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Vyir Tech: Persistence Paves the Path to Success

Entrepreneurs need to be resourceful. For James Scholtz, founder and CEO of Vyir Tech and a two-time I-Corps participant, that resourcefulness included setting up a small laser lab in a corner of his Manhattan apartment, teaching himself nanofabrication as an external user at the Advanced Science Research Center (CUNY ASRC), and mentoring over two dozen CUNY students who have helped to move his project forward.

“I’ve needed to be creative and persistent to make progress without funding,” said Scholtz. “It’s great training for the demands of entrepreneurship.”

The pathway to Vyir began with Scholtz’s undergraduate education. Originally from the North Fork area of Long Island, he graduated from Stony Brook University with a BS in physics. He worked as a laser engineer on Long Island on airborne laser systems with defense contractors and with large manufacturing companies.

He eventually pursued a master’s in physics at City College, where Scholtz led a team to victory for the Kaylie Prize for hardware entrepreneurship (now part of the Zahn Innovation Center’s venture competitions) for a low-cost device that uses light analysis for non-invasive diagnosis of various diseases, including cancer. “That experience sparked my interest in entrepreneurship,” said Scholtz. It also showed Scholtz the importance of resourcefulness in achieving goals. “Our original plans required a $10,000 piece of equipment. We were forced to innovate and designed an alternative costing less than $800.”

While working for a startup out of Columbia University, Chromation, he struggled to find the right kind of infrared sensor he needed to build an infrared photonic crystal spectrometer. Nothing was available at the right price point or with the technology and features he needed.

That sparked his interest in creating a solution, and after leaving Chromation, Scholtz decided to pursue his entrepreneurial dream. “It took many years from when I discovered there was a problem, to figuring it out and developing the solution on my own,” said Scholtz.

Vyir’s patented technology is an optical infrared camera that transfers the information from an infrared image into visible laser light, and then uses a standard CMOS camera for the readout. His proprietary approach reduces the price while increasing pixel concentration, making the camera hardware more accessible while providing better image quality.

“Infrared can increase situational awareness, improving your knowledge of what you can’t see,” said Scholtz. “From detecting methane leaks, to spotting a deer on the road in the dark, to helping firefighters and first responders, an accessible infrared sensor is critical to increasing safety.” Scholtz’s technology leverages the capabilities of visible cameras that are already integrated into everything from cars to phones, extending the capabilities of those cameras into the infrared spectrum.

When Scholtz first participated in I-Corps through the NYC Regional Innovation Node (NYCRIN) Phase 0 program, he looked at several potential applications for Vyir, ultimately focusing on a few key markets. “The value of going through I-Corps the first time was learning what to focus on and refining how to talk to people during customer discovery,” said Scholtz.

He recently went through regional I-Corps again, exploring both the defense and automotive sectors, the latter for advanced driver assistance systems and self-driving cars. “That’s all become more real in the past few years” Scholtz added.

Vyir has gone through multiple accelerators including MassChallenge and FedTech; the latter was funded by BAE Systems, which is now a strategic partner of Vyir. He anticipates that initial customers will use the technology as a component in a larger system, such as an optional feature in a car. He has also identified numerous applications in the defense sector.

Scholtz is now working with CUNY’s Innovation & Applied Research team as an Innovation Fellow. He is also the recent recipient of an Activate Fellowship, a national program that provides intense mentorship, a salary, and R&D funding for entrepreneurial scientists working on “high impact” solutions. “I was a finalist last year, and this year I finally got it,” said Scholtz. “In the past, it’s mostly gone to folks at Ivy League institutions, people with PhD’s; I am one of the few fellows who doesn’t have a PhD, and the first one from CUNY.”

“The biggest lesson I’ve taken from I-Corps is that everything is about your network and your relationships,” added Scholtz. “It’s about meeting with people and having conversations—but not talking about your technology. With I-Corps, you gain a philosophical foundation that enables you to see things with a new perspective. You can apply it to everything—customer discovery, the business model canvas, and figuring out real problems. You’re not just relying on what you initially think but getting insights and doing the calculations to get to solutions.”

“Having to do 100 interviews forces you to learn from the people you interview, to understand the humanity behind the customers, and let that guide the technology you develop,” he added. “Scientists are very proud of their technology. They like to say, ‘Look at this cool thing I did, it was so hard.’ And it’s fascinating that I-Corps says ‘No, don’t talk about it.’ That’s always hard for some people, but in the end the world doesn’t care how smart your technology is. Having a real solution that can be made and delivered is much more important than one scientist being brilliant and creating something complex.”

To learn more about the Activate New York Community and the Fellowship, visit


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