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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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.

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