January 9, 2017
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Presents the 19th Proposal of the 2017 State of the State: New $10 Million Photonics Venture Challenge in Rochester Will Help Strengthen the Innovation Economy

Governor Cuomo Presents the 19th Proposal of the 2017 State of the State: New $10 Million Photonics Venture Challenge in Rochester Will Help Strengthen the Innovation Economy

Business Challenge Will Support Start-Up Companies Focused on Optics, Photonics and Imaging Technologies


Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that New York State will establish a $10 million, multi-year Photonics Venture Challenge in Rochester. This business competition will aim to support start-up companies that commercialize these rapidly developing technologies through a business accelerator program and a top award of $1 million to the most promising start-up company. There are currently no accelerator programs in the world with a photonics focus and the Rochester region is uniquely poised to build a nationally, or globally, recognized program.



“Rochester has quickly become a leader in innovative manufacturing and now is the time to build on that momentum to ensure sustained economic growth for the entire region," Governor Cuomo said. “With more than 120 companies anchored by some of the nation’s top research institutions, the Finger Lakes Region is now one of the world’s leading centers for the photonics industry. What better place than Rochester to establish this challenge and help focus entrepreneurial resources on the photonics industry in order to create a collaborative environment for start-ups to grow and thrive.”

The Photonics challenge is modeled after Western New York’s 43North, a $5 million start-up competition funded by Governor Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative where cash prizes are awarded to some of the best entrepreneurs and start-ups from around the world. 43North winners also receive free incubator space in Buffalo for one year, guidance from mentors in related fields, and access to other business incentive programs such as START-UP NY. Like 43North, the winners of the Photonics Venture Challenge must commit to locating in the Rochester region for at least one year after the award.

The basic elements of the Photonics Venture Challenge are:

  • 10-15 start-ups will be selected for the program through an annual competitive application process, each receiving an initial investment ranging between $100,000 to $125,000 in exchange for equity. Selections for the first round will be made by fall 2017.
  • Participants will go through a 4-6 month structured accelerator program where they will build products, access customers and refine their business models, and gain initial market traction. The program will provide work space in the Rochester region, access to regional assets, resources, labs, etc., and connections to mentors and industry partners.
  • Each year’s competition will conclude with a large-scale “Demo Day” where all teams present in a public forum to an audience that will include venture capitalists, optics/photonics companies, and other industry players.
  • The three most promising start-ups in the program will compete for additional “best in class” funding investments: $1 million for first prize and $500,000 for second and third prizes, announced at the Demo Day.
  • Award winners must reside and operate in Rochester region for at least one year following their award, ideally within or near the AIM Photonics Testing Assembly and Packaging (TAP) facility at Eastman Business Park or within or near the Sibley Square business accelerator headquarters.

This Photonics Venture Challenge builds on Governor Cuomo’s announcement in December 2016 that the state-of-the-art AIM Photonics Manufacturing Facility will be located in Eastman Business Park in Rochester at ON Semiconductor. The facility will be used to test, assemble and package chips that use photons in place of electrons for increased performance of semiconductor circuits. First announced by Governor Cuomo with Vice President Joe Biden in July 2015, the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics will help secure the nation and region’s leadership in emerging technology research, development, and manufacturing.

Optics, photonics and imaging is one of the three industry clusters identified in “Finger Lakes Forward,” the region’s successful Upstate Revitalization Initiative blueprint to grow the economy, create jobs and drive opportunity. In order to remain the world’s leader in exploiting light-based technologies in products and services, the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council endorsed the Photonics Venture Challenge as a priority initiative in its Upstate Revitalization Initiative plan, as proposed by High Tech Rochester to be a large-scale annual start-up accelerator program and competition aimed at attracting and supporting high-growth potential OPI start-ups.


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