January 2020 in Review

Every month, we’ll be sharing an inside look at the startups of Luminate’s third cohort, as well as the partners, resources, and events that help scale their business. In addition, we’ll highlight the achievements of our portfolio companies.

January 2020 marked the beginning of a new decade and Luminate’s newest cohort, selected from more than 100 companies that applied from all around the world. Now just over a month into the program, the startups of cohort III have packed in training on topics from sales to mindfulness, met with their mentors from our advisory board and members of the NY photonics cluster, and mapped out goals to advance their business. Meanwhile, companies from our previous cohorts continue to hit impressive milestones.


How to Generate More Leads

Worldleaders’ Sales Trainer, Joe Morone, coached startups on getting to the business case

Joe MoroneCohort III teams did a deep dive on lead generation with Joe Morone, Performance Consultant and Co-Founder of Worldleaders Sales Solutions. A certified change management professional and author of The Smart Sales Method, Joe has a 30-year track record of growing sales and sales teams with a statistically supported methodology for developing a strong pipeline and closing more deals.

“Before you can be good CEOs and business people, you have to be good marketers. Nothing’s going to happen until you can sell your product to investors and customers,” says Joe.

Using his tips on how to build a sales funnel, Luminate startups enhanced their business cases, narrowed their target audiences, and developed initial marketing plans.

In his training, Joe stresses the SEL model — appealing to Survival, Emotion, then Logic when talking to a customer, in that order. This model flips the standard LES model on its head, because the strongest driver behind a buying decision is the buyer’s survival instinct. Their desire to protect their job security and advance the goals of the company will always come first. From there, moving on to an emotional trigger and closing with a logical appeal will lead to the highest probability of success in selling.

Lead Generation with Joe Morone of Worldleaders

Other key takeaways from Joe:

  • Sell the WHAT, not the HOW. In the majority of organizations, the person who cares about “the how” isn’t the person who signs the check. Start with the business case, then move to the use case.
  • If you wait for proof points to come in, you’ll go broke. Use numbers when you have them, but don’t wait to complete multiple studies to get in front of potential customers. Instead, sell the innovation. Smart business leaders know there’s a risk associated with being first, and you can appeal to their ego by sharing that you’re looking for a pilot customer.
  • You need a daily discipline of talking to customers. A good practice is to email first, then call immediately about what you just sent.

Luminate startups also attended workshops on subjects that touch various aspects of business development. Among the training received during month one:


Cohort III Spotlights


Rubitection bedsore detectionBedsores affect 2.3 million people every year in the U.S. alone, with 60,000 annual deaths from this preventable health problem. Early bedsore detection currently involves a manual, unreliable test where the caregiver feels and looks for changes in the health of the skin. We spoke with Rubitection CEO, Sanna Gaspard, PhD, about how her startup is working to modernize bedsore detection to improve patient outcomes and save lives.

Who is the target audience for Rubitection’s solution?

SG: Right now, we’re focused on providing nursing homes, hospitals, and home care agencies with reliable, low-cost, early bedsore detection, prevention, and management. Long term, we’re looking to be a hardware-enabled data analytics company, with products used both in and out of the home to enable a continuum of care. Our grand vision is to offer an all-around skin health and wellness tool that anyone can use to monitor chronic skin conditions like rosacea or dermatitis, and other common wounds like diabetic foot ulcers.

What makes you stand out from the competition?

SG: We’re using a proven optical approach. There are several problems with the current available technology. Some solutions are subjective, such as ultrasound, which still relies on someone to read and interpret it. The SEM scanner measures electricity changes in the skin, but that’s susceptible to environmental changes like humidity or sweat. There are currently no accessible technologies in the space of broad skin health. There are solutions specifically for wound care, dermatology conditions, and beauty, but there’s no general skin health tool. We will fill that void.

How did your team get started?

SG: I was in a rehab engineering course looking for a PhD project that met three very specific criteria: it had to be something that was a common healthcare condition, that was an unmet need, and that could be solved with technology. My professor brought up the subject of bedsores to me, and my market research led me to realize it was a problem that checked my three criteria.

The final straw for me in terms of deciding to make bedsores my doctoral project was learning that it is a health disparity for people of color. The manual test does not work on pigmented skin, independent of ethnicity. I thought, now this just became personal. What about me one day? Or my mom, or my brother? They might survive a trauma incident and then die from a bedsore. In that moment, I decided to pursue developing a solution to this problem. Once I developed the technology, I eventually launched it out of the university and convinced Yannick Heintz, our Data Scientist who I met in grad school, to join me on the journey.

What does it mean to you to be in Luminate, and what are your goals?

SG: I went through another accelerator six years ago, but the structure was very hands-off. At Luminate, it feels like a community that wants to help. I was encouraged by the opportunity to have the resources and support network to get things done.

By the end of the program, I hope to have completed prototyping and gathered data through local nursing homes and hospitals, at which point I can raise money for product development and manufacturing. Being able to complete these milestones puts Rubitection in a stronger position to raise funding to grow the company. Other major goals are to formalize corporate partnerships and identify team members in the area of business development, marketing, operations, engineering, and supply chain management as we grow.

Looking back, what’s the smartest step you’ve taken so far?

SG: The smartest thing I have done is participate in competitions and explore opportunities outside of the Pittsburgh region where I launched the company. Doing competitions gave me access to funding and a lot of free marketing and exposure, which sometimes brought investors and potential customers to me unexpectedly. I never anticipated that people would reach out because they read an article about Rubitection. Competitions have also helped me meet other fantastic entrepreneurs and build a virtual community where we continue to help each other. Exploring opportunities outside of Pittsburgh allowed me to expand my network with investors and potential corporate partners.


What advice would you give to entrepreneurs just starting out?

SG: First, you’re going to get lots of opinions — good, bad, and indifferent. You have to know the value of what you’re offering — do the market research and pay attention to the market trends, so you know when to let an opportunity go and when to keep pushing. Second, budget your money carefully; it will get you through the hard times and help you avoid an impending financial crash. Third, be persistent. A “no” is just a reason to go to the next person, not to stop.

Rubitection was recently one of four finalists in P&G’s 2020 Innovation Challenge to find their next billion dollar brand and took home second place in the healthcare category at the 2020 SPIE Startup Challenge in San Francisco. Next up, Rubitection is headed to the SoGal Global Pitch Competition for women and diverse entrepreneurs. Reach out at info@rubitection.com if you’re interested in helping them achieve their goal of saving lives through early bedsore detection.

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Simulated Inanimate Models (SIM)

Training for the estimated 750,000 surgeons in the U.S. and Europe currently involves surgeons learning new skills partially by performing on live patients, which poses unnecessary harm and is economically inefficient. Michael Wilson, PhD, COO of Simulated Inanimate Models (SIM) shared how his company is addressing these challenges with a combination of highly realistic hydrogel models (called “phantoms”) and augmented reality (AR) technology that delivers medical curricula in real time during a simulated surgical procedure.

What problems are you helping to solve?

SIM neurosurgeonMW: Despite our healthcare system producing the best surgeons and medical care in the world, surgical education still involves operations on live patients, due to the lack of suitable alternatives. If you go to a teaching hospital for even a routine surgical procedure, like needing to have your appendix out, it could be the first time that surgeon is actually cutting into a human being. Training and simulation have become incredibly advanced in other industries — the flight industry being the gold standard — but physical training models that give surgeons a lifelike experience don’t really exist. More than that, the educational paradigm is outdated, as it relies heavily on one-on-one instruction between the expert surgeon and the trainee.

Why should surgeons in training turn to SIM?

MW: Two reasons: The realism of the phantom, and the educational value. There are plenty of trainers out there that are made out of durable synthetic materials like rubber or silicone, but the actual value offered is very low, because that’s not what our bodies are made out of, and therefore the stiffness, texture, and feel can be off. Our models are made of a water-based hydrogel, offering a much more realistic hands-on experience.

We developed the AR instructional component because of what we call “the busy surgeon problem.” If you provide an inexperienced resident with the most lifelike phantom, they will still require instruction and likely turn to an attending surgeon for help. But attending surgeons simply don’t have time to be teaching outside of the operating room, and will encourage residents to attend a live surgery and observe there, and possibly to even participate under supervision. Our product solves for the time limitations of expert instructors by not requiring their presence.

How did your team get started?

MW: Our CEO, Dr. Jonathan Stone, is an attending neurosurgeon at Strong Hospital who created the models during his residency at the University of Rochester, developing them with Dr. Ahmed Ghazi in Urology. Our core team came together when Jon presented at a biotech networking event called BioBeers three years ago. I met Jon there as a biomedical researcher, a PhD post-doc looking to move out of academics into the entrepreneurial space. I saw the problem that Jon was talking about and the potential for the solutions he was proposing, and it was something I wanted to be a part of. At that event, Jon also met our Chief Technology Officer, Steve Griffith, who has 30 years experience in electrical and computer engineering including flight simulation. He saw the potential as well to take principles of high-fidelity training and immersive education and apply them to surgery.

SIM team

The fourth member of the team, Dr. Nelson Stone, is Jon’s father and an internationally renowned clinician, academic, and serial entrepreneur. He’s started several medical device companies that underwent successful exits. You can imagine he’s really an incredible resource to have on the team.

What do you hope to accomplish through your time at Luminate?

MW: Six months from now, we want to have secured funding for the full commercialization of our product, to have built out our sales and marketing plan and be consistently implementing it, and to begin seeing the subsequent jump in sales. We see Luminate as an absolutely key resource for that trajectory.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to entrepreneurs just starting out?

MW: Get used to stepping out of your comfort zone and embrace it. Coming to SIM from a life science academic background, at some point I had to do customer discovery, market research, or financial projections for the first time. I had to give a pitch and make a sales call for the first time, to speak with people and try to convince them to buy our product. A lot of scientists come to entrepreneurship with lots of technical success, patented IP, and published papers, and they may have this impression that their skillset is relatively specialized and focused. The reality is that they’re proficient learners and doers. If you take time to try and learn something new or different, you might find you’re pretty good at it.

SIM fulfilled their largest order of phantoms last November for the American Brachytherapy Society’s winter workshop, a two-day brachytherapy training session for urologists and radiation oncologists. In addition to being accepted to Luminate, SIM recently received three SBIR/STTR awards and are now applying for NSF SBIR Phase 2. The American Urological Association has reached out to feature their custom training phantoms for workshops at their national meeting this May in Washington, D.C., the largest urology meeting in the world.



Dr. Milton Chang

We recently sat down with Luminate board member, Dr. Milton Chang, for a three-part interview on his professional journey and advice for entrepreneurs. Watch the series to learn his tips for securing investors, and building and selling a company.


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Don Golini

We also spoke with our chairman, Don Golini, to get an insider’s look at what investors consider when evaluating companies. Watch the video for insights from this successful entrepreneur, startup mentor, and angel investor.


Snapshot: Portfolio Milestones

Celebrating cohort I and II company success

Congratulations to…


Join Us for Our Next Webinar

We’re hosting a webinar in April, where cohort III teams will share their experience in the accelerator. Get alerted when registration opens.


See You Next Month!