N.Y. Startup Accelerator Names First Winners

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Luminate NY, the Rochester-based business accelerator for optics, photonics and imaging, has announced the winners of its first-round startup competition. The laurels went to Double Helix Optics, a firm based in Boulder, Colo., USA that specializes in computational optics to boost resolution of 3-D imaging.

Double Helix garnered US$1 million in follow-on funding after participating in the intensive six-month Luminate program. Intelon Optics, Positive Science and Think Biosolution also took away cash grants for further business development from the program.

Nurturing startup ideas

Funded by Empire State Development and the New York state government, Luminate NY was formed in July 2017 as a project of NextCorps (previously called High Tech Rochester), a nonprofit organization that runs several initiatives aimed at technology-industry development in Rochester and the surrounding Finger Lakes region of the state. The Luminate NY accelerator annually selects 10 promising startup companies whose ideas and products have reached a reasonable level of maturity.

Each selected company receives an initial investment of US$100,000, and participates in a six-month program of training and advice to help move its business concept closer to commercialization, forge connections with potential clients and investors, and validate its business plan. At the end of the six months, in June, comes “Demo Day,” when the startups present the results of their work in the accelerator, and their business pitches, to a panel of industry and venture-capitalist judges, to compete for a share of an additional US$2 million pot of seed money.

From 3-D imaging to biomechanics to wearables

The ten companies participating in the accelerator’s first round were announced last November, and the winner of the competition, Double Helix Optics, was unveiled at the accelerator’s first Demo Day, which took place at the Rochester International Jazz Festival on 28 June 2018. Double Helix, co-founded by OSA member Leslie Kimerling, is working to commercialize imaging technologies that provide improved depth resolution.

The company’s computational-imaging nano-module, SPINDLE (invented by OSA Fellow Rafael Piestun), is designed to be easily integrated with existing microscopes, cameras and other optical systems. The SPINDLE design can image individual biomolecules inside individual cells, and aims at giving 2-D instruments the capability to move into the 3-D imaging realm.

Double Helix’s business pitch was rewarded with the grand prize of US$1 million in additional funding. (As one condition of that funding, the company must commit to establishing operations in Rochester for at least 18 months.) The second-prize winner, Intelon Optics, garnered US$0.5 million for its Brillouin Optical Scanner System (BOSS), a biomechanical-imaging system initially targeted at facilitating individualized treatment of eye diseases. Third- and fourth-prize awards of US$0.25 million each went to two companies involved with different aspects of wearable tech—Positive Science, which is developing head-mounted systems for eye-tracking studies; and Think Biosolution, which focuses on wearable devices and software for health tracking.

There was also an “audience choice” award of US$10,000 for the favorite company of the roughly 600 attendees of Demo Day who weren’t judges. That prize went to Molecular Glasses, a startup working on cost-effective advanced OLED technologies for mobile devices.

Next-round deadline

In the wake of a successful first round, Luminate already has its eye on the next. The accelerator officially began accepting applications for round 2 of the competition at the beginning of June, and will continue seeking applicants through 24 September 2018. Interested parties can apply at Luminate’s website. To find out more about the accelerator’s goals, check out OPN’s interview earlier this year with Luminate’s managing director, Sujatha Ramanujan.

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