Pictured: Sujatha Ramanujan (left) and Noa Simons (right) on 9/13/17
By Noa Simons, Executive Director
The pleasure of meeting Sujatha Ramanujan was mine. She is a bright, dynamic, energetic champion of startups, technology, women in business and Upstate New York. She is also the person who has been selected to run Luminate, New York State’s newest startup accelerator focused on OPI - Optics, Photonics and Imaging. That program has $10M allocated for the next 2 years to supporting prototype-stage startups getting to first revenue. We got together at Nixon Peabody, one of the host locations for the inaugural Light and Sound Interactive conference.
Sujatha is a powerhouse. She has a PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan and 3 startups under her belt. Her most recent one is Intrinsiq Materials, a company making copper inks and pastes for printed electronics.
Pictured: Sujatha Ramanujan speaking on 9/13/17
“I love taking technology and getting it to commercialization. With Intrinsiq, we got to that stage and after 5 years, it was time for me to leave, though I'm still a shareholder. Companies need different people involved at various stages in their lifecycle, and I like taking technology and finding the avenue to first revenue.” Sujatha said, which is why the opportunity to run Luminate is exciting for her. “Now, I get to work with 10 companies at once, with a fund to support their goals.”
Luminate will select 10 companies from a pool of applicants that currently has over 200 in the pipeline. That selection process will include Sujatha and her board of advisors, comprised of industry leaders. After a $100k investment and 6-month accelerator program in Rochester starting in January 2018, at least one of those companies will receive a $1 million investment from Luminate at the program’s demo day in June 2018.
Luminate is one of the programs funded by Empire State Development and run by High Tech Rochester (HTR), which is headed up by Jim Senall. HTR serves companies across stages and sectors to start, grow and stay in the Rochester area. “I was lucky to get Sujatha on board to run Luminate, “ Jim said. “We have a lot of work to do to launch this program and the potential to change the face of this industry cluster in Rochester substantially. She has hit the ground running.”
In our wide-ranging conversation that included origins, family life and building tech-based businesses, Sujatha and I touched on women at work. She emphatically said, “We as women need to seek the autonomy we need to do our jobs. We need to ask for the recognition we deserve. And we need to call out the second-in-command mentality with women to empower them to be leaders - I am fierce about this.”
And finally, we talked about Upstate New York. She has been traveling outside the region promoting businesses here for years, and disagrees with people who claim that Upstate does not have people with the drive and talent needed for building great companies. “You can’t find more dedicated or determined people. My engineering team got in early and stayed late all the time. Our people are committed because they live here and they depend on these jobs to support their families, so their dedication is incredible. We have tons of trained scientists and engineers here, and our mentality causes people to reach into their networks to find the talent we need to get the jobs done.” Overall, in thinking about upstate New York in the context of the global economy, Sujatha said, “We have to innovate. We need to innovate here rather than extract margins out of reshoring commodity products because that is the way to sustain a competitive advantage. And we have the talent here in Upstate New York to do that.”
I left the conversation with Sujatha inspired by what’s to come for companies in optics, photonics and imaging in Upstate New York. OPI startup founders can apply to Luminate anytime before 9/25/17. To meet investors, entrepreneurs and business leaders emphasizing what women are doing, join us at Women, Money & Power in the Hudson Valley on 9/26/17. HTR is a long-time member of the Upstate Capital Association of NY (formerly UVANY) - learn more and sign up here!