Sixth round opens for business accelerator competition  

Luminate NY is now accepting applications for its sixth cohort.  

Luminate NY is the world’s largest business accelerator and investment fund for early-stage companies working on solutions that are enabled by optics, photonics or imaging.   

Luminate will select a total of 10 companies from the applicant pool. Applications are due by Jan. 9. 

Luminate NY is now accepting applications for its sixth cohort. Luminate provides support to startups, including an immediate investment of $100,000 paired with a six-month hybrid mentoring program to help new companies scale both their businesses and technologies.  

Startups applying must be incorporated, have at least two people working full-time on the business and should have proven their core technology, preferably having developed a working prototype.   

Upon graduation from the six-month program, the companies compete for a portion of $2 million in follow-on funding provided through the Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative.   

Teams winning follow-on funding must commit to doing some aspect of their business operations or manufacturing in the region for at least 18 months 

Luminate NY is funded by the  Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative, a strategy to foster economic development and revitalize communities and is administered by NextCorps.  

“Luminate’s reputation continues to grow for how its OPI-focused funding, curriculum and mentoring advances the progress of emerging companies and the development of their technologies,” said Sujatha Ramanujan, Luminate NY’s managing director. “We encourage founders to apply to gain the benefits of this unique support, as well as the collaboration and connections we provide that can open new opportunities for scaling their businesses.” 

The opening of the recruitment period comes just weeks before Luminate NY’s fifth cohort of companies competes for $2 million in follow-on funding during Luminate Finals 2022, which will take place on Oct. 19.  

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Oregon company wins top Luminate prize

Portland, Oregon-based PreAct Technologies has received the Company of the Year award at Luminate Finals 2021.

The event was held virtually and was sponsored by Optica, formerly the Optical Society. PreAct will receive $1 million in investment from New York state through the Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative. As required by the award, all winners of the competition will commit to establishing operations in Rochester for at least the next 18 months. PreAct Technologies plans to establish manufacturing in New York state.

Luminate NY, which is administered by NextCorps, is the world’s largest business accelerator for emerging companies that have optics, photonics and imaging (OPI) enabled technologies.

“Luminate NY’s investments reflect our commitment to retaining New York’s distinction as a worldwide leader in optics, photonics, and imaging,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement. “Our state is a national leader in the nation for commercializing intellectual property in OPI, and these winning companies will further contribute to the growth of the Finger Lakes’ OPI industry and move the region’s economy forward.”

PreAct Technologies aims to bridge the gap between collision avoidance systems and active safety technology. Its TrueSense sensors make it possible to angle car seats away, deploy airbags earlier and raise the car suspension just before a crash occurs to vastly reduce injuries and deaths, officials noted. The system also will quickly replace all short-range sensors like radar, ultrasound and cameras — a $30 billion per year market — used for ADAS, self-driving and convenience features.

“Luminate exposed us to the benefits of setting up shop in New York, on top of helping us recruit very specific optics and photonics engineering talent, find local companies that could produce our unique cameras and also helped us refine our business operations across the board. I can’t imagine a better accelerator program,” PreAct Technologies CEO Paul Drysch said.

Princeton, N.J.-based Andluca Technologies was awarded the Outstanding Graduate Award and $400,000 in follow-on investment. Its wireless smart glass system — which uses transparent solar technology to selectively and efficiently convert ultraviolet (UV) light to electricity — can reduce building energy use by up to 40 percent while significantly enhancing occupant comfort and productivity.

Two Massachusetts companies, Mesodyne and DynoCardia secured the Distinguished Graduate Awards and $250,000 each. Mesodyne is developing a new kind of power generator that converts fuel to electricity via light. The generator is silent with no moving parts, operates on any fuel and has 10-times the energy density of lithium ion batteries. DynoCardia’s ViTrack is the first cuff-less, wrist-wearable technology to offer direct, beat-to-beat measurement of blood pressure with the accuracy of intra-arterial lines.

Honorable Achievement and $200,000 in funding went to Rochester’s Owl Autonomous Imaging. Its patented 3D Thermal Ranger provides HD thermal imaging with precision ranging, representing a 200-times improvement in resolution and cloud density over LiDAR.

The more than 500 attendees at Thursday’s virtual event had an opportunity to vote for their favorite company. The Audience Choice award for $10,000 went to Layer Metrics Inc. Layer Metrics is enabling reliable metal additive manufacturing by certifying part integrity, layer-by-layer, during the build.

“Luminate NY is bringing companies from around the world to the Finger Lakes Region so that they can tap into the rich resources we have available to further their businesses and technologies,” said Luminate Managing Director Sujatha Ramanujan. “This ecosystem supports their desire to establish a U.S. presence and their goal of becoming global players in the industries they serve.”

The Luminate NY accelerator is based in Rochester and selects 10 promising companies each year to participate in its six-month program. During this time, companies are provided with comprehensive training and resources to advance their technologies and businesses. Applications are now being accepted for Round 5 through Jan. 10, 2022.

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Optical Society to sponsor Luminate NY, Rochester firm to compete

The Optical Society will sponsor Luminate NY’s Finals 2021 to bring the Rochester-based competition to an international stage. One Rochester-area firm will compete in the finals this year.

Last year, nearly 1500 people registered to join a worldwide audience as they watched 10 companies introduce emerging technologies and pitch for up to $2 million in follow-on funding from Empire State Development’s Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative.

The audience also had the opportunity to vote for their favorite team in the Audience Choice category, a distinction that comes with $10,000 in funding.

Finals 2021 will feature the same format, as well as bring attention to the unique needs of women and underrepresented entrepreneurs, officials said. The event will feature a Women and Diversity in Entrepreneurship discussion.

“There are many gaps that exist today for underserved or underrepresented founders. In 2019, Pitchbook reported that female-founded companies received only 2.7 percent of the total capital invested in venture-backed businesses in the U.S.,” said Luminate Managing Director Sujatha Ramanujan. “Luminate Finals provides an international platform to highlight how we can provide better support across a number of areas so that all founders have the same opportunities to fund and scale their companies.”

Luminate NY, administered through NextCorps, brings inventive entrepreneurs from around the world together with optics, photonics and imaging pioneers and qualified investors to speed innovation and time to market. The intensive six-month program provides mentoring, comprehensive training, capital and access to a vast OPI network to ensure these early-stage companies are better prepared to run and scale their businesses to serve global markets.

“We are excited to participate in Luminate NY’s Finals Competition as a sponsor,” said OSA CEO Elizabeth Rogan. “This is a vital program for the optics and photonics community and a key priority for us.”

Companies in Luminate’s fourth cohort who will pitch at the event include 2EyesVision, Madrid, Spain; Andluca Technologies, Princeton, N.J.; Dynocardia, Inc., Cambridge, Mass.; Infrascreen SA, Neuchatel, Switzerland; Layer Metrics Inc., Wilmington, Dela.; Mesodyne Inc., Somerville, Mass.; Momentum Optics, Longmont, Colo.; OSCPs Motion Sensing Inc., Montreal, Canada; Owl Autonomous Imaging, Rochester; and PreAct Technologies, Portland, Ore..

The free event will be held virtually via Zoom on Sept. 30.

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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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SunDensity signs research agreement with UR

SunDensity CEO Nish Sonwalkar works on innovative photonic smart coating in the Luminate lab facilities. (provided)
SunDensity CEO Nish Sonwalkar works on innovative photonic smart coating in the Luminate lab facilities. (provided)

SunDensity, a Luminate NY cohort, has inked a research agreement with the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics. As part of the one-year agreement, UR will combine its experience, skills and ability in optical sciences with SunDensity’s goal to speed the manufacturing process and design of its nano-optical coating equipment.

SunDensity is the developer of the Photonic Smart Coating technology that increases solar power output and has additional applications in consumer electronics and architectural glass. The startup was named Company of the Year and was awarded $1 million in follow-on funding during Luminate’s third competition last fall.

The company plans to continue using its funding to scale up its manufacturing process in Rochester, officials said on Tuesday.

“Accelerating key partnerships with university laboratories in the region is a core part of our five-year growth plan. The agreement with University of Rochester is unique in that it enables students to get involved with a clean energy startup, as well as provides opportunities to support economic development,” said SunDensity CEO Nishikant ‘Nish’ Sonwalkar. “The research agreement is another step forward in helping us to create a successful venture that will not only lead to local job growth and revenue impact but also bring talent together in pursuit of furthering climate change in New York State and beyond.”

SunDensity produces Photonic Smart Coating for utility solar power producers that need to reduce the cost of energy. Its nano-optical coating improves solar output by 20 percent over other coatings for solar panels, thus propelling solar energy adoption into the next generation of clean power, officials said.

“SunDensity’s transformative technology will help capture the energy of the sun, turning the same light into more electricity. The fundamental physics of converting a high-energy photon into more usable, lower-energy photons is almost as exciting as the impact on our quest for sustainable energy,” said Scott Carney, professor and director of the Institute of Optics. “The collaboration also benefits our researchers, adding new jobs and internship opportunities.”

SunDensity is on a fast development track. It established its research lab at NextCorps’ incubation facility, has hired eight employees and is working with eight glass vendors, five solar panel manufacturing companies and AIM Photonics in the region on technical aspects of its technology. It hopes to surpass the $1 million mark in sales revenue by the end of 2026. The company’s plan is to establish other manufacturing facilities statewide and new partnerships globally to further its climate change goals.

“These types of collaborations with university, photonics and optics companies in Rochester, and state and federally funded facilities are very important for innovators to establish. Early-stage companies are always looking for expertise and human resources — that was a core reason we selected Rochester as it is the photonics capital of the world. The impact we can make with key industry players here, including the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology, puts us in a strong position to speed the commercialization of our coated glass panels on a large scale to meet the demands of utility solar power producers,” Sonwalkar said.

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Luminate to join Upstate Capital Association at Wednesday showcase

The Upstate Capital Association of New York on Wednesday will host the Venture NY Series A Showcase in partnership with 43North, GENIUS NY, 76West, Grow-NY and Luminate.

The event will feature some of the fastest-growing startups from across New York and will include investor pitches and opportunities for group and one-to-one networking. Venture NY will take place in conjunction with Upstate Capital’s Annual Awards Celebration, which highlights Upstate New York’s most exciting activity in private equity and mergers and acquisitions, as well as Venture + Growth Investments in 2020, officials said.

A Lifetime Achievement Award will be bestowed on a person who has made a significant impact in the Upstate New York investment community over the course of their career.

“Attracting venture capital from outside the region has been part of Upstate Capital’s mission since 2003 when the organization was founded. This is an amazing opportunity to collaborate with several pillars of the broader regional entrepreneurial ecosystem and highlight how far Upstate New York has come in developing entrepreneurship and high-growth businesses here,” said Upstate Capital Executive Director Noa Simons.

The partnership, with multiple accelerators and competitions, is the first collaboration of its kind in New York.

Each of the five organizations featured at the event will invite their top startups. Based in Rochester, Luminate is the world’s largest business accelerator for optics, photonics and imaging (OPI) startups. The accelerator brings entrepreneurs from around the world together with OPI pioneers and qualified investors to speed innovation and time to market and help early-stage startups gain clear competitive advantages.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Luminate NY winners announced

A Boston-based tech manufacturer will receive a $1 million award and set up operations in Rochester as part of its Company of the Year Award in Round 3 of the Luminate NY Accelerator Competition.

SunDensity, which originated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will locate its manufacturing facility in Rochester. The company produces Photonic Smart Coatings (PSC) for utility solar power producers who need to reduce the cost of energy. Its nano-optical coating improves solar output by 20 percent more than other coatings for solar panels, thus propelling solar energy adoption into the next generation of clean power.

“We are really delighted to win this award. With this support, SunDensity is on its way to great success in New York State and beyond,” said SunDensity CEO Nishikant Sonwalkar.

Luminate’s Finals 2020 competition was held at the Optical Society’s International Frontiers in Optics & Laser Science APS/DLS conference. Funding comes from the state of New York through the Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative.

“Luminate NY’s strategic investments in these emerging companies have upheld New York as a worldwide leader in optics, photonics, and imaging,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday. “I congratulate SunDensity on winning Round 3 of the innovative Luminate NY competition and look forward to the company contributing to the growth of our region’s OPI industry, which will continue to help move the Finger Lakes economy forward.”

Finals 2020 marked the half-way point of the five-year, $25 million Luminate accelerator program. Since its inception, the program has invested $7 million in 30 startups. The companies in the portfolio now share a net worth of $160 million, officials said.

In addition to providing an estimated 1.5 to 2 times return on investment, many of the companies are establishing 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.

Rochester-based Simulated Inanimate Models was awarded the Outstanding Graduate Award and $400,000. Its technology, SIM ARTS, offers an immersive “flight simulator for surgery” that eliminates patient risk by enabling surgeons to practice complete procedures on lifelike anatomical models in an augmented reality environment that does not require the presence of the expert instructing surgeon.

Rubitection, based in Pittsburgh, secured the Distinguished Graduate Award and $300,000 for its Rubitect Assessment System (RAS), which provides early bedsore detection and management tools. Honorable Achievements and $250,000 in funding each went to two companies: AkknaTek — a Germany based company providing a Lens Reviewer, Optical Imaging System that reduces post-operative refractive surprises after cataract surgery — and Nodetect, a Denmark company offering a portable, rapid nanosensor for analyzing biochemicals in the agriculture and farming industries.

“Luminate NY continues to give companies from around the world a resource-rich place to establish U.S. operations and to advance the caliber of their technology and business,” said Sujatha Ramanujan, managing director of Luminate NY. “It’s this type of inventive ecosystem and statewide support that makes the Finger Lakes region a smart destination for OPI based companies.”

The Luminate NY accelerator is based in Rochester and selects 10 promising companies each year to participate in its six-month program. During that time, companies are provided with comprehensive training and resources to advance their technologies and businesses. Applications are now being accepted for Round 4 through Jan. 7, 2021.

Because of the challenges presented by the pandemic, Luminate has adjusted its participation requirements. Teams that can physically locate to Rochester for the six-month program will receive $100,000 in funding upon program start in April 2021. Teams that are unable to locate to Rochester due to travel and Visa restrictions will receive $50,000 in funding upon program start and an additional $50,000 that must be used to engage resources in the Finger Lakes region during their time in the accelerator.

“The Luminate NY competition has been a great addition to Monroe County over the last several years and has really tapped into our region’s entrepreneurial spirit and storied leadership in innovation, photonics and advanced technology,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. “The seed money that Luminate NY provides for these start-ups is critically important and can help to grow jobs and ideas right here in Monroe County. Congratulations to this year’s award winners.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

SIM provides real-time training for surgeons without risks

Ten optics and photonics startups are competing in NextCorp’s Luminate NY accelerator program to work on the development and commercialization of their business.

Luminate is a six-month residency at NextCorps in Sibley Square. The residency includes mentorship, access to resources and $100,000 in follow-on funding. Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative is providing funding for the $25 million program. On Demo Day, which is usually held in June but is TBD due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the most promising of the 10 companies will compete for up to $2 million in additional funding

“Companies in this year’s Luminate cohort are working on a remarkable range of optics applications,” said Luminate NY managing director Sujatha Ramanujan. “Although they each have unique needs, our region’s optics, photonics and imaging ecosystem is providing the centralized resources critical to furthering their development.”

Leading up to Demo Day, the Rochester Business Journal will profile each of the 10 startups in the cohort.

There are an estimated 750,000 surgeons in the United States and Europe. These surgeons often learn new skills by performing on live patients, which is both risky and economically inefficient.

Simulated Inanimate Models (photo provided)
Simulated Inanimate Models (photo provided)

Simulated Inanimate Models manufactures synthetic, lifelike models of humans to train surgeons without risking a patient’s life. SIM’s training models can replicate all steps of an operation, including pre-operative planning, imaging and procedure-specific functions.

SIM fulfilled its largest order of phantoms in November for the American Brachytherapy Society’s winter workshop, a two-day brachytherapy training session for urologists and radiation oncologists. In addition to being accepted to Luminate, SIM recently received three SBIR/STTR seed funding awards and is now applying for the National Science Fund SBIR Phase 2.

Michael Wilson, chief operating officer of Simulated Inanimate Models (SIM), shares how SIM uses hydrogel models (called phantoms) and Augmented Reality Training System (ARTS) to provide real-time performance, feedback, guidance and certification for surgeons.

What problems are you helping to solve?

Michael Wilson: Despite our health care system producing the best surgeons and medical care in the world, surgical education still involves operations on live patients due to the lack of suitable alternatives. If you go to a teaching hospital for even a routine surgical procedure, such as needing to have your appendix removed, it could be the first time that surgeon is actually cutting into a human being. Training and simulation have become incredibly advanced in other industries — the airline industry being the gold standard — but training tools that give surgeons a lifelike experience don’t really exist. More than that, the educational paradigm is outdated, as it relies heavily on one-on-one instruction between the expert surgeon and the trainee.

Why should surgeons in training turn to SIM?

MW: Two reasons: The realism of the phantom and the educational value. There are plenty of trainers out there that are made out of durable synthetic materials like rubber or silicone, but the actual value offered is very low because that’s not what our bodies are made out of, therefore the stiffness, texture and feel can be off. Our models are made of a water-based hydrogel, offering a much more realistic hands-on experience. Additionally, we custom engineer our models to include aspects of specific diseases, such as tumors or blood clots, valuable features that are lacking in other physical training options.

We developed the AR instructional component because of what we call “the busy surgeon problem.” If you provide an inexperienced resident with the most lifelike phantom, they will still require instruction and likely turn to an attending surgeon for help. But attending surgeons simply don’t have time to be teaching outside of the operating room and will encourage residents to attend a live surgery and observe there, and possibly to even participate under supervision. Our product solves for the time limitations of expert instructors by not requiring their presence.

How did your team get started?

MW: Our CEO, Jonathan Stone (M.D.), is an attending neurosurgeon at Strong Memorial Hospital. He created the models during his residency at the University of Rochester, developing them with Ahmed Ghazi (M.D.) in Urology. Our core team came together when Jon presented at a biotech networking event called BioBeers three years ago. I met Jon there as a biomedical researcher, a Ph.D. post-doc looking to move out of academics into the entrepreneurial space. I saw the problem that Jon was talking about and the potential for the solutions he was proposing, and it was something I wanted to be a part of. At that event, Jon also met our chief technology officer, Steve Griffith, who has 30 years of experience in electrical and computer engineering, including flight simulation. He also saw the potential to take principles of high-fidelity training and immersive education and apply them to surgery.

The fourth member of the team, Nelson Stone (M.D.), is Jon’s father and an internationally renowned clinician, academic and serial entrepreneur. He’s started several medical device companies that underwent successful exits. You can imagine he’s really an incredible resource to have on the team.

What do you hope to accomplish through your time at Luminate?

MW: Six months from now, we want to have secured funding for the full commercialization of our product, to have built out our sales and marketing plan and be consistently implementing it and to begin seeing the subsequent jump in sales. We see Luminate as an absolutely key resource for that trajectory.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to entrepreneurs just starting out?

MW: Get used to stepping out of your comfort zone and embrace it. Coming to SIM from a life science academic background, at some point I had to do customer discovery, market research and financial projections for the first time. I had to give a pitch and make a sales call for the first time, to speak with people and try to convince them to buy our product. A lot of scientists come to entrepreneurship with lots of technical success, patented IP and published papers, and they may have this impression that their skillset is relatively specialized and focused. The reality is that they’re proficient learners and doers. If you take time to try and learn something new or different, you might find you’re pretty good at it.

[email protected] / (585) 363-7031

Bounce Imaging device gives groundbreaking support to first responders

Bounce Imaging's Francisco Aguilar.
Bounce Imaging’s Francisco Aguilar.

Of all of the profoundly innovative and intuitive technology showcased at the first annual Lightning Awards, few were as inherently simple, yet groundbreaking, as Bounce Imaging. An idea that can save lives, Bounce Imaging’s product cuts spending costs for first responders and ultimately changes the entire approach to a crisis situation, all wrapped up in a neat little ball.

The small ball features six camera sensors attached to a single processor. Completely self-stabilizing and durable enough to withstand harsh abuse, try tossing the camera through the window of a burning building and, voila, you have a 360-degree panorama of the entire room. The view can be navigated via computer, tablet or a VR headset. The product has already been eagerly adopted by emergency response teams worldwide, from New York state troopers to United Nations peacekeeping operations in Mali.

The idea for Bounce came as a result of the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti, as president and CEO Francisco Aguilar explained.

“There were about 300,000 people buried and, after the first 48 hours, international rescue teams showed up and rescued about 150 people.” About 75 of those were found by two U.S. teams that had fancy pole cameras that you could stick down and get views of places, Aguilar said.

“The problem is, 90 percent of the rescues after a big event like that happen in the first 48 hours. So what we were looking at is how do we make something that is cheap, easy to use, easy to carry that could give you a very quick view of a collapsed structure or confined space, and was cheap enough that it could get deployed before the international teams got there.”

The Bounce Imaging product was born out of Harvard Innovation Lab. And so far, responses from everyone from first responders to the consumer market have been resoundingly positive. In 2012, the product was listed as one of Time magazine’s Top 25 inventions of the year. It has received recognition from CNN, Popular Science magazine and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

A simple idea some might say, but the logistics of creating a ball that can be thrown while maintaining a stable image is an incredibly complex undertaking.

“It’s not six cameras, it’s one six-eyed camera, and what that means is that we can precisely synchronize those image sensors. We’re doing it at a highly precise level,” Aguilar said.

“When we started out, it was something that we thought ‘oh, that’s so easy.’ But it turns out to be such a difficult technical problem for a bunch of reasons,” including stabilization, controlling temperature and surviving impact.

Another issue is just how durable they need to be. The camera is protected by a thick rubber exterior layer, which in turn covers an inner high-strength plastic, similar to the polymer  used in Glock handguns, which covers the central processor. The result is a product that can be dropped repeatedly from 7 feet and with enough strength to be tossed through a single-frame window.

“Each component is on its own carrier made of its own plastic,” Aguilar said. “So when you have an impact, the rubber deflects and absorbs energy, the casing deflects and absorbs, so you have three mechanical transfers before you actually get to the components. That’s what gives it a lot of its resilience.”

The Bounce products are currently produced at a manufacturing facility in Massachusetts and come in a few different varieties. Prices, at least within the world of niche cameras, are fairly affordable. The standard tactical edition, which takes video in infrared monochrome, costs $2,850. With audio the price is $3,350, and the 4G version supported by Verizon is $4,500. The latter option allows the signal from the camera to transfer via Verizon’s broadband network to another location, which means the rescue team on the ground could have direct support from a desk-bound operations team.

“Not only are you, as a first responder, able to throw this in a hallway and look around to see if someone’s waiting for you around the next corner, you can be broadcasting this back to your sheriff, your mayor, your city command,” Agular said. “They can be saying ‘OK, I’ve looked around, you need help.’ They can even be looking behind you while you’re looking forward, giving you an extra set of eyes as you’re that lonely first responder dealing with something horrific.”

Prior to the move to Luminate, Bounce had taken up residency at Buffalo’s 43 North incubator, where they left residency in 2016. Buffalo’s police department and many of surrounding suburban police forces have already adopted Bounce’s technology. Calling Boston home and now in Rochester, Bounce is one of the companies in Luminate that is beyond its infancy. They not only have the idea, they’ve implemented it, have found their market and are already seeing some success. Now comes the time where they seek a solid manufacturing hub, and as Aguilar sees it, Rochester is looking promising.

“New York state has been pretty welcoming to us, so we’re pretty incentivized to stick around,” Aguilar said. “There’s obviously the follow-on investment which comes in June, and that comes with a requirement to stay in New York, so that would obviously create some more incentives to stay here. But regardless of whether or not we get that funding, we are looking very seriously at bringing some of our final production to this area, and right now we’re in the process of validating we can do that. This is a mission-critical product, and we won’t move manufacturing until we’ve 100 percent replicated that we can do the exact same thing here that we can do in our current facility.”

Spotlight on Luminate

Ten companies composed of some of the brightest minds in the field of optics, imaging and photonics are fine-tuning their technologies inside NextCorps’ Luminate accelerator. The winners of November’s first Lightning Awards, these companies each received $100,000 in funding, free residency in the accelerator and access to High Tech Rochester’s web of resources and mentoring. In June, the most promising of these 10 will receive a total of $2 million in follow-on funding. Leading up to June, the Rochester Business Journal will feature profiles of the companies holding the keys to the next chapter in Rochester’s history as the world’s imaging center.

[email protected]/(585) 653-4022

Arovia makes an impact with collapsible screens

Picture yourself headed to an impromptu meeting, a presentation tucked away in the hard drive of your smartphone. You walk into a conference room, an array of suited executives stoically facing you as you attempt to hook up your iPhone to their digital projector, only to find the machine doesn’t support the phone.

Arovia CEO Alex Wesley with one of the company's collapsible projection screens.
Arovia CEO Alex Wesley with one of the company’s collapsible projection screens.

Or maybe you’re meeting some friends at a coffee shop, anxiously awaiting a chance to show a video of your new puppy, only to find them huddled over your shoulders trying to catch a glimpse of the video on your sideways-tilted phone. Or you’re on a train and are simply tired of straining your eyes as you try to catch up on “Black Mirror” via your smartphone.

Arovia has an answer. The Houston-based company is the producer of the first collapsible projection screen. It is about the size of a hardcover bible when closed. A single button opens a flap that pops out a 24-inch white screen, much like an umbrella. Hook up your phone to it and you have an instant television, which even in well-lit rooms holds impressive definition. Dubbed the spontaneous pop-up display, or SPUD, it’s an idea with a nearly endless array of applications, from consumer to industrial settings and everywhere in between.

“To my knowledge, we’re the first company to make a display which can fully collapse in all dimensions down to a smaller size,” said CEO Alexander Wesley. “Our first product is a 24-inch display which can collapse to the size of a book.”

Luminate is not the first round of attention Arovia has received from the tech world. In 2016, the SPUD’s Kickstarter campaign was one of the most popular on the site, garnering $711,397 in pledges from 1,901 backers. So far, pre-sales for SPUD have hit the $1 million mark. Wesley sees the product filling a critical market gap.

“Seventy percent of the people that have bought it so far have been traveling professionals,” Wesley said. “So people using it for a desktop size screen when they’re working out of a client’s site, the office, coffee shop, airport, co-working spaces, trade shows and presentations. Some people are using it for consumer applications, you know, a portable TV for around the house or when they’re traveling. There’s also military applications, education applications—it runs a full gamut.”

While Arovia was formed in Houston, Wesley has roots at the University of Rochester, graduating in 2011 with a master’s in optical engineering. For Arovia, however, Wesley isn’t quite sure where the company will ultimately call home.

“As a company, it’s really difficult to know—you go where the problems are,” Wesley said. “Optics is one of our bigger issues, so it makes sense to be here. But inherently, we have a presence in China as well, because that’s where our projectors are manufactured. Our company isn’t really settled enough to even think about a headquarters. It’s inherently kinetic, which kind of matches the target customer we’re really going after, too. It gives us an opportunity to live their life.”

While Arovia is young, the legwork on setting up their intellectual property is more or less done. The company now holds patents in the U.S. for the first wrinkle-free, collapsible projection screen, as well as the mechanics allowing for the pop-up display. Meanwhile, the team—composed of Wesley and fellow co-founders George Zhu, chief technology officer, and Justin Mintzer, chief marketing officer—is working hard inside the accelerator to put rubber to the pavement with their technology. As Wesley puts it, “we’re doing cool stuff every day.”

“We look at ourselves as the creators of this new industry, the collapsible display industry,” Wesley said. “And in the future, we’re looking at having touchscreens, operating systems, larger screen sizes, things like that. There’s really just so much we can do with our core technology.”

Spotlight on Luminate

Ten companies composed of some of the brightest minds in the field of optics, imaging and photonics are fine-tuning their technologies inside NextCorps’ Luminate accelerator. The winners of November’s first Lightning Awards, these companies each received $100,000 in funding, free residency in the accelerator and access to High Tech Rochester’s web of resources and mentoring. In June, the most promising of these 10 will receive a total of $2 million in follow-on funding. Leading up to June, the Rochester Business Journal will feature profiles of the companies holding the keys to the next chapter in Rochester’s history as the world’s imaging center.

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