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Japan startups win accolades in Hamamatsu challenge

07 Mar 2024

Pi Photonics, eZov International, Holodesign, and Hamamatsu Pulse lauded at event highlighting diversity of photonics innovation.

Four emerging Japanese companies have won accolades and prize money in the latest edition of the “Photonics Challenge” event - the only business plan contest in Japan to focus on optical technologies.

Following a final that took place Feb 29 in Hamamatsu City after four months of mentoring, the winning companies were Holodesign, Pi Photonics, eZov International, and Hamamatsu Pulse.

Utsunomiya University spin-out Holodesign scooped the award for best business, along with a prize of ¥1 million, for its “holographic optical engines” used to improve both the speed and accuracy of laser materials processing.

Example applications cited by the firm include drilling holes in glass, grooving of semiconductor materials, welding, surface texturing, and microfabrication inside transparent materials.

Air purification
Following the win, Holodesign’s CEO Satoshi Hasegawa said: “We are very happy to receive this prestigious award. Thank you very much for the high evaluation by the judges. We also thank our mentors, professors from the Graduate School for the Creation of New Photonics Industries, who have been very helpful in brushing up our business plan and checking our presentation to make it even better.

“We are grateful for the support of everyone including our partners. With this award, our company will continue to expand our business and do even better in the future.”

Also receiving ¥1 million was the team from Hamamatsu Pulse (HPC), who won the “grand prize for best challenge”. The firm has developed photocatalytic technology for air purification that helps to improve agricultural yields by suppressing mold and rot.

“Air Revive protects the freshness of agricultural products and improves farmer's productivity and aims towards less waste and more sustainable agriculture,” the firm explained, with Aki Furuhashi from HPC’s planning and development department adding:

“We launched our product last year after discovering the wonder of photocatalytic technology. This is the first product of its kind, and one of the challenges we face is what to do with it, but we hope to receive your support and it will be very much appreciated.”

Pi Photonics’ global ambitions
Winning the Shizuoka SME Excellence Award - and ¥300,000 - was Pi Photonics, a Hamamatsu City firm founded back in 2006 by Takahiro Ikeda, an alumnus of the Graduate University for the Creation of New Photonics Industries.

The company's flagship product, “Hololight”, is described as a special LED light that can form various highly visible light patterns from a distance. Applications include factory safety, for example indicating hazardous areas around suspended loads of overhead cranes, or assisting hearing-impaired workers.

Tomotaka Nakaya, who heads up the firm’s international sales effort, said: “One of the key points is that it is important for us to challenge ourselves to do as many things as possible as quickly as possible.

“I believe it is very important to place a renewed and larger presence overseas in order to improve Japan in the future, as more and more various technologies will be launched from Hamamatsu, Shizuoka to overseas. Pi Photonics, which is located in Hamamatsu City, will continue to lead the way and become a global company.”

eZov photocatalysts
Also receiving ¥300,000 was another Hamamatsu City company, in the form of eZov International, which won the “Observer Award”.

Operating under the slogan “clean the world”, eZov is developing photocatalytic filters based on titanium oxide to remove viruses, bacteria, and chemicals in air and water.

Its representative director Yukiko Suzuki said: “I am very grateful to receive such a wonderful prize. Our company has just started our business, and we would like to continue to promote our business in many ways, so we appreciate your support. Thank you very much.”

The four winners were among nine finalists selected from applicants across Japan, including quantum cryptography developer Quantum Data, hair biomarker firm Evcare, Raman-based drug discovery company Milde, and Trioptics’ Japanese subsidiary.

According to the Central Japan Startup Ecosystem, which organized the contest, there are now 371 startups in the Central Japan region, of which 150 are university-launched.

In a keynote speech at the event, Professor Fumiaki Ikeno, a senior research fellow at Stanford University, emphasized that the key to innovation creation is "Monozukuri" (the pride, skill and pursuit of excellence through innovation and improvement), along with "Kotozukuri" (creating business) - and that "Hitozukuri" (human resource development) is indispensable to realize this.

CeNing Optics Co LtdTRIOPTICS GmbHAlluxaSPECTROGON ABIridian Spectral TechnologiesCHROMA TECHNOLOGY CORP.Mad City Labs, Inc.
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