25 - 30 January 2025
San Francisco, California, US

Startup Challenge: Eligibility and application requirements

Learn about the requirements for participation and how to apply

Eligibility, rules, and application requirements

The 2024 call for applications is closed.
Thank you to all of our applicants. Finalists will be announced in November. Read the details below to learn about their application process.

On this page:
• Eligibility requirements
• How to apply
• Additional notes and disclosures

To learn more about the event process, visit the competition overview.

Eligibility requirements

Participants must have an optics or photonics technology or application that they wish to publicly present as the basis for a viable new business.

Companies must select one of these tracks, based on their development stage at the time of the written application:

1. Pre-revenue for the pre-seed stage

2. Below $500,000 in revenue from product sales for the seed stage

In all cases, revenue means revenue generated from products sold, not funding acquired through investors, grants, or other support. Teams (unestablished companies) should join the pre-seed stage.

The focus is on new businesses and potential startups. Students, post-docs, professors, and other first-time business starters are encouraged to apply. 

The Startup Challenge accepts applications from the worldwide community of entrepreneurs.

How to apply

Setting up an SPIE account is required to apply. Sign in or create an SPIE account.

The written application is extensive. Be sure to allow sufficient time to complete it. A video pitch must be included.

*Login using your SPIE login credentials, then navigate to the Startup Challenge Application page and click the blue "Apply" button to begin your application. For any account assistance, email Customer Service.

Understanding the Startup Challenge

Be fully prepared by looking at the overview of the challenge. Read through each stage to gain understanding of the full process.

Additional notes and disclosures

No application fee

There is no fee to enter the competition. However, applicants selected as finalists will need to pitch in person at Photonics West. You will need a registration for the conference to attend the finals, and any Photonics West registration will provide access to the event.

Written application

The written application to participate in the Startup Challenge will be read by a team of evaluators who have been asked to keep the contents of the application confidential, however, no formal guarantee of confidentiality will be provided or implied. Participants should avoid the release of proprietary information, trade secrets, information subject to export control, or ITAR.

Participation agreement

Participation in the competition means that you agree to have your startup presentation evaluated. Furthermore, you allow SPIE to use your name, likeness, and the information provided in the Startup pitch to promote your product and this competition, in print and electronic communication means. SPIE may document the competition with video and images of the presentations. This material will be used by SPIE to promote the Startup Challenge competition, your pitch, and entrepreneurship in photonics. If you are filmed by SPIE, you may request a copy of the footage.

Tips and training

Visit the competition overview page to find tips, tricks, and additional resources.


If you have questions about eligibility, participation, expectations, sponsorship, or anything related to the SPIE Startup Challenge, please contact innovation@spie.org