Plugging Into the Optics & Photonics Ecosystem


It’s true that it takes a village to launch a new business. From the early stages, tech startups need to collaborate with the right supply-chain vendors to get on the path to commercialization and initial revenue. That’s why we host our regional showcase each year — to help facilitate those connections between Luminate teams and vetted service providers. Part mini trade show, part matchmaking event, our fifth annual showcase welcomed seventeen organizations from throughout the region to share their core capabilities with the startups of cohort 7 earlier this month.

Presentations and one-on-one matchmaking meetings during the fifth annual regional showcase
Regional showcase presenters included BZDesign, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, and Launch Team.

Big thanks to all who participated and helped our teams see the possibilities for their business here in Rochester! (View the list here.)

Part of cohort 7’s latest in-person visit involved getting out of the “classroom” and into real facilities. We toured Optimax Systems, the largest precision optics manufacturer in the United States; and we took a two-part trip to the Rochester Institute of Technology to get an in-person look at its Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS) and the amazing R&D resources available at the labs of its Future Photon Initiative.

Cohort 7 toured Optimax as well as RIT's Golisano Institute for Sustainability and the labs of its Future Photon Initiative.

Podcast flashback: Optimax started in a barn in Webster, NY more than three decades ago and is now the largest optics manufacturer in America, operating a state-of-the-art 120,000 sq. ft. facility and growing in size, revenue, customers, and employees each year. CEO Rick Plympton spoke with Luminate’s Director of Technology Integration, Dr. Damon Diehl, about the company’s path to growth and commitment to creating a great place to work. Watch/listen on NextCorps’ Forward Faster podcast. 

Working with Photonics Associations & Clusters

On top of helping teams forge meaningful connections at the regional showcase and facility tours, we added a new course this year specifically about the importance of tapping into optics associations and leveraging optics clusters. Founder and CEO of Bell Collaborative, Lisa Belodoff, shared tips and strategies she’s developed over a career spent building deep relationships with companies in optics, photonics, and high-tech industries.

“You can be in many different fields — life sciences, transportation, AR/VR, healthcare, etc. But you’re also in optics and photonics,” said Belodoff. “Optics clusters have sprung up across the country and around the globe. New tech hubs are forming all the time, with likeminded people, companies, and associations coalescing around these areas. It’s important to map out where your particular customers, investors, and partners might be, and create a plan to make the ecosystem work for you.”

Where exactly are optics clusters? The Luminate accelerator formed in the heart of one. Rochester, NY, known as the optics capital of the world, is home to more than 180 optics and photonics companies, supporting workers in one out of 13 homes in the region. Luminate teams receive introductions to some of those through our annual Tech Fast Pitch event that’s co-hosted by New York Photonics.

Across the United States, some other notable clusters include Silicon Valley with its focus on semiconductor optics, integrated photonics, and AV tech; the South’s “Space Coast,” for innovations in aerospace and defense; and the Carolinas’ “Research Triangle;” among many others.

Clusters typically have monthly and annual events, providing startups with low or no-cost tabling or speaking opportunities — both of which can facilitate introductions to prospective customers or partners. They offer free newsletters to share the latest trends, industry news, and expert commentary. And, they provide a captive audience for founders to test out new ideas to validate potential market opportunities and gain valuable feedback before taking the ideas further.

“For international companies considering setting up shop in the U.S., it’s important to think about this when establishing your headquarters,” said Belodoff. Being part of the right cluster can mean proximity to key players, skilled workers, and shared facilities, labs, and equipment that can reduce costs and accelerate development.

Why join an optics association? Belodoff explained that a membership can offer many benefits, including:

  • Connections to subject matter experts
  • Pathways to grant opportunities and investors
  • Increased visibility
  • Cost-effective ways to break into new markets
  • And, networking with talent who just might be your next hire

When it comes to being a member, one of the benefits that’s rarely discussed is the advocacy role that associations play.

“It’s a lot harder for one company or organization to initiate change,” explains Belodoff. “But together, you have the potential to transform industry. Aligning with an association can provide you with a voice and a presence on a more global stage to not only help you build your business and break into new markets, but shape where emerging technology is headed so that we all can benefit from our collective efforts and shared vision.”

Cohort 7 companies also recently attended training on:

  • Board governance, with Dr. Sujatha Ramanujan, Luminate’s Managing Director.
  • Writing winning sales plans, with Jack Derby, Head Coach and President, and George Simmons, Senior Partner, at management consulting firm, Derby Management.
  • Customizing pitch decks, with Dr. Ramanujan and Dr. Damon Diehl.
  • FDA regulation and small business assessments for medical devices, with Karen Mesolella, Business Acceleration Manager/Business Strategist at Dawnbreaker, Inc.
  • Industry-focused solution selling, also with Karen Mesolella.
  • Business valuations with Maureen Ruteki, a Partner in StoneBridge Business Partners and a member of EFPR Group’s Business Valuation, Forensic, and Litigation Services Group.
  • Developing a differentiated brand with messaging that resonates, with Holly Barrett, Marketing Director at NextCorps.

Portfolio Wins

Bounce Imaging unveiled two new tactical camera systems, both fitted with TrellisWare’s mobile ad hoc network (MANET) radio modules for longer-range and more interoperable situational awareness, as well as enhanced resilience against electronic warfare interference. An order for several hundred of these systems to U.S. special operations units represents the largest part of $11 million in new DoD contracts, and Bounce also recently delivered first units to a NATO country.

New throwable tactical cameras from Bounce Imaging
New throwable cameras are equipped with TrellisWare’s TW-650 TSM Shadow Core board module. (Image via Flavia Camargos Pereira.)

Circle Optics has been awarded an AFWERX Tactical Funding increase of $450,000 to advance the development of its Hydra II system with the integration of GPU technology, which will empower it to handle high-quality, real-time video streaming without latency. Circle was also recently recognized as one of our region’s fastest growing minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE), ranking second out of 50 companies celebrated at the inaugural Greater Rochester Chamber MWBE Awards.

Scout Space Inc. was awarded an SBIR Phase I contract from AFWERX to advance space safety and operational effectiveness. Under the contract, Scout will develop a Collision Analysis Framework designed to bolster real-time spacecraft self-protection capabilities for identifying, tracking, and avoiding space collisions with debris.

Labby has been selected as a 2024 Innovation Showcase Finalist at the 6th Animal Health, Nutrition, and Technology Innovation USA, a must-attend networking event for innovators with new solutions to support the detection, prevention, or treatment of diseases in animals.

Swave Photonics announced the development of the world’s first 3D holographic display technology for compact extended reality form factors, the first application of which will be low-cost, light weight, AR smart glasses with all-day battery life.

MEETOPTICS now has 100,000+ products from trusted suppliers available in its ever-growing optics and photonics database. Congratulations on achieving this milestone, MEETOPTICS!

OVITZ is receiving attention for its system that streamlines the process of delivering fully customized scleral contact lenses. Vancouver-based Mt. View EyeCare — the only clinic in the metro area that currently uses OVITZ’ technology — was recently featured in The Columbian for a vision-saving patient success story and efforts to make scleral lenses more accessible.

Applications Open!

We’ve extended our application period significantly and are accepting submissions now through early January 2025. If you’re working on technology that uses optics, photonics, or imaging, we want to hear from you. Apply to be part of cohort 8!

See You Next Month!