Oculi wins big at Luminate Finals

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Oculi won $1 million in investment from New York State through the Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative.

Maryland’s Oculi, which took home the big prize at Luminate Finals, plans to move its headquarters to Rochester. The company also expects to use the $1 million investment from New York to scale its operations for mass production, expand sales, and develop advanced versions of its products.

The hybrid event was held live at Innovation Square in downtown Rochester, completing Luminate NY’s sixth round. Oculi was among 10 finalists vying for the “Company of the Year” award.

The Baltimore-based company has developed a smart programmable vision sensor, Oculi SPU. The sensing and processing unit taps the efficiency of the human eye and the speed of machines to make computer vision faster. By embedding intelligence in the sensor at the pixel level, the chip can transform smart devices across homes, offices, and vehicles, officials say. The combination of sensing and pre-processing in the pixel makes it useful for visual intelligence like facial recognition and tracking gestures.

“The Luminate program, team, and the region surpassed my expectations. I learned so much about the beautiful Finger Lakes region and the relevant ecosystem that exists here. Had I known that earlier on, it would have been my company’s home from day one,” says Charbel Rizk, CEO of Oculi.

A cohort-based program, Luminate NY now has 50 companies in its portfolio with a net worth of more than $650 million. Many of these businesses are establishing U.S. operations or some aspect of research and manufacturing in the Rochester region, which has resulted in 164 jobs, Luminate NY officials say. Administered by NextCorps, the optics, photonics and imaging startup accelerator has invested $18 million in 63 startups.

“Early-stage companies developing deep tech require support that is specific to their needs,” says Sujatha Ramanujan, managing director of Luminate NY. “With the rich OPI resources that are available in the Finger Lakes, we’re able to match them to the expertise, partners, and investors that can help them speed the trajectory of their technology and business.”

At the event, Digiteyez won $400,000 in follow-on funding and was named the Outstanding Graduate. The Washington, D.C.-based company hopes to change the vision industry by delivering eyecare on demand through Clear, a quick online eye test taken from any device.

This year, three companies—NanoPattern Technologies (Chicago), Quantune Technologies (Germany) and Swave Photonics (Belgium)—tied for the Distinguished Graduate Award. Each will receive $200,000 in follow-on investment. These startups are working on emerging technologies in the realm of display manufacturing, spectroscopy and augmented and virtual reality. Rochester’s Photonect Interconnect Solutions received the Honorable Achievement Award and $50,000.

Investments today were presented after a panel of judges from the optics, photonics, and imaging industry and venture capitalist community scored the participating companies based on their business pitches and due diligence completed during the six-month accelerator program, officials say.

“Thanks to Luminate NY, our state will continue to lead the nation on cutting-edge technological research,” says Gov. Kathy Hochul. “The winners of the competition’s sixth round represent some of world’s most innovative businesses that are bringing transformative products in optics, photonics and the imaging supply chain to market. I congratulate this year’s winners, and remain committed to supporting the fast-growing, high-tech businesses and industries that will move New York forward.”

Luminate NY is now accepting applications for Round 7 of the sixth-month program. In addition to more than 200 hours of instruction and resources to advance their businesses, teams get $100,000 at the start of the program. Teams are expected to use $50,000 to engage with the Finger Lakes region’s resources.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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