Ten finalists selected for Luminate accelerator program

Ten companies have been selected to take part in Round 4 of the Luminate NY accelerator program and competition.

Some 126 startups from 22 countries and 21 U.S. states applied to be a part of the world’s largest accelerator for startups with optics, photonics and imaging (OPI) enabled applications. The companies were selected after pitching their innovative ideas to an advisory panel comprised of industry experts.

Each finalist will receive an initial investment of $100,000 and will have the chance to compete for up to $2 million in follow-on funding upon completion of the accelerator program. The fourth cohort of Luminate NY will begin on April 5, 2021. The six-month program will help the companies speed the commercialization of their technologies and business.

Funding for the $25 million program, which is administered by Rochester’s NextCorps, is provided through the Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative.

“Congratulations to the 10 entrepreneurial companies selected as finalists for Luminate NY’s fourth cohort,” said Empire State Development President and CEO-designate Eric Gertler. “No doubt the cutting-edge ideas from these optics, photonics and imaging startups will continue to drive innovation and opportunity in the Finger Lakes Region and throughout New York state.”

Luminate NY supports innovators as they further develop their technologies in Rochester with help from industry experts, businesses and local universities. This cohort is solving challenges within a number of industries, including, but not limited to augmented and virtual reality, health care, agtech, architecture/buildings, optics and autonomous systems, imaging and vehicles. The accelerator competition will require that the winners commit to establishing operations in Rochester for at least 18 months.

“The Luminate NY Initiative is a crucial part of drawing attention to the optics, photonics and imaging industry which thrives in our region. As Monroe County continues to diversify from its roots as a manufacturing community, the stage we put our blossoming industries on is of similar importance to the industries themselves,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. “I commend the work Empire State Development is doing to shine a light on what our region has to offer for entrepreneurs and established firms alike. I would also like to offer congratulations to the final 10 companies in the Luminate NY accelerator program on the work they have done in their respective fields to be in consideration.”

The 10 selected startups include:

• Andluca Technologies — UV-solar-powered smart glass for improving the energy efficiency of buildings
• Dynocardia Inc. — First non-invasive blood pressure (NIBP) method that measures BP continuously and with accuracy compared to the gold standard
• Infrascreen SA — Nanotech solutions for better climate control in greenhouses
• Layer Metrics Inc. — Monitoring system that enables intelligent 3D printing
• Mesodyne — Ultra-high, energy-density compact power generators that increase the endurance of small autonomous systems by 10x over batteries alone
• Momentum Optics — High-quality, affordable, and rapidly delivered custom optics
• OSCPs Motion Sensing Inc. — Inertial navigation sensors for autonomous vehicles
• Owl Autonomous Imaging — World’s only 3D Thermal Ranger, providing HD imaging and precision ranging that is a 150x improvement in resolution and cloud density of LiDAR
• PreAct Technologies — Sensors and software that make it possible to angle car seats away, deploy airbags earlier and raise the car suspension before the impact of a crash occurs to save lives
• 2EyesVision — First technology that allows people to quickly and accurately compare the different corrections available for presbyopia

Additional companies will take part in the program out of the finalist structure. Far UV Technologies Inc., Qunnect and Intelon Optics are joining the accelerator to gain access to regional resources, and XR Nanotech and IRIS Light Technology will be auditing the program to help prepare and advance their businesses for applying to accelerator programs in the future.

“The companies selected have the potential to truly disrupt their categories. With access to our renowned regional resources, mentors, and investor network, we’ll help them speed the commercialization of their offerings so that they can have a meaningful impact on our world and on our regional community,” said Luminate NY Managing Director Sujatha Ramanujan.

Since its inception, Luminate has invested $7.15 million in 30 startups. The companies have raised an additional $26 million and share a net worth of $160 million, officials noted. Many of the companies that have taken part in previous rounds of the competition have established U.S. operations or some aspect of research and manufacturing in the Rochester region, which continues to be the epicenter of the OPI industry in North America. This has resulted in the creation of 80 new jobs in the region, and an additional 25 jobs supported through contract manufacturing.

“Congratulations to these innovative teams on their selection to take part in the fourth round of the groundbreaking Luminate NY accelerator program, which is working to further grow the optics, photonics, and imaging industry in Rochester,” said Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chairs Bob Duffy and Denise Battles. “This unique competition is helping the entire region to further establish itself as the global leader in the light-based products and services industry, helping to move the Finger Lakes forward for years to come.”

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Artist Nancy Gong crafts glass that, like light, endures

Growing up the child of Chinese immigrants in Rochester and Brighton, Nancy Gong was familiar with Asian art and its emphasis on monochromatic works.

Nancy Gong
Nancy Gong

Those familiar with the bus stop outside Gleason Works or the panels of glass in Rochester Institute of Technology’s Innovation Center can see the monochromatic influence in these Gong architectural glass works.  Both feature etched, clear glass, where refraction of light is emphasized over color.

But as she enters her 39th year as a professional artist in Rochester, Gong, the sole proprietor of Gong Glass Works, is now moving more toward color. And she’s asking questions that inform her focus on new glass technologies and ways to display glass art.

“Why does two-dimensional glass artwork have to go on the wall? Why can’t it go outside?” she says in her studio. Or even on a flat horizontal surface? A piece that didn’t work out for a countertop she was creating stands on end just outside the door to her studio, bringing multiple bands of color to different spots along the walkway throughout the day as sunlight travels through it. It’s a much more dynamic way to display art that typically was confined in a frame or window panel inside a building.

One reason she can now display colored glass art outdoors is her developing skills in laminating and fusing glass. For many years Gong, who works without an assistant, specialized in the age-old technique of fitting cut pieces of glass – colored or not – together with leading. Color was sometimes in the original piece of glass or added later by painting. Neither the leading structure nor the paint would necessarily hold up over time outdoors.

The fused glass technique, in which pieces of colored glass are laid on top of other glass and then fired together, creates an impressionistic work, with soft edges. Gong says she would like to move more into the abstract and conceptual designs and away from figurative work.

Lamination allows her to match edges of different colors of glass without a lead seam, though it’s a tricky technique. “It’s not that I don’t like the lead,” she said. “It’s a different aesthetic.” To laminate glass, she fits together cut pieces of colored glass on a layer of clear, liquid polymer poured on top of a sheet of clear glass.  First, though, she has to build a dam around the sheet of glass so the polymer doesn’t just run off the sides before it dries.

“It’s like putting a puzzle together on top of water,” Gong said.

Many of her works are a puzzle in another way as she fits together a combination of techniques to make a finished product. A current commission for a residence used brushed etched textures, chipping and photographic etching to create images of rolling landscape similar to the land around the home where the windows will be installed. The homeowners, however, also wanted a feature they typically see when they look out — their horses.

Gong took photographs of the horses, manipulated them on Photoshop and then created photo masques made of emlusion when were placed on the glass for etching.

“I have one shot” to get it right, she said. Photographic etchings  remove the surface of the glass to create shadow and detail.  “It’s a way of creating designs that are much more painterly and more expressive,” she said.

Gong works almost entirely by commission, in which a client has a rough idea of the need for architectural art — art that’s incorporated within the building’s structure. She typically comes up with a menu of possible techniques within her proposal for the art work.  Well-known in the local architectural community — she recently was awarded an honorary membership in American Institute of Architects, New York — Gong frequently works with clients who are at least partially aware of what she can create before they contact her for a new work.

Jennifer Takatch, principal at Architectura and incoming vice president of the Rochester chapter of the AIA, met Gong through social events the association holds.

“We find her to be a very valuable collaborator, artist,” Takatch said. “Her stuff has a lot of movement. It’s not static. I find that she constantly is pursuing different methods to enrich her artwork. Over the course of her career, you can see how she has built on techniques and methods to really arrive at where she is today.”

Takatch said she is particularly drawn to the work Gong installed several years ago in the University Services and Innovation Center building at Rochester Institute of Technology. Gong created a curving wall of glass out of 13 curved, etched panels, each weighing 400 pounds. The etchings reflect many of the disciplines at the school, including the binary system, the double helix and what appear to be sound waves.

“It’s pretty monumental.  It’s not tacked on the wall, it is the wall,” Takatch said. “It becomes part of the architecture.”  She described Gong’s style as organic, colorful and spiritual, yet appealing to all beliefs.

Such works, Gong said, speak on behalf of the companies or institutions that commission them. Among other things, the art says the organization has made an investment that it intends to keep.

“My focus is to design artwork that speaks to the ages. If it’s good design, it will endure,” she said. She also aims to create a loftier experience for the viewer than an immediate “wow.”  “My main goal is for artwork to bring peace and joy to the spaces through an experience,” Gong said. “I want to feed the souls of people who are utilizing the space.”

Back in her studio, she reflected that she gets a creative “itch” about every decade that sends her into a new direction.  “I don’t like to be confined by doing the same thing all the time.”

The last itch had to do with mosaic created out of colored glass, and she traveled to Italy to become a master of the form.

“I was really excited about this,” Gong said. She has used the form to create signage for ABVI and three panels surrounding a doorway at Hillside Children’s Center. While many of Gong’s commissioned works are room-sized, mosaics tend to be smaller. And they take longer to accomplish — 10 times longer, she noted.

While she determines where the next itch will take her, she’s trying out some new or renewed ways to market her work. Gong says many of the clients who have been familiar with her work are older or moving on in one way or another. A few times she’s been asked to help dismantle a work she created years ago and prepare it to be installed in a new location reflecting a client’s retirement plans.

Recently, Gong has started showing her smaller works in the more upscale craft and art shows in town, trying to attract a new audience. But she still expects to thrive on commissions rather than creating art to sell at shows.

“To build and create art without a home for it is an extremely challenging way to make a living,” she said. After nearly four decades as an artist, she should know.

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Nancy Gong

Title: Artist and owner of Gong Glass Works

Age: 61

Education: Coursework at what was formerly called Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of American Craftsmen and at Empire State College. Additional continuing study with a variety of master artists and workshops.

Family: Husband, Peter W. Fisk

Home: Penfield

Hobbies: Sailing, hiking, walking her two basset hounds

Quote: “My focus is to design artwork that speaks to the ages. If it’s good design, it will endure.”

UR charges architect with costly mistakes

The University of Rochester has filed $1.5 million suit against a Boston architecture firm, charging that it made costly mistakes in the design of the new Wegmans Hall for science and engineering.

The suit, filed in New York State Supreme Court in November, alleges that Kennedy & Violich Architecture Ltd. failed to design sufficiently tall structural steel in the fourth floor of the building to accommodate utilities, resulting in the partially constructed fourth floor and roof having to be removed and then reassembled to correct the situation.

The building is currently occupied and photos of it are featured in several places on the architectural firm’s website. The façade features a style the firm has worked in before—the use of bricks set at right angles to produce a textured surface.

In addition, the suit charges that the architectural firm didn’t properly design fire and smoke dampening measures in accordance with fire codes, causing additional delays and retrofitting.

Occupancy of the building was delayed because of the mistakes, the suit said, and additional costs were incurred to correct the errors, and speed up production in an attempt to overcome delays.

A UR spokeswoman declined to comment on the suit. A spokesperson for Kennedy and Violich was not immediately available.

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These designs have made Rochester what it is since 1980

Great designs speak for themselves. Yet certain projects have a much wider and more significant impact, leading to “bigger and better” things. Famous examples from around the country include Camden Yards in Baltimore and the High Line in New York City. Projects like these have their own design integrity, but they also go beyond it to shape and define the character of their regions.

Here in our area, we have a number of parallel examples: designed structures and spaces that stand out as linchpins for our region. Taken together, they form a “Who’s Who” of community quality.

Prior to the 1980s, a number of projects transitioned what we think of as Rochester from its original foundational landmarks into a more modern era. These included buildings like Midtown Plaza and Xerox Tower in the ’60s, and the New City Hall in the ’70s. More recently, additional waves of design have yielded big changes.

Considering factors like visibility, uniqueness, catalyzing influence and community character, here is my Top 10 list of “Big Impact” projects constructed after 1980:

10. UR College Town

For years, the Town House Motor Inn anchored the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Mt. Hope Boulevard. With its recent removal, the suburban layout with large expanses of parking fronting major streets, gave way to a truly urban plan—one that transformed the Mt. Hope corridor, allowing existing businesses to front a new, more vibrant streetscape. It created a new neighborhood and established an eastern “front door” to our region’s largest institution.

9. Village Gate

Gary Stern’s vision of an arts-focused venue initially occupied an assemblage of industrial structures on North Goodman Street. Established in 1981, its unself-conscious urban interior is vast and playful. It has since grown in both occupancy and stature. Over the years, this has been a steadfast anchor in the burgeoning Neighborhood of the Arts, allowing surrounding venues to find their way to success. Today, Village Gate is home to independent shops, a variety of successful restaurants, salons, offices and loft residences—a truly unique environment.

8. Frontier Field

Back in the 1990s, where to locate a new community sports stadium was one of the region’s hottest topics. The decision to locate the stadium just outside the Inner Loop adjacent to Kodak Tower proved to be a winner. Opened in 1996, this design brought Rochester into the present, creating a successful replacement of a treasured community resource. The facility plan incorporated features unique to the site; the rail line visible on the embankment above the outfield fence, the city skyline as a dramatic backdrop and an existing historic structure.

7. Pittsford Community Library

Sometimes it is not outward impact that causes a project to stand out but instead, skillfully fulfilling a community-wide need as well. Constructed in 1997, this public library is a big building in a modestly scaled historically sensitive village; a difficult thing to design successfully, but this one does it. This is an example of a project that provided a central community gathering space for both village and town while managing to “fit in” with its neighbors.

6. Memorial Art Gallery Sculpture Park

Not so long ago, elegant wrought iron fences and gates defined the MAG’s site boundaries. It appeared more like a private precinct than the welcoming community site it is today. The museum’s decision to open up its grounds by creating a fully accessible, creatively landscaped and engaging sculpture park has changed the entire feel of its surroundings.

5. Public Safety Building

Before the 1990s, Rochester’s Civic Center Complex on Exchange Boulevard was regularly ranked as the region’s bleakest public space. The new building, which houses the city’s police and fire administrations, is a strikingly modern design statement. A symbol of then-Mayor Bill Johnson’s desire to express transparent open government, the Public Safety Building managed to cause the remaining utilitarian complex to recede into the background.

4. Eastman Place

This modern building, designed by architect Bob Macon, created both indoor and outdoor public space immediately adjacent to the historic Eastman Theatre. Its concave glass façade created an urban park immediately opposite the richly detailed, sweeping convex façade of the theater. With the more recent Kodak Hall renovations and additions, the “theater district” is an anchoring venue with a multifaceted neighborhood feel—a natural to host community events such as the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

3. The Strong

Having established itself in an out-of-the-way area of the central city that had yet to develop, the design of the Strong Museum has evolved to be like nothing else in our region. Opened to the public in 1982, it has since expanded twice. This nationally recognized institution has spurred infill growth that has consolidated as a unique part of the city. Recent nearby investments include ESL’s Corporate Headquarters to the west, the restoration of Manhattan Square Park, now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, to the north and the Inner Loop project to the east and south.

2. Midtown

When Midtown first opened in 1962, it became the heart of Rochester’s downtown experience. Fifty years later, after the waning of commercial space resulted in its demolition, a new urban district has emerged. In the newly designed public park and urban plan there remain echoes of the past vibrant venue in the street patterns that were Midtown Mall’s pedestrian concourses and in the three structures that remain: Midtown Underground Parking, the Seneca Building (occupied by Windstream) and Tower 280 (the former Midtown Tower). The investment has paid big dividends with unprecedented reinvestment in the existing surrounding buildings.

1. Geva Theatre Center

Before Bausch & Lomb Tower and the Frontier Building arrived on the scene to bolster the Washington Square Park district of the city, there was Geva. After a transformative renovation in 1985, the former Naval Armory and Convention Hall—originally constructed over 100 years earlier—became the home of Rochester’s most recognized community theater. This key project cemented a grouping of quality historic structures that included St. Mary’s and First Universalist churches, as well as paved the way for projects of larger size. The theater now stands as a revitalized sentinel, marking the southern vehicular gateway to the Center City.

Taken together, these projects represent designs that resonate, reshaping the character of our community. It may prove beneficial to keep them in mind as time marches on and more projects with “big impact” potential continue to emerge.

Jim Durfee is vice president and design principal at Bergmann Associates. An architect and past president of American Institute of Architects-Rochester, he can be reached at (585) 232-5135 or at [email protected].

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email [email protected].