Top Luminate NY prize goes to Oregon firm

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Rochester is likely to play a pivotal role in PreAct Technologies’ future. The winner of the coveted $1 million prize in Luminate NY’s fourth cohort, the Oregon startup works to bridge the gap between collision avoidance systems and active safety technology. 

PreAct was named “Company of the Year” at Luminate Finals 2021 Thursday, an event that was held virtually and sponsored by Optica, formerly known as the Optical Society. PreAct will get its $1 million investment from New York through the Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative. As required by the award, all winners of the competition will commit to establishing operations in Rochester for at least the next 18 months. 

“We’re planning to hire some talent (in) optics and photonics,” says Paul Drysch, CEO and co-founder of PreAct Technologies. “We’ve seen some great contract manufacturers that have good experience in building cameras. So, we truly hope to be able to also do our kind of smaller-scale production in the Rochester area as well.”

PreAct Technologies’ TrueSense sensors make it possible to angle car seats away, deploy airbags earlier, and raise the car suspension just before a crash occurs to vastly reduce injuries and deaths. The system is designed to replace short-range sensors like radar, ultrasound, and cameras used for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, self-driving, and convenience features—a $30 billion market.

“Those industries rely on pretty old technology, regular old RGB cameras, ultrasonic sensors, like in your bumper that kind of beep when you get close to a car … those are decades-old technologies,” Drysch says. “So, our goal is to replace most of those sensors with … much more advanced and higher-performance technology. “

PreAct’s win is an illustration of the broad range of optics, photonics and imaging applications. Each year, the Luminate NY accelerator picks 10 promising companies to participate in a six-month program, with an aim to help bring such diverse applications to market. 

“It’s actually really important that our winners come from different industries,” says Sujatha Ramanujan, managing director of Luminate. “Our goal with Luminate is (to) enable the photonics industry here, which services so many others. So, rather than target a market … we are giving the ground roots, the infrastructure that services so many industries and seeding our own economy here to service multiple industries.”

This year’s cohort was outstanding, she says.

“It was a brutal choice having to pick,” Ramanujan says. “We were really fortunate to have 10 outstanding companies, and I think they’re all going to succeed. They’re all really good. Each one has different strengths. And what played a lot into why we picked PreAct is because they really do have the potential to utilize the resources extremely well in this region.

“It has to be a good match,” she adds. “You don’t want to just put money into a company. … We’re here to look at what this Rochester Finger Lakes region can contribute to make that business do that much better, so it’s logical to work here.”

A panel of judges from the OPI industry and the venture capital community scored the cohort on their business pitches. 

Other Luminate award winners are:

■ Andluca Technologies, which was awarded the Outstanding Graduate Award and $400,000 in follow-on investment. The Princeton, N.J.-based company’s wireless smart glass system—which uses transparent solar technology to selectively and efficiently convert ultraviolet light to electricity—claims to reduce building energy use by up to 40 percent while significantly enhancing occupant comfort and productivity.

■ Mesodyne and DynoCardia, both Massachusetts firms, secured the Distinguished Graduate Awards and $250,000 each.  Mesodyne is working on a power generator that converts fuel to electricity via light. DynoCardia’s ViTrack is the first cuffless, wrist-wearable technology to offer direct, beat-to-beat measurement of blood pressure with the accuracy of intra-arterial lines. 

■ Owl Autonomous Imaging won Honorable Achievement and $200,000 in funding. The Rochester company has a patented 3D Thermal Ranger that provides HD thermal imaging with precision ranging, representing a 200x improvement in resolution and cloud density over LiDAR.

■ Layer Metrics took home the Audience Choice award—voted by the more than 500 attendees at the virtual event. The company, whose technology enables reliable metal additive manufacturing, received $10,000.

So far, Luminate NY has invested $12.4 million in 41 startups. The companies in the portfolio now share a net worth of more than $350 million, officials say. In addition to providing an estimated 1.5 to 2 times return on investment, many of the companies are establishing U.S. operations or some aspect of research and manufacturing in the Rochester region, which has resulted in 150 jobs (100 full-time and 20 contract positions), with an additional 120 jobs expected from two companies in the future. 

Startups that participate in the program are provided with comprehensive training and resources to advance their technologies and businesses. For PreAct, which has participated in other accelerators, the program was all-encompassing—tackling topics like human resources and finances to diversity training, Drysch notes. For PreAct, which is closing a $10 million Series A funding round, the Luminate investment will make a sizable impact.

Luminate NY is now accepting applications for its fifth cohort through Jan. 10, 2022. Teams that can physically locate to Rochester for the six-month program will receive $100,000 in funding upon program start in April 2022. Teams that are unable to locate to Rochester due to travel and visa restrictions will receive $50,000 in funding upon program start and an additional $50,000 that must be used to engage resources in the Finger Lakes region during their time in the accelerator, Luminate says.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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