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SPIE Startup Challenge at Photonics West

Supporting entrepreneurs in optics and photonics businesses
SPIE Startup Challenge is held at SPIE Photonics West

See top entrepreneurs pitch the brilliance of their business plans

The SPIE Startup Challenge is held annually at Photonics West. Entrepreneurs apply to the program in October, and a panel of experts review the applications to offer insight into funding options and refinement of business plans. Finalists are selected in December and invited to pitch their light-based technology business plan to a team of business development experts and investors at Photonics West.

More than a simple pitch competition, the SPIE Startup Challenge is an entry point into the community of high-tech business development. Numerous mentors volunteer their time in support of new business ventures.

Startup Challenge
31 January 2023
Hosted at SPIE Photonics West

The application process is now closed. Join us at Photonics West to hear pitches from finalists and see who wins.

See the finalists

Thank you to our Founding Partner

Industry leaders at JENOPTIK understand the value of superb innovation. The company's support of SPIE Startup Challege is unmatched.


Thank you to our Lead and Supporting Sponsors

Edmund Optics

Logo: Hamamatsu

MKS Instruments

NextCorps Luminate

Photonics Media


2023 Startup Challenge Prizes

All Startup Challenge Applicants receive expert feedback on their technology and business model from photonics industry leaders based on their answers in the application.

Cash prizes for winners:
1st Place - US $10,000
2nd Place - US $5,000
3rd Place - US $2,500

In addition to the cash prizes, winning participants receive immediate and ongoing recognition, including:

  • Promotion on,, social media sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter), press releases, and the Photonics West Show Daily
  • Opportunities to return to the Startup Challenge stage for updates on your company in the coming years

Applications are accepted in two areas:

The competition focuses on new businesses and potential startups. Students, post-docs, professors, and other first-time business starters are encouraged to apply. SPIE Startup Challenge accepts applications within two areas of focus from the worldwide community of entrepreneurs.

healthcare using mixed VR technology


healthcare using mixed VR technology

Deep Tech

Scientific or engineering innovation (software apps not included)

How businesses get started

Competition overview Competition overview ...
Eligibility and application Eligibility and application ...

Accelerate the launch of your business

Winners hold checks

Financial support and recognition

Participating teams compete for sponsored prizes as well as gaining increased visibility with potential investors.

Mentored by experts

Industry leaders, mentors, and investors give their time, share expertise, and ensure startup businesses are on a path to success.

Part of a wider network

Participants in the competition are connected to other entrepreneurs and previous participants.

Important dates

Application submission system opens 15 September 2022
Application deadline 20 October 2022
Startup Challenge Finalists selected and notified 5 December 2022
Series A/B Open Pitch Finalists selected and notified 5 December 2022
Feedback from experts is made available 5 December 2022
Presentation slides due 25 January 2023
Onsite program with winners announced at SPIE Photonics West 31 January 2023

2022 SPIE Startup Challenge Winners

1st place winner: VitreaLab

$10,000 prize

VitreaLab’s laser-lit chip is disrupting the 2D and 3D display market.

2nd place winner: Quantopticon 

$5,000 prize

Quantopticon builds simulation software for quantum photonic hardware and devices.

3rd place winner: Luminess 

$2,500 prize

Luminess Detectors, a versatile platform for safer, more sensitive and more reliable X-ray medical imaging.

View all past winners



If you have questions about eligibility, participation, expectations, sponsorship, or anything related to the SPIE Startup Challenge, please contact Emily Bottemiller,