There are roughly 120 companies in the Rochester, NY that are directly involved in optics, photonics or imaging, in addition to the hundreds of other businesses that supply these companies. Out of this has grown a precision machining industry that is among the top in the country. Now after years of lobbying, Rochester is poised to secure American leadership in the fabrication of integrated optics and photonics devices under the new American Institute for Manufacturing (AIM) Photonics project, a $600 million national hub that will give Rochester businesses the space and capacity needed to create next generation technologies.
In a recent RocGrowth Candids interview with Jay Eastman (CEO Optel Inc; Co-chair Optics, Photonics and Imaging Workgroup, FLREDC) and Paul Ballentine (Executive Director of The Center for Emerging and Innovative Sciences (CEIS) at the University of Rochester) we learned more about AIM Photonics and the significant impact this initiative will have on transforming Upstate New York’s venture economy.
Hosted by technology entrepreneur and attorney Alex Zapesochny of iCardiac Technologies, RocGrowth Candids is a speaker series designed to educate, inspire and connect Rochester’s entrepreneurs by sharing the stories and lessons learned of local founders.
Rochester’s story of photonics and optics dates back to the 1800’s when companies such as Bausch and Lomb, Corning Glass, Kodak and Xerox were founded. Then in 1929 Bausch and Lomb and Eastman Kodak founded the Institute of Optics.
“We had all these big companies involved in all kinds of optical technologies right here in town. I think that history is a major contributor to why this institute ended up with a substantial portion of it (AIM Photonics) here in Rochester,” said Eastman.
“It’s really an institute that takes technology from laboratory demonstration up to when it’s ready to be manufactured, and then hands it off to companies,” said Ballentine. “It’s all about manufacturing.”
Optics is the way that light interacts with matter. A photonic device could be a small sensor, or an LED. More complicated ones are used in communication data across the Internet such as lasers and modulators for minimally invasive surgeries and medical diagnostics. Even our flat screen TV’s and smartphones wouldn’t exist the way we know today without optics and photonics. “This is a $500 billion market, bigger than the U.S. auto industry. It’s just that we don’t think about most of the things that involve optics and photonics,” said Eastman.
Out of the $600 million associated with AIM Photonics, $130 million is going to be spent in Rochester on equipment, researchers and construction jobs. Attracted to the technology, new companies will soon start incubating around Upstate NY and global venture capital interests with also evolve. “There are a lot of resources available to people who want to start businesses around photonics, said Bellentine. “CEIS uses state money to match anyone that wants to collaborate with the faculty.”
The AIM Photonics initiative is scheduled to kickoff on January 1, 2016.