Data-transfer technology, 3D-thermal camera, and surgical sensors catch top prizes at the 2021 SPIE Startup Challenge

The annual pitch competition run by SPIE includes two photonics-focused tracks, honoring six winners in healthcare and deep tech
03 June 2021
Winners of the 2021 SPIE Startup Challenge
Winners' Circle: Top row, left to right: Owl Autonomous Imaging's Chuck Gershman; Ki3 Photonics' Yoann Jestin; In A Blink's Eric Garzon; middle row, left to right: Jenoptik's Jay Kumler, Advanced Optronics' Jay Reddy; GLAS Capital's Linda Smith (judge); bottom row: Prebeo's Phillip Alvarez; LASE Innovation's Sheldon Kwok.

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA — On 2 June, six startups won industry accolades as well as sharing $35,000 at the 11th annual SPIE Startup Challenge. The pitch competition, which took place online this year, is an integral part of the industry and entrepreneurship programs of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

The Startup Challenge includes two distinct tracks: Healthcare and Deep Tech. In the weeks leading up to the finals, semi-finalists and finalists had multiple opportunities for mentorship, industry advice, and feedback from the Challenge's network of experts as they prepared and honed their final pitches.

In the Deep Tech track, In A Blink, whose WINK-ol provides virtual fiber-optic technology to enable massive data transfer from public-transport and industrial vehicles to a smart grid, won first place; Owl Autonomous Imaging, whose 3D ranging thermal camera provides safer robotic mobility, came in second; and Ki3 Photonics landed third with its solutions for secure quantum communications.

In Healthcare, Advanced Optronics was the top winner with its flexible surgical sensor for use with cochlear implants, while LASE Innovation won second place with its technology for improving single-cell analysis. Prebeo, whose kidney viability assessment system aims to make kidney transplants safer and more efficient, was honored with third place.

In A Blink and Advanced Optronics took home checks for $10,000 from Jenoptik; Owl Autonomous Imaging and LASE Innovation received $5,000; and Ki3 Photonics and Prebeo took home $2,500.

"We are thrilled to have received first place in the Deep Tech track of the SPIE Startup Challenge," said In A Blink Co-Founder Eric Garzon. "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. We're especially proud to see that our innovation is being recognized by giants in the industry."

"The SPIE Startup Challenge has been a great opportunity to learn and network with an inspiring cohort of photonics startups," noted Advanced Optronics CEO Jay Reddy. "The opportunities to learn from industry experts and refine our pitch have made the case for Advanced Optronics much stronger. 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 of 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, which showcases new businesses, products, and technologies that are addressing critical needs with photonics, is enabled this year by Founding Partner Jenoptik; Lead Sponsors MKS Instruments and Hamamatsu; and Strategic Partners Luminate and LDV Capital.

Judges drawn from across the industry who vetted the finalists for their business models, financial cases, and competitive advantages included Innovation Acceleration Capital's Darius Sankey; Fusion Fund's Homan Yuen and Ivneet Bhullar; Ceres Technology Advisors' & GLAS Capital's Linda Smith; Jenoptik's Mark Enright; MKS Instrument's Marc Himel; Photon Fund's Zhenlin Li; LightPath Technologies' Sam Rubin; and Genoa Ventures' Bill Hyun.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, an educational not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based science, engineering, and technology. The Society serves more than 258,000 constituents from 184 countries, offering conferences and their published proceedings, continuing education, books, journals, and the SPIE Digital Library. In 2020, SPIE provided over $5 million in community support including scholarships and awards, outreach and advocacy programs, travel grants, public policy, and educational resources.

Daneet Steffens
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