Alexander Igelmann, the CEO of 2022 Luminate accelerator winner Lidrotec, poses with the obligatory jumbo-sized check. [Image: Luminate]
Luminate NY—a startup accelerator program in the Rochester and Finger Lakes, NY, region that focuses on nurturing early-stage companies in optics, photonics and imaging—announced the winners of its fifth annual competition on 19 October 2022, in an event at the Optica Frontiers in Optics + Laser Science meeting in Rochester, NY, USA.
The winning firm in the competition, Lidrotec, will receive US$1 million in follow-on funding to help its fledgling laser-processing technology take the next step toward commercialization. Another US$1 million will be divided among four other companies that also took part in the 2022 competition.
As in previous rounds, the 2022 Luminate winners offer an interesting glimpse at the sheer breadth of optics and photonics as a research and commercial enterprise. In addition to Lidrotec—which is working to market a patent-pending wafer-dicing technology geared to the semiconductor industry—the other companies that took prize money in this year’s competition include firms specializing in medical-image handling; noninvasive blood-glucose monitoring; optical-component marketing and distribution; and remote sensing of orbiting “space junk.”
From boot camp to “Demo Day”
Begun in 2017, the Luminate accelerator is a project of NextCorps, a technology incubator based in the Rochester area. The Luminate program centers around an annual competition in which 10 promising startup companies are selected for a six-month immersive program/boot camp, focused on training and advice geared to help move the company’s offering closer to commercialization. On admission, each company also receives an initial investment of US$100,000.
At the end of the immersion program, the 10 companies participate in “Demo Day,” a pitch session in which the contestants attempt to sell their idea to a panel of industry and venture-capitalist judges. The winner is tapped for US$1 million in additional funding, with another US$1 million set aside to be divided among the runners-up.
Improving semiconductor manufacture
The 2022 winner, Lidrotec, clearly fits with the zeitgeist, at a time when political and industry attention has focused heavily on the firm’s potential client base, semiconductor manufacturers. Begun in Germany, the company is working to commercialize a laser-based technology that attempts to improve semiconductor wafer dicing through efficient use of liquids in the laser-processing zone. According to Lidrotec, its process—in which the liquid both cools the workpiece and removes ablated particles—can increase cut quality and precision and reduce processing time in semiconductor foundries, without the need of production-process changes.
As in previous rounds, the 2022 Luminate winners offer an interesting glimpse at the sheer breadth of optics and photonics as a research and commercial enterprise.
As part of the conditions for the million-dollar shot in the arm from Luminate, Lidrotec must agree to establish operations in the Finger Lakes region of New York for at least the next 18 months. Indeed, as of Friday, 21 October, Lidrotec will become a US company, according to Luminate.
For its part, Lidrotec sees advantages in the move, as plugging into the US semiconductor ecosystem could help drive its technology forward in the market. “Luminate provided us with a new network into the United States, along with contacts to suppliers and clients,” the company’s CEO, Alexander Igelmann, said in a press release accompanying the announcement of the 2022 winners. “These vital connections will help us to meet our development milestones during the next two years, which include market validation for our novel laser technology.”
Another Germany-based firm, Custom Surgical, took a US$500,000 “Outstanding Graduate” award in the competition, as well as a US$10,000 “Audience Choice” award. The company is working on an imaging and data-handling pipeline for ophthalmologists, which enables them to connect a smartphone camera to the optical path of their microscopes and easily store and share images on the cloud.
Alertgy, based in Melbourne, FL, USA, was awarded a US$250,000 “Distinguished Graduate” award. This firm is seeking to market a wristband platform that the company says will noninvasively track blood glucose levels on demand for diabetic and pre-diabetic patients. (See OPN’s October 2022 cover story for more on the quest to develop noninvasive optical glucose sensors.)
Two other 2022 contestants were awarded “Honorable Achievement” prizes of US$125,000 each. One, Barcelona-based MEETOPTICS—whose CEO, Bárbara Buades, was profiled last year as part of OPN’s Entrepreneurs to Watch feature—is building an AI-assisted platform to help researchers speed up the process of finding and acquiring the right optical and photonic components for their projects. The other, SCOUT, located in Alexandria, VA, USA, is attempting to advance in-space onboard vision systems, to allow automated detection and tracking of objects and debris in an increasingly crowded orbital environment.