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SPIE on hunt for photonics entrepreneurs

Photonics entrepreneurs have until 1 December to enter the SPIE Startup Challenge, an opportunity to pitch their light-based technology products to a team of business development experts and venture capitalists. The annual competition is held during SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco from 1-6 February 2014.

The first prize is $10,000 plus $5,000 in products from Edmund Optics,  the second prize $5,000, and the third $2,500. Each of the eight finalists will also receive sponsorship to attend the Entrepreneurship Academies, a week-long entrepreneur boot camp organised by the University of California, Davis.

Hosted by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, the event is supported by founding sponsor Jenoptik along with Trumpf, Open Photonics, Edmund Optics, and Knobbe Martens.

Eligible applicants must present an optics or photonics technology or application as the basis for a viable new business. Because the event focuses on new businesses and potential startups, established companies must be pre-revenue at the time of the competition and may not have sold any products.

Written applications will be evaluated by a team of expert judges, who will select 20 applicants to deliver private oral pitches during Photonics West. A second panel of judges will select the top eight pitches from the private semi-final round. The public final round will take place on Wednesday 5 February, with the judges deciding the top three pitches and announcing the winners.

Oral pitches for both rounds of the Startup Challenge may not exceed three minutes and two slides.

Part of the value of the Startup Challenge is that it teaches entrepreneurs about the differences in priority placed on commercialisation as compared to academic research, said Adam Wax, a professor at Duke University who has served on the judging panel. This understanding is essential for connection with venture capitalists, he noted.

‘And the winners of the Startup Challenge go on to the Entrepreneurship Academy sponsored at UC Davis,’ Wax said. ‘This is really setting up our next generation of entrepreneurs and could be very valuable for future technologies.’

Winners in the 2013 Startup Challenge pitched products including a 3D surface inspection system designed to measure surface flushness of rivets in the aerospace industry; a compact, low-cost, high-performance optical biosensor for point-of-care diagnostics in the chronic disease management sector; and a remote image guided endoscopic surgery (RIGES) platform that utilises rotating optical wedges to remotely control a focused laser deep within the body.

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