While in college, Optimax President Mike Mandina learned how to grind and polish lenses working nights. When he founded the company in 1991, he knew something fundamental about optics. "It's an enabling industry and without it a lot of other things don't happen in other technologies," he said.
Today Optimax is a global leader in precision optics manufacturing with clients including the defense department and NASA. The imaging lenses on the Mars rovers were made here. "Rochester because of Kodak, Bausch & Lomb, our legacy is very, very long and deep, and we are the leaders in the world," said Mandina.
Mike Pomerantz has worked at Optimax for 17 years. "We like to experience new things and not necessarily do things the same way everytime," he said. "We're always looking for the next best way to do something."
Mandina said Optimax continues to grow by developing state of the art technology and hiring quality people. "We find it very challenging to find the right people to work in precision optics and we think we happen to have the best of the best working at Optimax," he observed.
At Eastman Business Park, Cerion Enterprises is a poster child for what's happening across the region. Founded in 2006 at RIT's business incubator by Mick Stadler and Dr. Ken Reed, it spawned a breakthrough in nanoparticle manufacturing. "What we know how to do is synthesize very small nanoparticles, which are the size of your DNA, and then they're highly reactive, and we can use them in a variety of products - and we know how to do that better than anybody else," said Cerion Vice President of Manufacturing Doug Singer.
Cerion incorporated in 2007 and began manufacturing GO2 as a diesel fuel optimizer. One gallon of the catalyst treats 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel, reducing consumption by 8 percent and greenhouse gases by up to 40 percent. "Once we realized we had a highly reactive particle that could increase the combustion of a diesel engine and reduce its emissions that was the first market we went after," said Singer.
Cerion has grown into a full research and development, as well as manufacturing company with many former Kodak employees. Today, the same nanotechnology driving GO2 is being used for a wide array, from clothing treatment to improving theraputic drugs. "In the future we see ourselves taking our platform technology and expanding into further markets and new businesses which can make use of our technology," said Singer.
Rochester's Koning Corporation also has a revolutionary technology. Dr. Ruola Ning researched computed tomography at the University of Rochester. Grants helped him develop the Koning Breast CT, which uses a cone beam to capture three dimensional images of the breast. "Once we do a quick 10 second scan, we develop and reconstruct our 3D model from which the doctor can look at any view they want," said Koning's Director of Research and Development David Conover.
Unlike mammograms, the Koning Breast CT is designed to avoid uncomfortable breast compression, and presents a 360 degree image. "I think it offers promise to women who are high risk and have denser breast tissue," said Elizabeth Wende Breast Care clinical breast imager Dr. Posy Seifert.
Dr. Ning invented the system and the U of R has licensed the technology to allow Koning to manufacture, test and sell the imaging systems. Clinical trials for FDA approval continue with Dr. Seifert and Dr. Avice O'Connell at the University of Rochester Medical Center, as well as hospitals in Atlanta, Boston and Charleston, South Carolina. "We're hopeful that because of what we think are very promising results, the FDA might approve it maybe even within a year," said Dr. O'Connell.
In the meantime, the Koning Breast CT is being marketed and sold overseas, in countries which recognize the CE mark.
For all three companies, the region's manufacturing capability has allowed entrepreneurs to take their high tech ideas into full scale production. In doing so, they ensure the label "Made in Rochester" lives on.