Optics Students Win $10K at Pre-Seed Workshop

For the past 10 years, High Tech Rochester’s annual Pre-Seed Workshop has provided inventors, entrepreneurs, and technology professionals with resources for quickly assessing their specific market opportunities and identifying the next steps to be taken in creating a start-up business around their technology innovation.

On Friday, Nov. 1 at the conclusion of this year’s Pre-Seed Workshop, five current and former University of Rochester Optics students found themselves the recipient of such resources. The student-driven team Ovitz was presented with the Excell Challenge Award of $10,000, given by Excell Partners, a Rochester venture capital firm.

Working with technology developed at the Flaum Eye Institute, Ovitz is hoping to commercialize a portable eye diagnosis instrument that is smaller, cheaper and more accurate than existing devices and is especially suited for use among children. They were chosen because their project was best suited to Excell’s criteria and at a point where the new venture would benefit from an outside investment.

The Ovitz team members are senior Felix Kim, junior Pedro Vallejo-Ramirez, doctoral students Aizhong Zhang and Len Zheleznyak, and Samuel Steven (’13). Both Steven and Zheleznyak are enrolled in the Technical Entrepreneurship and Management (TEAM) master’s program.

“We congratulate Ovitz and all of the start-up innovators and entrepreneurs participating in the 2013 Pre-Seed Workshop and expect to hear big things from them in the future,” said Theresa Mazzullo, chief executive officer of Excell Partners, Inc. “Given our mission of providing pre-seed and seed stage financing to high-tech start-up companies in the Upstate New York region, we felt we could give a boost to the start-up idea showing the most potential for commercialization as developed and presented at this workshop.”

Designed as a hands-on program, not a lecture series, “the Pre-Seed Workshop involves highly focused activities and exercises directed toward determining if a technology-based business concept has high potential for commercial success,” says the workshop’s organizer, Mike Riedlinger, High Tech Rochester’s Technology Commercialization Manager.

More than 100 people participated in the 2013 Pre-Seed Workshop: 13 teams (culled down from 18 applications), including teams from the University of Buffalo, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Rochester, and the Rochester community at large. The Workshop involved 32 coaches, contributors, and subject matter experts, and the six investors and industry experts who served as feedback panelists.

This isn’t the first time the Ovitz business plan has found success. It also took first place in the Forbes Entrepreneurial Competition and third place in the Mark Ain Business Model Competition this past spring. The students are now looking for NGOs who can put their device to use to benefit people in underdeveloped countries.

Article courtesy of High Tech Rochester. To read their full press release, visit http://htr.org/excell-partners-awards-10000-start-team-high-tech-rochester%E2%80%99s-annual-pre-seed-workshop