New photonics entrepreneurs need to apply now for SPIE Startup Challenge 2015

Cash prizes, mentorships for winners of pitch contest for light-based technology products

14 November 2014

SPIE Startup Challenge 2014

Jay Kumler of Jenoptik (at left) and SPIE President Philip Stahl (right) congratulate 2014 Startup Challenge first-place winner Robert McLaughlin of the University of Western Australia. (Photo: Joey Cobbs for SPIE.)


SPIE Startup Challenge 2014BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- New photonics entrepreneurs have through 1 December to enter the SPIE Startup Challenge 2015, 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 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, running 7-12 February and hosted by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

Cash prizes, including $10,000 for first prize, $5,000 for second prize, and $2500 for third are funded by Founding Partner Jenoptik. Additional support for the training program and the competition comes from Lead Sponsor Hamamatsu, and Supporting Sponsors Trumpf, Open Photonics, Edmund Optics, and Knobbe Martens. Edmund Optics also will award the first-place winner $5,000 in products.

Each finalist will receive sponsorship to attend the Entrepreneurship Academy, a multi-day entrepreneur boot camp organized by the University of California, Davis

The SPIE Startup Challenge is held annually at Photonics West, enabling new entrepreneurs to pitch their light-based technology business plans to a team of corporate development experts and venture capitalists.

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 oral pitches on Tuesday 10 February. A second panel of judges will select the top pitches from the semi-final round. The public final round will take place Wednesday 11 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 commercialization as compared to academic research, said Adam Wax, a professor at Duke University who has served as a judge and mentor for the past four events. This understanding is essential for connection with venture capitalists, he noted.

"The SPIE Startup Challenge has been a great competition largely because it is a great time to geet feedback," said 2014 winner Robert McLaughlin of the University of Western Australia. "The judges have been there, they have done that. Especially coming as an engineer, there is a whole world of complexity in going from technical problems to commercialization. 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."

Winning projects in the 2014 Startup Challenge included the University of Western Australia's microscope in a needle, an extremely small-scale surgical guidance probe; Massachusetts Institute of Technology's PlenOptika low-cost device to provide eyeglass prescriptions at the push of a button; and the MagBiosense point-of-care heart attack diagnostic device and assay.

More information on the Startup Challenge is at, including a link to the application, information on eligibility, structure, rules, and how to become involved.

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 256,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided more than $3.2 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2013.


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