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Space Race Competition helps turn NASA Tech into new products
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Mar 14, 2016

NASA's Space Race, a competition run in partnership with the Center for Advancing Innovation, kicked off in January 2016 and is open to new entrants until March 27. Winners and finalists will be given an opportunity to commercialize NASA technology and solicit significant seed funding (up to $1.2 million) from venture capitalists. Image courtesy NASA. For a larger version of this image please go here.

When NASA's Technology Transfer Program launched Startup NASA, the chief goal was to help new companies hold on to their cash. "The majority of NASA licenses are executed by small businesses, and cash flow is one of the most difficult challenges they face," said Daniel Lockney, executive of the program. "Securing intellectual property is another, making Startup NASA a great way for them to manage both problems."

The initiative allows start-up businesses formed for the purpose of commercializing technology licensed from NASA to do so without any up-front costs and with no minimum fees for three years. Since its kickoff in October 2015, Lockney said the program has resulted in the creation of over a dozen new high-tech companies, launched with the express purpose of commercializing NASA technologies.

If Startup NASA was meant to launch new companies into orbit, then NASA's newest licensing initiative, the Space Race competition, could help some reach the moon.

The agency partnered with the nonprofit Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI) to create the Space Race, a competition that matches the licensing structure of Startup NASA with a business accelerator and gives participants the chance to solicit significant seed funding from venture capitalists.

Teams of applicants can enter the contest, which kicked off in January and is open to new entrants until March 27, by choosing one of 10 specially selected NASA technologies and developing a plan to commercialize it.

Groups will compete over the course of several stages, first honing and delivering an elevator pitch and, for those chosen to advance, later developing a full business plan with a comprehensive financial model. A panel of judges will hear the final presentations and select finalists, who will then incorporate their businesses, apply to license the selected NASA technology, and ideally begin product development and commercialization.

All participants in the competition will receive numerous benefits, said Rosemarie Truman, CAI's founder and CEO. The challenge provides robust training in business fundamentals, as well as mentorship from world-renowned industry experts. Competitors also will receive unique networking opportunities and media exposure as they vie for prize purses of $2,500.

But the biggest benefit is the promise of soliciting significant seed funding from venture capitalists. Companies formed through the Space Race will have the opportunity to raise as much as $1.2 million in private capital from a committed fund.

"We want to inject these companies with cash to hyper-accelerate their product development, getting them to escape velocity so they can reach a series A round of funding or even a successful exit," said Truman.

CAI has run several similar challenges with other university and federal laboratories, with notable results. Two previous challenges led to the formation of 33 companies, creating an estimated 1,200 jobs.

Truman said she sees huge potential in the particular technologies that were selected from NASA's portfolio for Space Race. "What's especially great about NASA inventions is that they have been 'de-risked,'" she said. "They've been tested rigorously and meet the highest standards. They work in the vacuum of space, in zero gravity - some function at 600 degrees Celsius. You can bootstrap these technologies into products so quickly because of how proven they are."

For NASA, participation in a start-up competition is new territory, but Lockney said it's all part of the agency's concerted effort to speed up the transfer of aeronautics and space technologies to the private sector for the benefit of the public.

"In the past four years, we've managed a 250 percent increase in annual patent licensing and have doubled the rate at which we release software to the public," he said. "Startup NASA and the Space Race challenge promise to continue that trend of making NASA's achievements in research and technology more accessible to people on the ground."

"These technologies represent not just shared benefits with U.S. businesses, but also a significant return to American taxpayers in the form of jobs created and new products brought to market," he said.

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