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Jessica DeGroote Nelson

Director of Technology and Strategy, Optimax Systems, Inc.

Years in current role: 5

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I enjoy facilitating connections between people and organizations to help build Optimax’s longer term strategy and technology roadmap. Being a high precision custom optics service provider, we need to anticipate what our customers’ needs will be in the next 10-15 years and acquire or develop technology competencies that will provide value to our customers when they need it. We have great R&D and engineering teams that have been innovating, developing and integrating new technologies into our manufacturing process to enable really awesome optical system applications that range from exoplanet discovery to high power laser systems.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve dealt with over the past year?

Idea exchange has been significantly hindered during the pandemic due to remote and virtual events and exchanges. I firmly believe that in the technology innovation cycle is fueled by connections and interactions between people inside and outside organizations exchanging ideas to enable future innovations. These types of exchanges are extremely difficult to completely replicate in a virtual environment. I believe there is a balance somewhere inbetween finding efficiencies through remote and virtual work and in-person events. The optics industry, as I am sure other technology industries are too, is striving to find that optimum balance.

What has been your organization’s biggest success over the past year?

Optimax has grown significantly in the past year, and much of this growth has fueled market applications with demanding specifications for their optics. We have been able to apply technologies we have been developing for the last 10-15 years, like freeform optics, semiconductor optics and optics and coatings for high energy lasers to enable growing market applications.

What do you see as the biggest changes in the technology industry over the next year?

I see one of the biggest challenges to the technology industry is that it is growing so rapidly that there are not enough students studying to become future technicians, engineers and scientists to keep up with industry demands for their talent. Industry needs to help foster and provide resources to community colleges and universities to help support them developing our next generation of talent. As professionals it is also imperative that we do our part in community outreach events to promote careers in STEM and increase enrollment in all levels of STEM education.

What community organizations do you support as a volunteer and why?

I support and am extremely active in SPIE and Optica (formally OSA), both global optical societies. For both organizations I serve in several volunteer roles to help promote and organize technical events to bring together professionals from around the world to share and exchange ideas.

I also support fantastic local organizations such as NY Photonics, FAME and the Optica-Rochester Section (OSA-RS). It is through the OSA-RS that I serve as the educational outreach chair to help advocate for educational outreach to promote careers in optics and technology. We have created and promote an outreach tool called The Optics Suitcase, to help make it easier for professionals to go into schools and promote optics. As of today, over 1200 Optics Suitcases have been distributed worldwide.

This profile is part of Rochester Business Journal's Power 50 Technology list for 2022. Information used in this profile was sourced from the honoree. View the full list at rbj.net.

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