The organizations will work together, allowing these startups to participate concurrently. The goal: to reduce the complexity and cost of development as entrepreneurs hone commercial applications.
“Critical technologies such as silicon photonics, lasers, and electronic packaging rely on the integration of semiconductor technology and photonics. These complex integrations are the building blocks of emerging applications like autonomous sensing, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and quantum applications,” says Sujatha Ramanujan, managing director of Luminate. “This partnership will help to close the development and manufacturing gaps that often exist when working across multiple technical disciplines to bring novel technologies to market.”
The alliance will also help with funding opportunities. At Luminate, a Rochester-based accelerator program for commercial applications using optics, photonics and imaging technologies, startups get $100,000 once admitted into the six-month program. These companies then compete for up to $2 million in follow-on funds.
Based in Santa Clara, Calif., Silicon Catalyst over the last eight years has helped its portfolio companies access more than $400 million in funding and more than $200 million from in-kind services and grants. Silicon Catalyst provides support to semiconductor hardware startups as they move from idea through prototype to initial product.
Owl Autonomous Imaging has experienced the benefits of access to the Silicon Catalyst and Luminate NY programs. However, it had to do it in phases. Owl first earned a spot in the two-year Silicon Catalyst program in 2018 and then joined Luminate NY’s fourth cohort in 2021.
It was looking to integrate optics and imaging with machine learning and silicon chip design to deliver the first monocular 3D thermal ranging solution to the autonomous vehicle industry. During this period, the company had to execute on a very aggressive schedule for chip-level development, while at the same time, build a complete imaging automotive-grade system solution, officials say.
“Working together with both Silicon Catalyst and Luminate, we were able to leverage their strategic and in-kind partners, financiers, advisers, and mentors to build a solid company foundation and, ultimately, introduce a world-first solution,” says Gene Petilli, Owl co-founder and chief technology officer.
Owl’s patented 3D Thermal Ranger provides HD imaging and precision ranging representing a 150x improvement in resolution and cloud density of LiDAR, a remote sensing technology, the company says. It operates day and night, in all weather, and definitively classifies pedestrians, cyclists, animals and vehicles while calculating position, direction and speed to unlock safe autonomous and semiautonomous operation.
“Owl’s success helped Silicon Catalyst and Luminate validate the impact that a strategic partnership could have on the development trajectory of groundbreaking technologies,” says Lance Bell, partner at Silicon Catalyst. “By formalizing this relationship and working together, we will be able to more effectively screen and evaluate each startup’s potential, closely pair our cohort companies to mentors and resources to speed time to market, and de-risk investments.”
One of the Rochester area’s success, Fairport-based Owl has managed to attract funds and recently announced plans to expand, adding up to 105 jobs.
Such startups now will have increased access to connections, collaborations, and funding. Luminate and Silicon Catalyst expect to collaborate on startup recruitment and selection, with an eye toward elevating women- and minority-owned companies. The organizations will also leverage their investor networks and portfolios to improve funding opportunities, officials say.
For New York, the partnership is another step toward the state’s commitment to expanding its footprint in the semiconductor space—which includes investments from Micron and Edwards Vacuum. OPI also is an area of growth—four companies in Luminate’s portfolio are using federal resources to support integrated chip design at AIM facilities, and Luminate itself, which started with two years of funding in 2018, now has funds for four more years.
Luminate is recruiting for its sixth cohort. Applications are due by Jan. 9, 2023.