OPTICS | INNOVATIONS
Looks to Light
Claudia B. Jaffe
artery endothelial cells
Michael W. Davidson/Florida State University
Lumencor’s beginnings were simple but its aspirations never were.
The company began as a husband-and-wife team whose vision was to
become the lighting manufacturer of choice for the biotech industry.
The idea for Lumencor was born in
2006. I was working for Quantum
Vision, my husband Steven’s startup
company. As we worked to optimize the
phosphor chemistry for an interesting
lighting product for high-definition displays, I envisioned a single lighting solution for the myriad biotech instruments
I’ve worked with for high-throughput
analysis in genomics, proteomics and
enzymology. Steven proposed a “
light-pipe” that had been implemented in
other areas of optics but not, to our
knowledge, within the biosciences.
Thus, our vision was to provide an
entire optical subsystem—not just the
source or the individual components.
That way, instrument designers could
tailor the system to provide the precise, discrete, pure, stable and powerful
outputs that they sought for their own
applications. We wanted to do this with
a hybrid of solid-state solutions.
Steven and I co-founded Lumencor
to bring our vision to life. With my
background as a bioanalytical chemist
with training in optoelectrochemical
sensors and Steven’s as a physicist with
startup acumen from his first venture in
high-definition displays, we were truly a
marriage of technical expertise and business savvy.
Founders: Claudia and Steven Jaffe
Location: Beaverton, Ore., U.S.A.
Product Line: Light engines
CEO: Steven Jaffe
Our first task was to find funding
and a location. At the time, we were
based in Sunnyvale, Calif., so we considered the biotech meccas of San Francisco
and San Diego. However, neither were
well-suited to running a lean company
on a small budget.
We realized that building an optical
subsystem to support the demanding
lighting requirements of bioanalysis
might not be the first investment play
that large biotech funds would identify
for a big return. Our business model
would not be able to compete with the
sexier “platform” technologies. So, we
looked up and down the West Coast
for an investment climate that would
be more amenable to a relatively small
subsystem from a startup company.
Oregon supported an investment community that was well-suited to Lumencor’s needs as a smaller-scale operation. It
also offered a talented pool of optical and
electrical engineers who had been steeped
in the history of testing and measurement
equipment. (They were the children and
grandchildren of Tektronix.) We settled
the company in Beaverton, Ore.
Without any real funding, Lumencor
found a home at the Open Technology
Business Center, within a company
footprint of less than 150 square feet.
We immediately identified a chief
product engineer, Arlie Conner, who
had extensive experience in the display
industry and solid-state technologies.
He was just what we needed to balance
our executive team.
We were funded through angel investors, whom we had pursued by participating in competitive presentations in
front of groups of collaborative investors.
Some of the investors didn’t like the idea
of a husband-and-wife team. Another
challenge was that some of the investors we sought in the Portland area were
looking to fund more local companies.
In addition, few investors had in-depth
knowledge of the biotech field.
Ultimately, however, we found the
right funding. Our advice to other
startups is to follow your gut and go
where the climate and people foster