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Overview, Eligibility, Application, and More

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 investors.

More than a simple pitch competition, but an entry point into the community of high-tech business development. Numerous mentors volunteer their time in support of new business ventures.

Photonics West
22 - 27 January 2022

Startup Challenge
25 January 2022

Questions? innovation@spie.org

Overview

The focus is on new businesses and potential startups. Students, post-docs, professors and other first-time business starters are encouraged to apply. The Startup Challenge accepts applications from the worldwide community of entrepreneurs.
In 2022, we are accepting applications in two areas:

1.Healthcare

2. Deep Tech (scientific or engineering innovation; please no software apps)

Eligibility and Rules

Participants must have an optics or photonics technology or application that they wish to publicly present as the basis for a viable new business.
Companies must select a track based on their development stage at the time of the written application:

1. Pre-revenue for the pre-seed stage

2.Below $500k in revenue from product sales for seed stage

3. Actively raising a Series A or B round with some demonstrated market traction for the Series A/B open pitch.

In all cases, revenue means revenue generated from products sold, not funding acquired through investors, grants, or other support. Teams (un-established companies) should join the pre-seed stage.

How to Apply / Apply Today

• To apply, please login using your SPIE credentials  If you have forgotten your account information, please open this link and click "Forgot Username" and/or "Forgot Password" or contact via email Customer Service
• Each answer will be saved automatically when you move on to the next question and you can return to previous questions and the application itself at any time.
• Incomplete applications will not be evaluated. Answer all questions. Make your best educated guess if you do not know or have not yet determined how to approach this aspect of the business.

Applications Feedback

• Applicants to the to the Startup Challenge will have their applications evaluated by experienced entrepreneurs, investors, and business development experts.
• Evaluators will provide written feedback for the materials and pitches that teams provide.
• Each application is evaluated on strength of business case, financial case, and the trajectory of the team. Judges select the teams that advance to the final round.
• Final review: applicants are divided into two topical tracks 1) Healthcare and 2) Deep Tech

Competition Process and Onsite Program

Applications Review

Applicants to the to the Startup Challenge will have their applications evaluated by experienced entrepreneurs, investors, and business development experts.
Evaluators will provide written feedback for the materials and pitches that teams provide.
Each application is evaluated on strength of business case, financial case, and the trajectory of the team. Judges select the teams that advance to the final round.
Final review: applicants are divided into two topical tracks 1) Healthcare and 2) Deep Tech

Finals

The final round will occur Tuesday afternoon 25 January 2022, during SPIE Photonics West, Moscone Center, San Francisco, California.
Finalists are based on the written application and video pitch, judges select the teams who become Startup Challenge Finalists. These teams are invited to enter the live pitch round of the competition.
A representative from each team will make a 5-minute pitch to a panel of judges. Judges then have 5 minutes to ask questions of the presenter. Judges will decide the top three pitches and the winners will be announced at a final awards ceremony. In all rounds, the decisions of the judges are final.
Final pitch decks will need to be provided electronically to the organizers at least 1 day ahead of the Finals.

Series A/B Open Pitch
These pitches are to investors, valuable to all competitors and the VC community.

This round will occur Tuesday morning 25 January 2022, during SPIE Photonics West, Moscone Center, San Francisco, California.
Teams in this round are not eligible for the Startup Challenge competition or the monetary prizes.
Teams will be selected to pitch in the Startup Challenge by a team of investor judges.
Oral pitches for the Startup Challenge can be no longer than FIVE (5) MINUTES each. Extra time is not allowed.
Application pitches must be submitted in video format. Finals pitches must be made live and in person at Photonics West by the applicant or a team member named in the application.
After the pitch, judges will have additional time to ask questions.

Tips and Training

Suggestions for the pitch

Pitch delivery
Quality of the business case
Quality of the financial case
Competitive advantage

Practice your pitch before you arrive

Oral pitches for both rounds of the Startup Challenge can be no longer than FIVE MINUTES each. In 5 minutes, presenters need to cover the problem that they are solving, the customer for whom they are solving this problem, and why the customer will care that it is being solved. Most pitch coaches recommend employing a narrative structure to tell this as a story rather than using a lot of bullet points and dense slides. Narratives have an introduction to the protagonist (you and the team), the conflict or problem, some moments showing how the problem is solved, and a resolution which includes your vision for the company. With only five minutes, you have to grab the attention of the judges and hold it. Personal stories about why you are the person to solve these problem are the way to do that.
Pitches can be supported by a powerpoint or PDF slide deck. However, presenters often focus too much on the information in their deck and not enough on the messages they are sending. When it comes to pitch slides, less is more. Slides that are overly complicated to follow or busy with information distract from what you are saying. Avoid large movies that may not load and loop or lots of animations that add noise. Keep it simple.
Your pitch deck should not be your technical talk.
You may structure these pitch deck slides as you wish, however consider referencing the lean business canvas for topics areas.

•  Business Model Generation: A handbook for visionaries, game changers and challengers.
•  The Business Model Canvas (PDF)
•  I-Corps Toolkit: provides you with tools, templates and materials
•  Steve Blank's Lean Launchpad Course: a comprehensive starting point

Additional Information

Notes and Disclosures

COVID-19 Statement: The global pandemic has impacted all aspects of planning these events and the situation is continually evolving. We intend to organize this event according to appropriate guidelines from local health officials. We will communicate major modifications to this plan to all participants.
Application Fee: There is no fee to enter the competition. However, applicants selected as finalists will need to pitch in person at Photonics West. You will need a registration for the conference in order to attend the finals, and any Photonics West registration will provide access to the event.
The written application to participate in the Startup Challenge will be read by a team of evaluators who have been asked to keep the contents of the application confidential, however, no formal guarantee of confidentiality will be provided or implied. The oral presentations required in December 2022 to participate in the Startup Challenge semi-finals do constitute disclosure. Participants should avoid the release of proprietary information, trade secrets, information subject to export control, or ITAR.
SPIE may document the competition with video and images of the presentations. This material will be used by SPIE to promote the Startup Challenge competition, your pitch, and entrepreneurship in photonics. If you are filmed by SPIE, you may request a copy of the footage.

By participating, you agree:
Participation in the competition means that you agree to have your startup presentation evaluated. 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. SPIE may document the competition with video and images of the presentations. This material will be used by SPIE to promote the Startup Challenge competition, your pitch, and entrepreneurship in photonics. If you are filmed by SPIE, you may request a copy of the footage.

Questions
If you have questions about eligibility, participation, expectations, sponsorship, or anything related to the Startup Challenge, please contact us at innovation@spie.org or nicollea@spie.org or by phone (+1 360 685 5573) - this is a US West Coast timezone.