Catalyst Space Accelerator Alumni Achieving Great Heights

CSA’s Two Initial Cohorts Continue to Scoop Up SBIRs and Contracts

Colorado Springs, Colo – May 28, 2019 – At Catalyst Space Accelerator, our alumni companies are central to our ever-growing network of outstanding commercial partners, and we are always excited when they build upon the successes achieved during their time at the Space Accelerator. Right now, several alumni companies have some great news to report:

Echo Ridge LLC of Sterling, Virginia, which participated in our Positioning, Navigation and Timing Cohort in 2018 (https://www.echoridgenet.com/), focuses on wireless applications such as communications systems, position/navigation/timing, electronic warfare and modeling/simulation/test. President Joe Kennedy is proud to announce that Echo Ridge was selected for not just one, but two different Small Business Innovation Research grants (SBIR):

Echo Ridge was selected for a Phase II SBIR (AF182-002 F2-10745) for their work in Innovative Positioning, Navigation & Timing (IPNT). Phase I of this SBIR was the basis for Echo Ridge’s participation in the PNT Cohort of the Catalyst Space Accelerator and created a detailed plan for a trial implementation of their proposed solution. The Phase II SBIR seeks to expand the addressable (DoD and Commercial) market segments by providing test and demonstration opportunities for prospective customers.

Echo Ridge has also been awarded a Phase I SBIR from AFWERX (https://www.afwerx.af.mil/) in association with their IPNT work. They qualified to compete for this SBIR based on their participation in the Catalyst Campus accelerator. With this SBIR, Echo Ridge will conduct a feasibility study towards providing a comprehensive tactical-edge electromagnetic environment (EME) situational awareness (SA) capability that includes PNT and blue comms “weather”, red/gray activity, blue/red/gray proximity, alt nav, etc., in a military-suitable form factor for size, weight & power (SWaP)-constrained platforms.

Gareth Block is CEO of Third Insight of Austin, Texas, which also participated in the PNT Cohort late last year. Third Insight builds software that enables “Thinking Drones.” Third Insight’s HALO platform provides vision-based navigation for UAVs and drones and for its Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance analytics tools, enabling drones to perform a variety of autonomous tasks indoors and outdoors without requiring GPS for positioning.

Dr. Block reports that since completing the Catalyst Space Accelerator in December 2018, five short months ago, the company, impressively, has won two SBIRs and a government contract:

  • Third Insight won a US Air Force (USAF) Phase II SBIR focused on building and deploying their autonomous navigation platform for UAVs for the purpose of automated aircraft inspection
  • They won a USAF Phase I SBIR with AFWERX (https://www.afwerx.af.mil/) focused on customer discovery for use cases related to their computer vision analytics and machine learning product line
  • They won their third contract with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to test and expand their core autonomous navigation platform for First Responders

SaraniaSat of Los Angeles, California was one of several stand-outs among the Catalyst Space Accelerator’s inaugural cohort, the Terrestrial Weather Cohort, in early 2018. Their participation in the Space Accelerator was followed shortly with becoming subcontractor to a $5.1 million NASA InVEST contract. SaraniaSat was originally founded by former NASA scientist Dr. Tom George to address a Grand Challenge facing the agricultural industry, to break through the “logjam” blocking widespread acceptance of satellite remote-sensing data and information products by the industry. Since participating in the Catalyst Space Accelerator, SaraniaSat has greatly expanded interest in their remote-sensing technologies among both government and commercial entities.

Since we last heard from him, Dr. George is pleased to announce that SaraniaSat has won another SBIR award in this latest round. It was in response to the Airforce SBIR topic AF191-006 “6U CubeSat EO/IR Solutions for Operational Weather Demo” (https://www.sbir.gov/sbirsearch/detail/1531771). Their proposal was entitled “CLOUD 6” for satellite-based cloud characterization.

Guidestar Optical Systems of Longmont, Colorado also joined Catalyst Space Accelerator for the Terrestrial Weather Cohort. Chief Engineer Dr. Aaron Buckner is now happy to report that a bare week ago, Guidestar was selected to participate in the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade Advanced Industries Accelerator Grant Program with an award of $249,961. According to Dr. Buckner, “Our participation in the Catalyst Accelerator was a major contributor to Guidestar’s ability to secure this award.”

Guidestar’s adaptive optics technology addresses the ground-to-space optical communications needs of companies, enabling them to transmit large amounts of data more quickly, reducing latency of data availability to ground-based operations, and circumventing challenges in obtaining RF spectrum permits required for data transmission relying on slower radio transmission of data. Guidestar’s technology also addresses the backhaul network connectivity challenge in terrestrial 5G networks.

Catalyst Space Accelerator’s Program Director KiMar Gartman feels “It’s immensely satisfying to see the companies grow from where they were in the Accelerator to now as they are scaling their businesses and helping to solve some of our most difficult technical challenges.”

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About Catalyst Space Accelerator
The AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate Catalyst Accelerator is a Space-focused defense and national security industry accelerator. Headquartered on the Catalyst Campus, a collaborative ecosystem in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Catalyst Space Accelerator is a public-private partnership hosted by the Center for Technology, Research, and Commercialization (C-TRAC), Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation (CCTI), the Colorado Small Business Development Center (SBDC) TechSource, Space Capital Colorado, and the Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory to provide a robust, mentor-driven curriculum for accelerator teams. https://catalystaccelerator.space

 

Catalyst Space Accelerator Hosts 130+ Attendees for Demo Day at Catalyst Campus

Investors, Military and Subject Matter Experts Gather to View Leading-Edge Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Technologies

Colorado Springs, Colo. – December 20, 2018 – The Air Force Research Lab Space Vehicle Directorate’s Catalyst Space Accelerator held their big Demo Day on December 13, 2018 at the Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation, the climax of three months of hard work for the Accelerator’s second cohort of eight companies. The historic Harvey House event center was at capacity and overflowed into a second large meeting space, with 130+ government and corporate strategic investors, Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) subject matter experts, and venture capitalists in attendance as each company pitched their disruptive PNT technology.

The focus of the intensive 12-week program was to find innovative, non-defense, commercial solutions in Positioning, Navigation and Timing that could be creatively adapted to meet Department of Defense stakeholders’ needs in a short timeframe and at a low cost. Participating companies received direct access to operational PNT experts and stakeholders from the United States Air Force and other government agencies, as well as from the Catalyst Campus, SBDC and PTAC national network of mentors, partners and investors.

Each company was selected by Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate using the new Special Topics SBIRs (Small Business Innovation Research awards) as the application mechanism for entry, with $50,000 in non-dilutive funding for each company chosen. This new fast-funding mechanism meant awards occurred within 60 days of application, as part of the Air Force’s commitment to acquiring new technologies rapidly.

The opening remarks by Program Director KiMar Gartman included a grateful shout-out to Catalyst Space Accelerator’s very generous sponsor: SAIC® — Science Applications International Corporation — a technology integrator, primarily supporting the government services market, providing technology and engineering solutions, specializing in information technology, platform integration, training and simulation, intelligence, and mission expertise.

2nd Lt Zoe Casteel, Air Force Program Manager for the Accelerator, enthused, “We were excited to have record attendance at this Catalyst Accelerator PNT Demo Day! It shows the support this community offers to not only cutting-edge PNT technologies, but to innovation in the Air Force and the benefits it has for warfighters.”

The Catalyst Space Accelerator team was also thrilled to welcome several returning alumni from the inaugural cohort, who came to support Demo Day as a result of their positive experiences during their time at the program. One alumnus, Rob Lancaster, CEO and Chief Scientist of Adaptive Systems LLC in Colorado Springs, was enthusiastic and said the event was “extremely enlightening!” He said he had a great time at the event, from the fascinating presentations to the many deep conversations he had during the networking Happy Hour and Lunch.

The high point of the day was during the presentations themselves, as the eight companies in Catalyst Space Accelerator’s PNT cohort brought their technologies to life for the crowd. Finely-honed eight-minute presentations and pitches, created under the tutelage of curriculum-provider SBDC-Boulder and their partners, provided brief yet cogent discussions of their technology, with special emphasis on the “why” – why should the world be interested? This question was answered repeatedly and persuasively throughout.

The eight companies and their technologies were presented as follows:
Dr. Cantwell Carson, Chief Scientist, and Andrew Portune, Director of Research and Development for Cyber Physical Technologies for Nokomis, Inc., Charleroi, PA, presented SITH – Satellite Identification, Tracking and Health – a network consisting of small, internet-enabled, low-cost RF receivers designed to direct satellite transmissions. By analyzing the satellite transmissions received from different nodes, the SITH network determines satellite position and health status. This allows users to augment their existing Space Situational Awareness (SSA) capabilities and sensor networks by providing visibility wherever in the world the user needs it.

Danny Stirtz, Executive Vice President, and Lars Weimer, President and CEO of esc Aerospace, Orlando, FL, presented escPNTTM – Resilient Positioning, Navigation and Timing – which provides an affordable, compact, lightweight, low-power solution to centimeter-accurate positioning applicable across multiple markets and mission/business needs. Its tightly-coupled multi-sensor data fusion enables resiliency, accuracy and reliability.

Markus Novak, President of Novaa Ltd, Columbus, OH, presented Anti-Jam, Anti-Spoof, and Multipath-Resilient GPS, an in-place antenna upgrade providing protected access to GPS in challenging and contested environments. By providing secure and accurate reception of GPS satellite signals while rejecting external sources of interference, Novaa’s antenna platform allows existing receivers to have impervious access to GPS signals while suppressing unwanted jamming, spoofing and multipath.

Gareth Block, CEO of Third Insight, Austin, TX, presented HALO, a platform that uses computer vision-based “spatial reasoning” to provide resilient PNT to drones, satellites, and mobile devices in GPS-denied environments. HALO delivers real-time 3-D mapping, centimeter-scale positioning, powerful edge computing and semantic labeling of the environment to enable vehicles to operate autonomously indoors, underground, in cluttered spaces or outer space, reflecting. the intent of the operator.

Gary Green, Senior PNT Engineer of PreTalen Ltd, Beavercreek, OH, presented DIGITALSTM, which enables operationally responsive and agile PNT space through a small and very inexpensive payload through dynamic user-defined waveforms, frequencies, and powers. It is also directly applicable to congested, urban, and indoor navigation applications, and generates and transmits GNSS and alternate-navigation signals anywhere within 1 to 2+ GHz.

Joe Kennedy, President of Echo Ridge, LLC, Sterling, VA, presented their Augmented Positioning System (APS) , for assured PNT where GPS is denied or unreliable. APS is one of a family of software applications designed to run on the Echo Ridge ER310 SDR handheld radio platform that supports a wide range of challenging missions. A solution to jammed and spoofed GPS signals, Echo Ridge’s Signal-of-Opportunity (SoOP) locating technology uses available terrestrial and non-GNSS satellite RF signals for accurate, reliable PNT indoors and out.

Heidi Wright, Director of Technical Marketing at Braxton Technologies LLC, Colorado Springs, CO, presented FlashMAPTM, Braxton’s Flash Mob Agile PNT architecture, designed to aid the tactical warfighter in GPS-denied environments. A play on the social media “flash mob” concept, FlashMAPTM provides access to PNT information in GPS-degraded or –denied environments through an open source messaging standard so any PNT device can provide information to any other PNT device using the common architecture.

Jayson Denney, Government and Commercial Program Manager of Cold Quanta, Boulder, CO, presented their Rugged Atomic Timekeeper, which integrates into individual nodes of a networked system where it supplies a local reference signal. Once synchronized, the individual nodes (land, sea, air) remain synchronized for multiple days in dynamic environments. A sample of rubidium atoms are laser-cooled to isolate them from the surrounding environment, where they provide a frequency reference to a stabilized oscillator.

In addition to ushering the second cohort on to the next stage of their evolution, Catalyst Space Accelerator is recruiting for their third cohort, seeking established startups and small businesses with commercial solutions to expand, enhance, reinforce, and improve current space communications capabilities. Current Air Force and DoD space communication challenges include but are not limited to robust and cybersecure communications networking solutions, interoperability among existing communications solutions, jam-resistant technology, band exploitation, and solutions for low-likelihood of interception and detection. Proposed applicant technologies may be ground-based or space-borne and can involve some combination of hardware devices, software, data products, algorithms, or services. To apply, go to www.catalystaccelerator.space, or reach out to Program Director KiMar Gartman at KiMar.Gartman@c-trac.org.

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Catalyst Space Accelerator
The AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate Catalyst Space Accelerator is a NewSpace-focused defense and national security industry accelerator, headquartered on the Catalyst Campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Catalyst Campus is a collaborative ecosystem where industry, small business, entrepreneurs, startups, government, academia, and venture capital intersect with Colorado’s aerospace and defense industry to create community, spark innovation and stimulate business growth.

Catalyst Space Accelerator is a collaborative program hosted by the Center for Technology, Research, and Commercialization (C-TRAC), Catalyst Campus, Space Capital Colorado and the Colorado Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory, to provide a robust, mentor-driven curriculum for accelerator teams.

Catalyst Accelerator PNT Company Highlights Part 3: ColdQuanta and PreTalen

Have you ever dreamed about being present when electricity was invented? When the first telegraph message came through? Or how about when the first plane flew?

I’m sure many people have had similar dreams – and then gone back to doing what they know how to do.

Some people, though, have dreamed and then decided to be there when the next big discovery is made, when the next crazy invention takes off. And they do that by pushing for new technologies and looking for new ways of doing things.

Colder-than-ice-cold atoms

Jayson Denney of ColdQuanta is one of those people. When I talked to Denney, he couldn’t tell me enough about the research his company is doing – and by research, I mean using lasers to manipulate atoms under vacuum to cool them to incredibly cold temperatures.

ColdQuanta’s roots lay in new discoveries: its CEO and founder, Dana Anderson, has collaborated with Eric Cornell, who won a Nobel Prize for the first demonstration of the fifth state of matter,  Bose-Einstein condensate. And now the company is doing what very few other people are doing: using the fundamental properties of atoms to power extremely precise technologies. The work, said Denney, is “quantum by definition.”

The two technologies they are bringing to the Accelerator are their Ruggedized Atomic Timekeeper – “lovingly called the RAT” – and a quantum-enabled signal detector for radio frequency (RF) signals. “We’re the core right now,” explained Denney, “around which other components can be added to create different technologies.”

The “quantum” aspect has multiple advantages. One is that both technologies are extremely precise (whether in timekeeping or detecting minute frequencies). The other advantage has become a catchphrase at ColdQuanta: “There’s no calibration needed.”

While ColdQuanta’s tech is extremely cutting-edge, they have one especially big challenge: their technology is so leading-edge, there isn’t a market for it yet. So, Denney and ColdQuanta are at the Accelerator to learn how to transition a technology for which there is currently no market space. But when it emerges, ColdQuanta is poised, ready to be there as the “heart” of those quantum technologies.

Synergy doesn’t happen solo

ColdQuanta is a good example of how companies can’t exist in isolation to be successful. Innovation often comes as a result of synergistic relationships.

Perhaps no one has expressed the desire for these relationships better than Rachel Reed from PreTalen. Reed gets that we’re going nowhere by ourselves. It takes people (and companies) with many different skillsets to create both new and beneficial technologies – which, by the way, is easy for government to say; industry, not so much, since they have to compete for business.

PreTalen is a women-owned small business focused on providing expert systems engineering support for space, navigation, electronic warfare and cyber security. They are proposing a transmitter that can transmit multiple user-defined, software-controlled navigation signals across the 1-2 GHz RF band.

“We think that collaboration is one of the biggest and best things you can do,” shared Reed. “We’re very interested in making new business connections so we can mind-meld a little.” Since no one is an expert in everything, PreTalen is using the Accelerator to meet people with different specialties to “create something new and innovative and something that can be beneficial to the warfighter.”

And they’re not just talking about new collaborations – they’re already collaborating with multiple other companies from the Accelerator.

Really, those connections are what the Accelerator is about. That’s why Rachel and her team, and Jayson and his team, are probably going to be there when the next big thing arises.

(This is Part 3 of a three-part article)

Catalyst Accelerator PNT Company Highlights Part 2: NOVAA, esc Aerospace and Braxton

Innovation can be hard to pin down. By nature, disruptive innovation isn’t exactly predictable. It often pops up in places we aren’t looking for it.

Thankfully, we’ve found ways to drastically increase our odds of innovation by putting people with different backgrounds in the same room for three months, for instance (hint: Catalyst Accelerator). But not just any people.

Closing in on innovation

Danny Stirtz serves as the Executive Vice President of multinational esc Aerospace. While his company brings fifteen years’ worth of knowledge in mission critical systems for space applications, cyber security and “all things drones,” Stirtz is looking for ideas for a commercialization strategy. “As a new company in the U.S., we’re not established. So, to a certain extent, we’re a startup company with a foundation elsewhere.”

The company is proposing a PNT (Positioning, Navigation and Timing) receiver that takes signals from many different PNT sources to provide reliable PNT in environments where GPS is denied or degraded. For Stirtz, what the Accelerator does for his company isn’t new, per se, but it is a “forcing function.” But the forcing isn’t a bad thing: “Doing this type of thing is fun to me.”

While esc Aerospace has over a decade of experience, one Accelerator company has only a year: NOVAA, a startup that develops sensing and navigation solutions for challenging environments. Founder and President Markus Novak is proposing digital beamforming and machine learning assisted mapping of multi-path environments (translation: his technology helps you find your correct location when your GPS is confused).

NOVAA’s technology was mainly developed for self-driving vehicles; however, it can also have direct application to the navigation challenges overseas military personnel face on a regular basis. Novak saw the potential for overlap even before he started NOVAA: “I had these technologies incubating in my mind for some time throughout my previous work.” After he started the company, he found the Accelerator through the SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research grants) portal.

At the Accelerator, he is hoping to “learn from all the experts” and “make the right connections to deliver solutions” so that in five years NOVAA technology will “be on the road, helping people [or warfighters!] get around.”

Heidi Wright, Director of Technical Marketing for Braxton Technologies LLC, also hopes to help her company grow in the coming years. Braxton is a small business headquartered in Colorado Springs. It develops and delivers commercial off-the-shelf products to outfit an entire satellite operations center and delivers ground control segments for various satellite missions and flight experiments. They are proposing to insert software-defined radio PNT transmitters and receivers into a “FlashMAPTM” architecture and validating communications to provide access to PNT information in GPS-degraded or -denied environments.

“We’re not relying on the Accelerator for sustainment,” Wright said. “It’s really to push the envelope and provide things that people aren’t doing right now. The Accelerator’s forcing us to and hash out the details of the market and technology.” She sees it as an opportunity to not only grow her company’s technology area, but also her own capability and knowledge. “I see a lot of potential, so that’s what I’m excited about.”

Solutions by and for people

By looking at companies like Apple – which is about as close as anyone has come to making innovation a process – we see that innovation is people-centric; that is, innovation is made for people, by people.

It’s people like Stirtz and Novak and Wright that drastically increase the odds of innovation. That’s why Catalyst Accelerator brings them all together –  because we believe that when you do, you produce not only innovation, but successful innovation that helps the people who inspired it.

(This is Part 2 of a three-part article)

AFRL/RV Catalyst Accelerator Welcomes New Program Manager to Oversee PNT-Focused Accelerator Cohort

Catalyst Campus, Colorado Springs, Colorado

October 12, 2018

Background

The Air Force Research Lab Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV) Catalyst Accelerator just launched its second cohort under the oversight of Air Force Lt Zoe Casteel. The cohort companies will be focused on Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) challenges, a hot topic right now because the United States is heavily dependent upon the form of PNT known as GPS – the Global Positioning System that not only helps us all navigate, but is also used to keep our world running, from agriculture to navigation to the proper operation of ATMs, gas pumps, and other credit card devices.

GPS has long been considered one of the great technology success stories. Usually it works flawlessly, doing precisely what it is supposed to do without a hitch. In fact, it is such an unqualified success that, as SpaceNews commented late last year, “the military’s global positioning system…is a victim of its own success.” [1]

This is because, as Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force, recently said, “We built a glass house before the enemy had stones. Now they have stones.” [2] Enemy jamming of GPS signals, for example, has become one ever-present threat. There are also environments that are naturally GPS-denied, such as caves, steep mountain valleys and deep inside buildings through which our warfighters must be able to navigate. In total, GPS-dependent, mission-critical efforts include force deployment, force navigation, logistical support and vehicle navigation.

The lack of alternatives to GPS and the need for a back-up system not subject to the same vulnerabilities has been the subject of concern for years. Congressional committees have been studying the problem, and they worry that the Pentagon is not doing enough to assure the continuance of Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) capabilities if GPS becomes compromised.

In the meantime, the Air Force has begun taking on the problem by performing their own research as well as encouraging research among the private sector, often using innovative techniques such as design thinking to collaborate on possible solutions. The AFRL/RV Catalyst Accelerator is one such effort, with each company in the cohort carefully selected by the Air Force for their disruptive PNT technology.

Interview with Lt Zoe Casteel

KiMar Gartman, the Catalyst Campus Program Director for the AFRL/RV Catalyst Accelerator, recently sat down with the AFRL/RV’s Lt Zoe Casteel, Program Manager of their Space Technology Accelerator program, to welcome her to the Catalyst Accelerator and ask her how she came to be here at this place and time.

First, Zoe shared that she graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 2017 as a Systems Engineer. During her time at the Academy, she took a design thinking class “and thought it was so cool that the Air Force was trying to do this new and innovative thing using the idea of design thinking. I thought, ‘Wow, being an engineer in the Air Force means you get to do a lot of cool things by rapidly generating ideas and technologies!’”

Zoe continued, “Then I got sent to the Air Force Research Lab, expecting us to be throwing out technology, year after year, iterating on things, and rapidly acquisitioning stuff for our end user, Air Force Space Command. Soon, though, I realized that is not at all what we do. In fact, it is common for a program to be in year ten of its acquisition at the research lab. Partly that is due to the fact that things going to space take a while, especially because you have to deliver a year and half early to integrate them on to a spacecraft. Partly it’s because you have to have so many redundant factors, since you can’t touch it once it gets into space. Ultimately, it just isn’t the rapid idea generation that I thought it would be. UNTIL…” Zoe emphasized, leaning forward, her eyes shining, “UNTIL somebody came to me and said ‘Hey, I’m running this program and we are going to bring new capabilities to the Air Force really quickly….’ And I said, ‘Great! I’m really interested.’”

Some intensive vetting followed. Zoe was asked if she was a self-starter, willing to talk to people, willing to push boundaries, and she thought, “Yes, this is exactly who I am!” She went on to explain, “There are two of us running these technology accelerators right now. It’s kind of a cool journey. This is what I pictured. This is what I would like to do for the rest of my life, currently, is to run programs like this. And because I have a background in systems engineering, which is more of a program management for engineering projects type of degree, this fits me a lot better than the kind of basic research people in the lab are doing.”

KiMar then asked a tough question: “Zoe, what inspires you about this new position?”

Zoe’s response was very prompt. “I enjoy going to work every day because I’m helping an end user. So, I don’t show up to work to make somebody money every day, I show up to work knowing that the things I do today could impact somebody ten years from now who is in the field. Someone who is kicking doors down in Afghanistan, whatever our future war is, that’s the person I am showing up to work for.

“What also inspires me is the fact that I can go out in search of technologies that are commercialized right now and bring those technologies to the warfighter six months from now. That is even more amazing, more exciting. I LOVE my job! I couldn’t ask for a better job as a young officer in the Air Force.”

Zoe’s enthusiasm for this critical work supporting the warfighter continued to spill over as she enthused, “I’m looking for technologies, seeing someone with a problem, and I can immediately pair those technologies to that problem and within a couple of months that person could have that in the field. That’s something that you just can’t do with any other type of program in the Air Force.”

Building on Zoe’s obvious excitement, KiMar went on to ask, “What kind of aspirations do you have for the Accelerator and the companies involved?”

Zoe’s enthusiasm spilled over again. “I have big aspirations! I am really excited about the companies in this accelerator. Positioning, Navigation and Timing is such a great area to do something like this in because there are so many segments, so many moving parts, no one can do what they are doing without the help of somebody else. So, I am excited to see what partnerships form, what agreements can be signed, who comes together to say, hey, you have a transmitter, I have a receiver, can we put those two things together, make them compatible, at least talk about it? I think that is one area this will be different from the previous accelerators that we have run. I have high aspirations for the collaborations that come out of this.”

KiMar had one last question: “Can you talk to us about the role that Colorado Springs as a community plays in making an accelerator successful?”

Zoe replied that one attraction of Colorado Springs was the prospect of locating a space technology accelerator at the Catalyst Campus, which was designed to support a collaborative program with partners like the Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization (C-TRAC), the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) of both Boulder and the Pikes Peak Region, and the Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). She went on to say, “We also have Air Force Space Command here in Colorado Springs, so those are our end users at the Space Vehicles Directorate. You also have a thriving community here, a technologically focused community, that includes some investors and the kinds of people who want to come together and get involved in our program. So, we have plenty of people we can bring in to talk, a lot of expertise, potential investors, and, as mentioned earlier, our end users at Air Force Space Command. This is a unique community – without the SBDC or the investors or PTAC or C-TRAC, you’re not going to have those strong business development chops that are needed to build a successful program.”

Now in its fourth week, the AFRL/RV Catalyst Accelerator cohort is going strong; look for interviews with each cohort company being posted to this blog.

[1] http://spacenews.com/congress-demands-additional-security-backup-for-military-gps-signal/

[2] http://spacenews.com/congress-demands-additional-security-backup-for-military-gps-signal/

Catalyst Accelerator PNT Cohort Highlights, Part 1: Third Insight, Nokomis Inc, and Echo Ridge

Tapping into small commercial industry to meet big needs of the U.S. military

The U.S. government needs new technologies. Other countries are coming out with them, it seems, every day (see here or here or here). But the process for getting those technologies is so complicated that it often turns away the very people who could best provide them: small businesses and entrepreneurs with cutting-edge technology.

This is why Politico recently asked, “Can space acquisition really be reformed?” It’s also why (as the article mentions) organizations such as the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate invest in programs such as Catalyst Accelerator. They acknowledge, as Air Force Space Command Chief General Raymond did, that “There’s an explosion of things happening in the commercial industry, and we want to capitalize on that.”

The people at Catalyst Accelerator are doing their best to find businesses whose technologies can meet the needs of the military and, ultimately, the warfighters whose lives are on the line. But while there is clearly a motivation on the government side of things, there must also be a reason for businesses to make the trip to Catalyst Campus every other week for three months to attend the Catalyst Accelerator.

 

Teaching business to scientists

There are several reasons for making the trip, many relating to commercialization and collaboration.

Take for instance Gareth Block, CEO of Third Insight, a small business consisting of five people.  While Gareth started the company because of his passion for innovation, it’s a challenge to manage the business side of the company: “Really, what I want to do is build great technology, but I need help taking it to market.”

Third Insight’s ECHO software app gives commercial off-the-shelf drones the ability to navigate autonomously in GPS-denied environments, while providing real-time 3D imaging and situational awareness to remote operators. The app could impact SWAT teams, fire departments and first responders, to name just a few. But great potential doesn’t automatically translate into a successful business. Accordingly, Gareth’s goal for his participation in the Accelerator is to put together a business model and figure out the key components of a commercialization plan, “so that when I go to fundraise, which I hope to do soon, I have my ducks in a row.”

Some of the companies in the Accelerator have been around for longer: Nokomis Inc. is a 16-year-old company from Pennsylvania that seeks to provide positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) signals in GPS-denied environments using the radio transmissions of commercial satellites already in orbit. Nokomis’ Senior Scientist, Dr. Cantwell Carson, expects his time at Catalyst Campus to “lay the foundation” for commercializing their recently developed technology.

The Accelerator, for Cantwell, is valuable for providing training on commercialization: “I’m a scientist. I don’t have an MBA. Being able to participate in this level of training so that I can acquire those other skills is invaluable.” But as valuable as the training is for Cantwell, the time and resources to implement that training are just as important.

On the opposite side of the country, in northern Virginia, another small business has been developing a technology for nearly 10 years. Echo Ridge does all things RF, and their proposed technology is a GPS-complementary receiver that allows users to estimate their PNT based on other signals besides those meant for navigation – communication signals, radio signals, etc.

Echo Ridge President Joe Kennedy thinks his company is ready to deliver. He joined the Accelerator to figure out how his technology can fit in with the bigger picture as well as break from the routine of his everyday responsibilities. “This is an opportunity to think about things that should be thought about but aren’t on a regular basis. And you are around people that’ll ask questions you wouldn’t ask routinely, so I think it’s going to be good.”

Third Insight, Nokomis Inc, Echo Ridge. They’re not exactly Lockheed Martin or Boeing. But, they are made up of people who have the technology to meet the needs of the military – not some big impersonal entity, but the needs of individuals warfighters. Through these companies the U.S. may unlock capabilities the world has never seen before. Who knew a commercialization plan could be so important?

(This is Part 1 of a three-part article)

Catalyst Accelerator Welcomes Second Cohort with Public Kick-Off

Air Force Special Topics SBIRs Used as New Mechanism to Select PNT-Focused Cohort

Catalyst Accelerator will welcome the program’s second cohort with a public Kick-Off to be held Wednesday, October 3, 2018 at the Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation in downtown Colorado Springs. A defense and national security industry accelerator headquartered at the Catalyst Campus, the AFRL/RV Catalyst Accelerator is the first accelerator program to be held in Southern Colorado. The official launch of this cohort on October 3 will welcome eight small businesses working on disruptive Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) technologies.

Unique Collaborative Public-Private Partnership
Catalyst Accelerator is partnering with the Air Force Research Lab Space Vehicles Directorate, which serves as the Air Force’s “Center of Excellence” for space technology research and development; through the partnership with AFRL/RV, Catalyst Accelerator exposes the AFRL team and other government partners to commercial technologies with innovative solutions to warfighter needs.

Catalyst Accelerator’s mission is to promote technology advancement for the warfighter and to guide technology transfer between the government and the commercial market. Catalyst Accelerator is unique in that it represents a collaborative effort between public and private organizations, including AFRL/RV, Catalyst Campus, the Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization (C-TRAC), two Colorado Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) from Boulder and the Pikes Peak Region, and the Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC).

Introducing New Leadership
Changes in the management of the program will be announced at the Kick-Off. Former Catalyst Campus Program Director Dr. Rebecca Decker will be handing over the reins to KiMar Gartman of C-TRAC, most recently Program Manager for the Air Force’s successful AF CyberWorx innovation program. Ms. Gartman’s experience supporting AF CyberWorx is very closely aligned to the needs of the Accelerator, as pointed out by Dr. Decker, who said, “I am delighted to be passing the torch to KiMar, who is so uniquely qualified to oversee this program.”

Ms. Gartman is equally delighted to take on this new but familiar challenge: “I enjoy working collaboratively with the Air Force and I am excited to be a part of enriching the business knowledge of these companies and, through them, bringing rapid innovation to the warfighter!”

In addition to a new Program Director at the Catalyst Campus, AFRL/RV has announced a leadership change within their ranks: Lt Zoe Casteel will be taking over for Capt Jake Singleton as Program Manager for the Air Force. Lt Casteel is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and participated extensively in the AF CyberWorx program as a cadet. Now an Air Force engineer, Lt Casteel’s interests and qualifications are ideal to take over as Program Manager of the Accelerator program for the AFRL/RV. Lt Casteel told us, “I’m super excited about rapidly acquiring new PNT technology for the warfighter!”

Accelerator Curriculum and Cohort Focus
Catalyst Accelerator employs the Economic Gardening-based curriculum provided by SBDC-Boulder. Two things that make Catalyst Accelerator unique among accelerator programs are its co-location in Colorado Springs with Air Force Space Command and potential rapid funding mechanisms, available through the government. By locating the Accelerator on the Catalyst Campus in proximity to the customer, the customer discovery process – wherein the participants gather an operational perspective from Air Force personnel and decisionmakers and come to understand their needs – is greatly reduced, from an average of two years in the typical government market to less than three months through Catalyst Accelerator.

The intensive 12-week program’s focus is to find innovative, non-defense, commercial solutions in Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) that can be creatively adapted to meet Department of Defense stakeholders’ needs in a short timeframe and at a low cost. The Catalyst Accelerator will give the participating companies direct access to operational PNT experts and stakeholders from the United States Air Force and other government agencies, as well as from the Catalyst Campus, SBDC and PTAC national network of mentors, partners and investors.

Incoming Cohort Companies Selected via SBIRs
Catalyst Campus and our partners are excited to welcome Catalyst Accelerator’s incoming cohort of eight companies, who started the program on September 18th. Each company was carefully selected by AFRL/RV using the new Special Topics SBIRs (Small Business Innovation Research awards) as the application mechanism for entry into the cohort, with $50,000 in non-dilutive funding for each company chosen. This new fast-funding mechanism meant awards occurred within 60 days of application, as part of the Air Force’s commitment to acquiring new technologies rapidly.

The following companies were chosen to participate in the Catalyst Accelerator #CAPNT cohort:

Echo Ridge provides RF-focused research, product development, and intellectual property development to the Government and commercial marketplace through signal processing algorithm, software design, and hardware design and production. They are proposing a GPS-complementary receiver that takes in signals from other RF sources to provide PNT in GPS-unavailable environments.

PreTalen, circa 2007, is a woman-owned small business focused on providing expert systems engineering support for space, navigation, electronic warfare and cyber security. PreTalen is proposing a transmitter that can transmit multiple user-defined software-controlled navigation signals across the 1-2 GHz RF band.

esc Aerospace is a small, agile systems integrator with three lines of business: 1) mission critical systems for space applications; 2) Cyber Security and 3) “all things Drones.” They are proposing a PNT receiver that takes in signals from many different PNT sources to provide reliable PNT in denied/degraded environments.

Nokomis Inc. is dedicated to delivering advanced electromagnetic sensors and solutions. They are proposing a way to provide PNT signals in GPS-denied environments using the radio transmissions of commercial LEO satellites that are already in orbit. With their technology, Nokomis aims to be the leading provider of backup GPS service for military and commercial applications.

ColdQuanta brings expertise in ultra-cold matter engineering, UHV systems, and optomechanical systems for scientific and industrial applications. They are proposing a laser cooling chip-scale atomic clock for GPS-denied operational environments. Their clock can be deployed on air or land platforms. Commercialization ideas include communication networks, transportation systems, power grid control, and the financial sector.

NOVAA is a startup developing sensing and navigation solutions for the most challenging environments. They are proposing digital beamforming and machine learning assisted mapping of multi-path environments.

Third Insight’s ECHO software app gives commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) drones the ability to navigate autonomously in GPS-denied environments, while providing real-time 3D imaging and situational awareness to remote operators. They are proposing 3D positional tracking and mapping in GPS-denied/degraded environment using an “intelligent body camera” that creates a predictive real time mapping of the environment. Commercial applications include SWAT teams, fire departments, first responders, etc.

Braxton Technologies LLC develops and delivers Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) products to outfit an entire satellite operations center, including command and control, simulation, flight dynamics, enterprise class scheduling and resource optimization, and front-end processors. Braxton delivers ground control segments (GCS) for various satellite missions and flight experiments. They are proposing an augmentation to their GCS work to insert software defined radio (SDR) PNT transmitters and receivers into their “FlashMAPTM” architecture, a play on the social media concept of “Flash Mobs,” to provide access to PNT information in GPS-degraded or -denied environments.

ABOUT AFRL SPACE VEHICLES DIRECTORATE CATALYST ACCELERATOR
The AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate Catalyst Accelerator is a defense and national security industry accelerator, headquartered on the Catalyst Campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Accelerator’s mission is to promote technology advancement for the warfighter and guide technology transfer from the government to the commercial market and vice versa. Catalyst Accelerator partners with the Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization (C-TRAC), Colorado Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) of Boulder and the Pikes Peak Region, and Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) to provide a robust, mentor-driven curriculum for Accelerator teams. Visit www.cataystaccelerator.space for more information.

ABOUT CATALYST CAMPUS FOR TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION
Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation is a research and development campus focused on aerospace and defense technologies headquartered in downtown Colorado Springs, Colorado. The vision of Catalyst Campus is to create an economic development “cluster” to expand the aerospace and defense industrial base in Southern Colorado through a collaborative infrastructure platform that supports entrepreneurs and small businesses. This unique, cluster environment stimulates economic growth and accelerates the development of new companies; promotes industry innovators, entrepreneurs, and start-ups; supports business training and workforce development; offers access to an applied research and development laboratory; and provides business development, support services and venture capital investment to accelerate innovation and the commercialization of technologies. Visit www.cataystaccelerator.space for more information.