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The 11th annual SPIE (the International Society for Optics and Photonics) Startup Challenge was hosted in Bellingham, Washington on June 2, 2021. A total of six startups were presented with accolades from the industry and shared in $35,000. The Startup Challenge included an online pitch competition. Although this is an integral part of the industry and entrepreneurship programs of SPIE, that segment of the challenge took place virtually this year.
What makes this challenge event so interesting is that it focuses on the actual “sales pitch” component. A sales pitch is a key selling factor when promoting a product or service. In the realm of a startup challenge, a pitch is used to seek financial support. This requires a very carefully crafted presentation and well-versed backstory that can be presented in such a way that once the pitch concludes, all the pertinent information required to make a decision has been provided. In some sales circles, it is referred to as an “elevator pitch.” This type of pitch is abbreviated enough to get the main points across in a short period as would be permitted during a quick trip on an elevator with a potential investor. The difference with the pitch during the Startup Challenge is that it is made before a panel of nine judges. These judges will determine which startups advance to the semi-final round and eventually to the finals.
There are two primary tracks followed by the Startup Challenge. They are Healthcare and Deep Tech. Semi-finalists and finalists have opportunities in the weeks leading up to the finals for mentorship, industry advice, and feedback from the SPIE network of experts as they prepared and tweaked their final pitches. In the Deep Tech category, “In A Blink” took first place. The WINK-ol provides virtual fiber-optic technology which allows for the transfer of massive amounts of data from public transport and industrial vehicles to a smart grid. Second place went to Owl Autonomous Imagine. Their 3D-ranging thermal camera offers a safer type of robotic mobility. The third prize was awarded to Ki3 Photonics for their secure quantum communications solution.
In the Healthcare category, first place was presented to Advanced Optronics for its flexible surgical sensor designed for use with cochlear implants. LASE Innovation took second with its technology for improving single-cell analysis. The third-place prize went to Prebeo whose kidney viability assessment system was developed to make kidney transplants safer and more efficient. The cash prizes awarded included two $10,000 checks from Jenoptik (In A Blink and Advanced Optronics), two $5,000 checks (Owl Autonomous Imaging and LASE Innovation), and two $2,500 checks (Ki3 Photonics and Prebeo).
In A Blink Co-Founder Eric Garzon stated, “We are thrilled to have received first place in the Deep Tech track of the SPIE Startup Challenge.” He added, “SPIE has opened its arms to our startup, offering coaching, advice, and support of the highest quality, and we are looking forward to more collaboration with SPIE as we grow our business in the coming months.” Garzon concluded with, “We’re especially proud to see that our innovation is being recognized by giants in the industry.” In A Blink is based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and currently uses the slogan, “Data…In A Blink…of an eye” which simply explains what their product is capable of doing. For more information on this startup, visit their website at www.inablink.zone.
According to Advanced Optronics CEO Jay Reddy, “The SPIE Startup Challenge has been a great opportunity to learn and network with an inspiring cohort of photonics startups.” He adds, “The opportunities to learn from industry experts and refine our pitch have made the case for Advanced Optronics much stronger.” Reddy went on to say, “In fact, this is the first time we have pitched the company publicly, so the final result is a testament to the quality of the training program. It was amazing to see the caliber of all the pitches, and with such fierce competition, we are humbled by the judges’ decision. I would also very much like to thank the sponsors who made this Challenge possible.”
The SPIE Startup Challenge is a program that showcases new businesses, products, and technologies that utilize photonics to address critical needs. The program is financially supported annually by Founding Partner Jenoptik, Lead Sponsors MKS Instruments and Hamamatsu, and Strategic Partners Luminate and LDV Capital. The judges for the Startup Challenge represent various parts of the industry and vetted finalists in the event for their business models, financial cases, and competitive advantages. The judges include Darius Sankey of Innovation Acceleration Capital, Homan Yuen and Ivneet Bhullar of Fusion Fund, Linda Smith from Ceres Technology Advisors and GLAS Capital, Mark Enright from Jenoptik, Marc Himel of MKS Instruments, Zhenlin Li of Photon Fund, Sam Rubin of LightPath Technologies, and Bill Hyun from Genoa Ventures. The Startup Challenge is a three-month process that begins in April with a Kick-Off Event and a Virtual Customer Discovery Workshop. There is also the Pitching Your Company Virtually Pitch Clinic. In May the Semi-Finals are announced with the finals deciding in June. The process concludes with a Post-Event Wrap-Up Workshop.
Founded in 1955 in Bellingham, Washington. SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics which aims to advance light-based technologies. The non-profit society currently serves 255,000 constituents in 183 different countries by advancing emerging technologies through continuing education, information exchange, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. SPIE also sponsors and organizes 25 major technical forums, educational programs, and exhibitions in North America, Asia, Europe, and the South Pacific. The events involve over 35,000 engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs. SPIE publishes the SPIE Digital Library which is currently the largest collection of optics and photonics applied research in the world. The library also houses over 500,000 papers from various SPIE sources. In 2020, the society provided over $5 million in community support ranging from educational resources and outreach to scholarships and awards. To find out more about SPIE, visit their website at www.spie.org.