Photonics start-up takes root in Rochester’s Sibley Building

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — We told you how the Buffalo-Rochester-Syracuse region won a new designation as a national tech hub. On Tuesday, we’re got a firsthand look at why.

A local start-up SunDensity chose to take root in Rochester, of all places to take root. The company cut the ribbon on their new location in Sibley Square Tuesday morning.

Founder Dr. Nish Sonwalkar left his academic life at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to become an entrepreneur here.

“Our technology is to do photonics on solar stuff, so as you know Rochester is the photonics capital of the United States, so we wanted to be in the place where photonics are thriving,” he said.

Basically, their Photonic Smart Coating (PSCÔ) aims to increase solar power output and reduce energy consumption.

In 2020, the company received $1 million, by scoring first place in a Luminate NY Optics, Photonics and Imaging competition. Since then, they’ve spent their time doing research, with the goal of eventually expanding into the new space.

“We have prospective customers and product partners, all over the world, in Europe, in Asia and in North and South America,” said CEO Henry Schek.

Schek said solar energy is divided into three parts; utility scale, commercial scale and residential scale. What you see around Rochester is mostly commercial and residential, he said. They hope to reach places overseas, including the Middle East.

“For the most part, the large-scale stuff is happening in places where land is cheap and sun is plentiful, so people here are certainly using solar. It’s reducing their energy bills, it’s reducing their carbon impact,” he said.

Schek and Sonwalkar say they’re both aware of the fact that, some may be asking —  why solar? What is the return on investment?     

Their response:

“So with the photonics marked coding, the levelized cost of energy goes down significantly,” said Sonwalkar. “So they compete wtih the fossil fuels, so solar energy becomes natural choice to use, and that reduces carbon emission.”

“If you look at the smart money behind it, you have to believe that it’s competitive,” said Schek.

In the next few years, their goal is the become number one product in the market, adopted inside every solar panel. They’re also excited Rochester has a higher-education network, with places like RIT and U of R to help with their job growth.

New research and development center at the Sibley Building (photo credit: Andy Heinze / WHEC)