Aspiring entrepreneurs and pre-revenue companies with new photonics products have until 18 November to enter the annual SPIE Startup Challenge, due to take place during the Photonics West trade show in San Francisco at the end of January.
The competition will feature photonics entrepreneurs pitching their light-based technology business plans to a team of business development experts and venture capitalists for the chance to win a share of more than $85,000 in cash, prizes, and support.
Eligible applicants will present technologies or applications in the fields of optics and photonics as the basis for a viable new business. After assessing each written entry, a panel of experts will select 20 semi-finalists to deliver an oral pitch for the next parts of the challenge.
Each semi-finalist will receive feedback from photonics industry leaders on their business model, in addition to an invitation to a networking lunch with mentors and investors, and product demonstration time on the floor of the SPIE Photonics West exhibition.
Feedback from judges who ‘have been there, have done that,’ is very valuable, said 2014 winner, Robert McLaughlin of the University of Western Australia. ‘Especially as an engineer, there is a whole world of complexity in going from technical problems to commercialisation. They taught me an awful lot about how do I get from an idea to actually turning it into a company where I can get it out into the world and make a difference.’
The deliverers of the three best pitches will also be awarded cash prizes of $10,000, $5,000, and $2,500 for the first, second and third places respectively. The cash prizes are funded by Jenoptik, a founding partner of the challenge. In addition, products totalling $5,000 will also be supplied by supporting sponsor Edmund Optics to the first-place winner.
'To a startup, every dollar counts,’ according to 2016 winner Leslie Kimmerling of Double Helix. However, ‘one of the most important benefits is the mentoring, coaching, and advice you get. Probably the most important is the networking and the community that you continue to build.’ Double Helix’s 3D nanoscale imaging system won first prize, while a marijuana breathalyser from Diagnostic AnSERS and a disease diagnostic tool from Disease Diagnostic Group claimed second and third.
Adam Wax, a professor at Duke University who has served as a judge and mentor for several past events, said that part of the value of the competition is that it teaches entrepreneurs about the differences in priority placed on commercialisation as compared to academic research. This understanding is essential for connection with venture capitalists, he noted.
The SPIE Startup Challenge is hosted by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and supported by founding partner Jenoptik and supporting sponsors Edmund Optics, Trumpf, Open Photonics, and the U. S. National Science Foundation.