with the FDA
  • How to build a strong brand and core messages with Holly Barrett, Marketing Director at NextCorps, a non-profit catalyst for entrepreneurship and the administrating organization for Luminate



Counterfeit vs. real productWhile the dangers of buying counterfeit products aren’t always obvious, there are economic impacts, legal implications, and health and safety risks. Counterfeit goods drain trillions of dollars from the global economy and put millions of jobs at risk in the process. Hanaan Hashim, CEO of Haqean, shared how her product security startup is dedicated to building a low-cost solution that allows users to identify real and fake items, and helps manufacturers and brand/trademark owners eliminate counterfeits.

What solution does Haqean provide, and how substantial is the problem you’re solving?

HH: We are developing a sector-agnostic, hardware-enabled SaaS platform that uses the latest computer vision and quantum randomness to eliminate knockoffs. Our QRNG (Quantum Random Number Generator) tagging can be verified at any point in the supply chain and also by the end consumer.

Haqean hardware setup
Haqean’s hardware setup

It is estimated that up to 7% of our annual world trade — $600 billion worth — is counterfeit or pirated. Counterfeited products are believed to be directly responsible for the loss of more than 750,000 American jobs and projected net losses of 4.2 to 5.4 million jobs by 2022 globally. Everything from baby formula to drugs can be counterfeited, with tragic results. Buyers of counterfeit products have cost New York City $1 billion per year in lost tax revenue, money that could have funded 10,000 new police officers, 10,000 new firefighters, and 10,000 new teachers.

What trends are you seeing in this industry that support your offering?

HH: The COVID pandemic outbreak has instigated more people to shop online at a time when the number of fake goods sold on the internet has also increased. This union potentially puts more shoppers at risk of buying defective or even hazardous products. The new worldwide market of COVID testing is a counterfeiter’s dream. There are a plethora of products out there claiming to sanitize your home or protect you against Coronavirus. Some are just plain false, while others are knockoffs of legitimate products like face masks and gloves. Minnesota based 3M makes the majority of N-95 masks, and they have seen a surge in the counterfeit of their products. It’s not just the manufacturers, but also product procuring firms that are dealing with potential N95 mask scams.

Beyond Luminate, how have you connected with potential investors?

HH: Prior to Luminate, we received mentorship from industry experts and Googlers at Google India’s Launchpad for Women Entrepreneurs. We’re also Alumni of JioGenNext, backed by Reliance Industries Limited. In addition, Haqean was selected as a presenting finalist for the Start-up Competition at the Inside Quantum Technology Conference in New York City this coming July. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for us to pitch our offerings to an audience of industry executives, quantum tech companies, VCs, and other investors.

Haqean at Fintegrate 2019
Haqean was runner up at Fintegrate Zone 2019, India’s largest fintech conclave supported by, and Government of Maharashtra

How has being part of Luminate helped advance your business so far?

Hanaan Hashim and Farhan Firaq
Haqean’s Hanaan Hashim (CEO) and Farhan Fariq (CTO)

HH: Before coming to Luminate, we had a prototype that was built using low-cost electronic components primarily ready for an India product-market fit.  After coming here, we started from scratch to build a market viable product. Luminate workshops helped us refine our offering. Only during this process did we realize that building an application with the Random Number Generator will make more sense and would be scalable in the future. Thus, we came up with the concept of an anti-counterfeiting system using quantum randomness and machine vision.

Where do you hope to be at the end of the year in terms of next steps with your company?

HH: We have prioritized our objectives and are aiming to increase sales leads and brand awareness by mid-2020, then focus on integration with partners by the end of 2020. We’ve started conversations and demonstrated our solution to three potential leads in Rochester alone.

Any advice for other entrepreneurs/startups? 

HH: Don’t confuse end users with customers. In healthcare, for example, end users may be doctors/health care workers, but the one who decides to purchase is usually a CIO (Chief Information Officer), CCO (Chief Clinical Officer), or another administrator. You must talk to both end users and customers and ensure that your solution meets their needs or simplifies their life in some significant way. You will have to think about how to get both of these groups on board with your idea. Not having this clarity can cost you time and business.

Think Outside

Think Outside snowy NorwaySnow has a large impact on a variety of industries — from water supply management and hydropower production to infrastructure, not to mention ski resorts. But snow can often present more questions than answers. We spoke with Founder and CEO of Think Outside, Monica Vaksdal, about how her company’s solutions capture, analyze, and forecast insights on snowpack to help inform business decisions and keep skiers safe.

What problems is your technology helping to solve? 

MV: Think Outside’s Sknow system digitally measures the snow, providing information in terms of both what the snowpack looks like (what layers are present, how deep it is, etc.) and what it consists of (dangers or relative water). This information is needed by hydropower companies to understand how much energy the water bound by snow and ice will produce and for what price, given how much water is in the mountains.

It also has implications for infrastructure (Are my roads or railways in the mountains threatened by unstable snow masses/avalanches? How do I best manage these hazards?), flood management (When will the mountain snow melt occur, and how much can I expect, when, and where?), water supply (How much water is in the ground vs how much is on the ground from snow melt?), and ski-resorts (Where and how unstable is the snow in my ski resort, both near piste, off-piste, and in vicinity of other infrastructure?).

Think Outside Sknow Device
The Sknow device connects to a ski to measure snow layers and inform the skier about possible avalanche risk.

What industry trends are you seeing that support your offering?

MV: The hydropower industry — as well as all industries related to snow and water — is increasingly interested in IoT (Internet of Things) and more data. Within hydropower/renewable energy from snow melt, there are large uncertainties as to how much water is bound in the mountains and when this volume is best produced related to production rates and energy prices. A reduction in this uncertainty can have a large effect on profits or losses.

How has being part of Luminate helped advance your business so far?

MV: We have had a great many doors opened to us for new partnerships in the U.S. because of Luminate. Through the program, we are exploring both academic relationships as well as relationships with industrial players in the radar domain. Also, having good advisors and mentoring on U.S. do’s and don’ts helps us a lot when looking into how to establish a Think Outside in the U.S.! Luminate is a key step for us to get our footing here.

We are also participating in Techstars’ accelerator program in Europe, and being in two programs and two networks gives us great exposure to ‘markets’ on both sides of the ocean.

Where do you hope to be at the end of the year in terms of next steps with your company?

MV: We hope to have a U.S. subsidiary or similar, as well as U.S./Canadian pilot customers for next season. We also hope that U.S. investors can see how a technology that originates from the oil and gas industry can have great usage and impact in other areas.

Any advice for other entrepreneurs/startups?

MV: Pivot or persevere. Always.

Think Outside team
The Think Outside team in their home country of Norway

COVID-19 Relief Efforts

Luminate companies jump in to help with the pandemic

Businesses across the world are coming up with innovative ways to ease the hardships associated with the Coronavirus. We are proud to share that Luminate companies are contributing to the fight against COVID-19.

  • Double Helix Optics is aiding research efforts by offering their nanoscale 3D imaging/tracking technology at no cost to clinical researchers studying the virus. Contact Double Helix for demonstrations, virtual meetings, or service.
  • Think Biosolution has deployed an at-home COVID-19 monitoring platform to help remotely monitor patients in quarantine, reducing doctor-patient interaction and delivering care efficiently. Contact Think Biosolution for information.
  • VPG Medical is offering Monroe County, NY residents free access to their HealthKam monitoring app during the pandemic, providing a tool for users to continuously monitor their heart without the hassle of purchasing a new wearable sensor or attaching a device to their body.

Luminate companies respond to COVID-19


SaNoor Technologies

We spoke with Chao Shen, PhD, CTO and Technical Leader of Luminate cohort III company, SaNoor Technologies, about his startup’s high-speed laser LiFi solution. Watch the video interview to learn more about this impressive alternative to LED LiFi and its many applications.


Celebrating Luminate companies’ success

Congratulations to…


Luminate Webinar on April 30

Get an inside look at Luminate through the perspectives of four startups in our current cohort. Learn how these teams are progressing their business plans, products, and networks through their experience at the accelerator so far, and assess if participation in a future cohort is right for you!

Double Helix Webinar on April 28

An unprecedented response to the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated efforts to identify novel ways to understand the virus. Learn how Double Helix Optics’ SPINDLE imaging modules bring you the capability to image down to 25 nm of precision, to localize, track, and image at the viral scale, in 3D.

See You Next Month!