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CH: What’s the role of High Tech Rochester? And the state of
DG: High Tech Rochester is a non-profit whose mission is to
help tech entrepreneurs launch successful companies, and to
help established businesses increase revenues and profits. HTR
was in fact the recipient of the $10 million New York State funding, and will ultimately benefit from equity that results from
So, these investments are an outstanding opportunity for
HTR to create a funding stream for future investments in startups, and initiation of other programs to support the business
ecosystem it serves. The funding model very nicely aligns the
interests of all participants.
CH: What are the limitations—is this only for New York-
DG: We are looking for real startup companies. If you are a
student or faculty member dabbling in your startup part-time,
you are probably not yet ready for this program. That means
the company must be fully formed, with at least two committed, qualified, full-time employees.
Successful applicants will preferably have a working prototype and early customer interest/traction. We are seeking the
best and brightest OPI startups from all over the country. Non-U.S. companies are also eligible, but must be authorized to work
in the U. S. In addition, we are reaching out to potential mentors,
corporate sponsors, and VC partners that might be interested
in actively participating in the program.
CH: AIM Photonics is also based in Rochester—what do
you expect will be your relationship with that organization?
DG: We are delighted that the AIM Photonics CEO Michael
Liehr has agreed to serve on the Luminate advisory board. If
a Luminate company is synergistic with the AIM Photonics
program, we will be sure to make those resources available
in any way that will best leverage the complementary skills.
This, of course, will be in the best interest of all parties
CH: Any preferences for the kinds of products or technolo-
gies that you’ll fund?
DG: We are very open to any and all companies that are enabled by optics, photonics, or imaging technologies. While we
understand this will encompass a very broad array of technologies and markets, we also believe we will be able to bring
to bear any necessary resources to support such companies
through the deep networks of our advisory board, leadership
team, and extensive resources available in Rochester. We hope
to attract startups led by visionary entrepreneurs solving challenging problems, including machine vision, inspection, biophotonics, security, surveillance, augmented and virtual reality, and autonomous vehicles.
CH: So, how did you find yourself chairman of the board of
Luminate? Who else is on the board? I hear you have now
hired a full-time managing director—tell us more.
DG: I’ve worked with Jim Senall and HTR for years after my
exit from QED Technologies and, quite simply, I believe in the
mission of helping startup companies succeed. When H TR was
awarded the contract that led to the creation of Luminate, I
raised my hand to get involved, as the program fell right in my
After some brainstorming with Duncan Moore at the
University of Rochester, we began reaching out to other successful OPI entrepreneurs and quickly found out we were not
alone in feeling a passion for giving back and helping the next
generation of entrepreneurs succeed. Nearly everyone we asked
quickly agreed to serve.
It would be difficult for a startup to get access to any one of
these busy executives on their own—however, through their
participation in Luminate, they will get exposure to the collective wisdom of decades of experience from some of the most
successful people in our industry. I believe that will be a game-changer for our startups.
We were also extremely fortunate to attract three-time entrepreneur and seasoned business executive Dr. Sujatha Ramanujan
as Luminate’s managing director. Sujatha got her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan and has been
involved in multiple startups in optics and materials, while
also serving senior leadership roles in larger companies. Most
recently, she has been providing launch support services to early-stage companies, and has a true passion for helping to accelerate startups in the optics and photonics space.
CH: Any thoughts on the state of accelerators and entrepre-
neurship in photonics? What more can be done—for exam-
ple, more “challenges” like the SPIE Startup Challenge at
DG: Newly created business incubators, accelerators, and entrepreneurship classes have been showing up all over the world, as
successful startups are widely seen as the solution to stagnant
local economies. While true, the path to success is not always
obvious, and sadly, many of these efforts have failed to deliver on their promise. We have all seen the beautiful, new built-out co-working space created to serve the masses of young entrepreneurs, only to end up mostly empty.
So, what does it take to create a successful accelerator? I
believe there are three essential components to success: a critical mass of qualified entrepreneurs, competent programming
and facilities, and sufficient seed funding. However, as is true
for every successful entity, I believe it always comes down to
leadership. I believe that Luminate has all of these essential components, and will make a significant difference for the optics,
photonics, and imaging startup scene for years to come.
For more information, please visit luminate.org.