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Luminate Announces Fourth-Round Winners

Photo of Luminate awards on table

Luminate accelerator trophies, presented—along with a sizable chunk of follow-on funding—to competition’s 2021 winners. [Image: Luminate NY]

In an online event on 30 September, Luminate NY, the business accelerator centered in Rochester, NY, USA, announced the winners of its fourth graduating class of emerging companies in optics, photonics and imaging (OPI). The five companies tapped by the program will receive a total of more than US$2 million in follow-on funding to further support their business growth.

The event—sponsored by Optica (formerly OSA), the publisher of OPN—showcased ten start-up firms that had participated in the 2021 Luminate competition, which its managing director, Optica Fellow Sujatha Ramanujan, called “the largest OPI accelerator on Earth.” The 2021 competition marked the fourth annual round for the Luminate project, which named its first winners in mid-2018.

PreAct Technologies snags top honors

Taking the top prize of US$1 million was the Portland, OR-based PreAct Technologies, which is developing an integrated sensing-and-processing platform, TrueSense, for the automotive market. The platform, according to the company, puts together image sensing and edge processing to provide an extremely rapid response before an automobile collision.

This, the company says, lets cars tune the deployment of safety systems, suspension and seats before a class to “vastly reduce injuries and deaths.” The firm adds that the system “will also quickly replace all short-range sensors like radar, ultrasound, and cameras—a $30 billion/year market—used for ADAS, self-driving, and convenience features.”

The second prize, an “Outstanding Graduate Award” worth US$400,000 in follow-on funding, went to Princeton, NJ-based Andluca Technologies, which is developing transparent solar-cell technology for “smart” window glass. The glass can harvest energy from sunlight, with the energy used to drive dynamic tinting of the glass to keep the building cool on hot days. According to the firm, the technology could reducing the energy use of some buildings by as much as 40%.

hands holding wafer

[Image: Luminate NY]

Two other 2021 Luminate graduates, both based in the state of Massachusetts, received “Distinguished Graduate Awards” worth US$250,000 each. One, DynoCardia, is developing an optomechanically based, cuff-less blood-pressure monitoring system. The other, Mesodyne, is building a “new kind of power generator,” based on nanophotonics and solar technology, that can convert any kind of fuel into electricity with light, with ten times the energy density of lithium batteries—of potential interest in powering UAVs and other remote systems. (A profile of one of Mesodyne’s cofounders, Veronika Stelmakh, appears in OPN’s 2021 “Entrepreneurs to Watch” feature.)

A fifth firm, the Rochester, NY-based Owl Autonomous Imaging—which is working on a thermal 3D-imaging system that the company says provides “a 150x improvement in resolution and cloud density of lidar”—garnered an “Honorable Achievement” award and $200,000 in funding. And a vote of the online audience tapped Wilmington, DE-based Layer Metrics Inc., involved with measurement and inspection systems for 3D printing of metal objects, with a US$10,000 “Audience Choice” award.

Immersive program

Each year, Luminate—which is administered by the New York technology-development organization NextCorps—admits a class of ten start-up firms, each of which receives US$100,000 in immediate funding and participates in a six-month comprehensive program of support, including access to lab and fabrication facilities, connections to potential investors, and mentoring from seasoned professionals and entrepreneurs.

The process culminates in a pitch-day competition in which the ten firms vie for more than US$2 million in additional follow-on funding. The accelerator is currently accepting applications for its 2022 class.

The Luminate competition is funded by New York’s Empire State Finger Lakes Forward business development initiative, and as part of the recently announced awards, all winners of the competition must commit to establishing operations in the Rochester, NY, area for at least the following 18 months. While seven of the ten companies in the 2021 competition were U.S. based, the class also included firms from Spain, Switzerland and Canada.

In addition to unveiling the winners of the 2021 competition, the 30 September online event featured video presentations from all ten 2021 Luminate competitors. There was also a discussion on supporting diversity and women in entrepreneurship, with panelists including 2005 OSA President Susan Houde-Walter; Manjari Chandran-Remesh of the UK venture-capital firm IP Group plc; Marcia Lesky, Optica’s Senior Director for Diversity, Inclusion and Volunteer Cultivation; and Leslie Kimmerling, CEO of Double Helix Optics, the winner of the first Luminate competition in 2018. Video of the entire online event can be found on Luminate’s website.

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