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SPIE Startup Challenge Schedule and Rules

The SPIE Startup Challenge is held annually at Photonics West. This competitive event invites new entrepreneurs to pitch their light-based technology business plan to a team of business development experts and venture capitalists.

Applicants to the Startup Challenge can take advantage of several online training sessions that cover topics like "Storytelling for Entrepreneurs," "Customer Discovery," and "Financial Benchmarks for Photonics Companies." These are offered free of charge to applicants to improve their preparation for the competition.

Applicants selected to pitch in person at Photonics West are invited to attend an entrepreneur training session to improve pitch delivery, network, and help refine their business pitch. The best pitch presenters receive cash prizes and are provided support to attend additional entrepreneurship training to continue refining ideas and make further contacts with experts.

Application Timeline

Application opens
September 2019
Application deadline November 2019
Semi-Finalists notified 30 December 2019


Photonics West 2020 Timeline

Pitch Clinic for Semi-Finalists - 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM 3 February 2020
Networking Lunch - 12:00 PM to 1:30 PM 3 February 2020
Semi-Finals - 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM 4 February 2020
Startup Challenge Finals + Networking Reception - 3:30 PM to 6:00 PM 5 February 2020


Structure of the Competition
All applicants will have their written application evaluated by a team of expert judges. Judges will select approximately 20 semi-final pitches that will enter the live pitch round of the competition from the initial pool of applicants. The applicants are divided among three topical tracks.

The Semi-Final Round
The semi-final round will take place Tuesday afternoon, 4 February, at Photonics West 2020 and is structured exactly like the final round, and is open to all attendees. A panel of judges, different from the initial pool, will select the top 6 presenters from Tuesday who will go on to the final competition on Wednesday afternoon.

The Final Round
The final round will occur in public on Wednesday, 5 February at Photonics West 2020, in the Moscone Center. Judges will decide the top 3 pitches and announce the winners shortly after the last presenter has finished. The decisions of the judges are final.

Rules and Eligibility

Rules for the Pitch
Oral pitches for both rounds of the Startup Challenge can be no longer than FIVE (5) MINUTES each. Extra time and additional materials beyond the pitch slides are not allowed. Pitches must be made live and in person at Photonics West by the applicant or a team member named in the application.

Participation in the competition means that you agree to have your startup presentation evaluated publicly. Furthermore, you allow SPIE to use your name, likeness, and the information provided in the Startup pitch to promote your product and this competition, in print and electronic communication means.

Participants must have an optics or photonics technology or application that they wish to publicly present as the basis for a viable new business. Established companies must be pre-revenue at the time of the written application. Pre-revenue in this case means revenue generated from products sold, not funding acquired through investors, grants, or other support.