Ian Gauger is a graduate of both the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology. Before joining Circle Optics, he worked in the field of architecture. In 2019, he joined Circle Optics as the first employee and established all company operations, including accounting, HR, and IT. Under his leadership, the company has added more than a dozen additional staff, won nearly $5M in government contracts, and surpassed $1.6M in gross revenue last year.
Ian Gauger is a graduate of both the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology. Before joining Circle Optics, he worked in the field of architecture. In 2019, he joined Circle Optics as the first employee and established all company operations, including accounting, HR, and IT. Under his leadership, the company has added more than a dozen additional staff, won nearly $5M in government contracts, and surpassed $1.6M in gross revenue last year. Here are a few highlights from a conversation we recently had on Circle Optics 360° Pulse Podcast.
How Did you get To circle?
I got my Master of Architecture from the Rochester Institute of Technology and was working with a firm in Rochester. While I enjoyed the projects I was working on, I wanted to have more strategic impact. A good friend of mine from undergrad, Circle Optics Founder Zak Niazi, and I reconnected at a wedding the summer before I joined, where he shared his innovation. In 2018, I went to the Luminate Accelerator competition to support him as a friend. It was exciting to see him win and become a part of that program. That was when he invited me to be his first employee. I thought, “Why not? Let’s try something here!”
How is building a company similar to building in architecture?
In my experience, architecture requires you to be a jack of all trades. I had to know about interior and structural design, HVAC, and how all these things integrate. This type of complexity is very similar to the COO role. I am wearing many hats, including HR, finance, and IT. Moreover, I have always been someone who likes to build stuff, and for a long time, I thought that was going to be buildings. Then I realized that building companies is something that excites me a little bit more.
Last year’s revenues surpassed $1.6M. What has been Circle Optics funding strategy?
With startups, it is essential to get outside funding sources as you grow the company. We have had success with angel investment, participation in startup accelerators (Luminate & GENIUS NY), Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards, and now a community round with Wefunder.
We started with angel investment and found a few company leaders who understood and believed in our technology. That funding was essential for an initial prototype and patents. Almost half our investment to date has come from participation in startup accelerators. It is important to find an accelerator that fits in with the ethos of what you are building. The Luminate Accelerator is the world’s largest optics accelerator, here in the heart of optics – Rochester, NY. As creators of the world’s first 360-degree stitch-less camera system, it was a perfect fit for our technology. When we made a pivot from our VR market into our drone platform, we applied for GENIUS NY, the world’s largest UAV and uncrewed system accelerator. When you are considering the accelerator funding model, it is important to know what you are getting into. A lot of them take equity as part of being in the program. You have to recognize that accelerators provide more than just money; they are not merely investors. They provide guidance, mentorship, and a community that produces compound value over time.
The SBIR proposals require good technical writing – a core competence of our team. Being a hardware company, focused on R&D, this funding allows us to work on projects that require a lot of technical expertise. We love building camera systems that have never been built before. To date, we have secured nearly $5M in federal awards. This funding has enabled us to evolve our technology into a couple of different product lines.
Lastly, what we are doing right now is an equity crowdfunding campaign through Wefunder.