SaraniaSat, Catalyst Accelerator Alumni, Wins NASA InVEST Contract

$5.1 Million Over Three Years Awarded to Inaugural Cohort Company

Colorado Springs, Colo – July 27, 2018 – Excitement recently prevailed at the Catalyst Campus and at SaraniaSat, a participant in the Catalyst Accelerator’s very first cohort, with the announcement that SaraniaSat has been awarded a contract by NASA for their Hyperspectral Thermal Imager (HyTI) proposal.

Of the six companies that participated in the Catalyst Accelerator’s inaugural cohort, SaraniaSat is the first to win a much-coveted government contract.

SaraniaSat’s proposal, which can be examined in greater depth on NASA’s website here, was submitted in response to the In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVEST) Program 2017 ROSES (Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences) A.49 Solicitation NNH17ZDA001N. According to NASA’s website, 25 proposals were received and only three contracts were awarded, so Dr. George and SaraniaSat have good reason to be proud, especially given the total contract value, an impressive $5.1 million across three years.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate selected the final proposals for the InVEST Program in support of the Earth Science Division (ESD). The proposals addressed problems stemming from the way the harsh space environment forces components and systems to operate under extreme conditions, meaning they cannot be fully tested while in Earth’s immediate environment. Instead, new technologies need to be validated in space prior to use in a science mission. The InVEST program is meant to fill that need. SaraniaSat’s novel HyTI technologies that will be space validated for the first time via LEO flight are:

  • Hyperspectral Imager
  • TIR Imager Focal Plane
  • High-Performance Onboard Computing 1

SaraniaSat performs hyperspectral remote sensing, collecting imagery of the land surface using drones, aircraft and satellites. This information is then analyzed according to the needs of the clients, such as the agricultural industry, which looks for early detection of drought, lack of nutrients, fungal and insect infestations, changes in soil conditions and other actionable information needed to maintain the health and well-being of vast acres of crops. These early warning signs are buried in a mass of hyperspectral imagery data continuously created in the process of monitoring large land surfaces. Handling this kind of Big Data is a challenge for satellites, which rely on radio waves of limited bandwidth to transmit data to earth. SaraniaSat’s unique solution – which is both a hardware and a software solution – includes processing all this data onboard the satellite using a supercomputer and transmitting the highest-priority, actionable output to Earth first, thus making hyperspectral remote sensing truly feasible for many verticals, including the military, who can use it to track both assets and enemy activities from space.

A former NASA scientist, Dr. George is the ideal individual to lead the development of such a disruptive technology. As CEO of SaraniaSat, he has worked ardently to pitch the advanced remote sensing technology that is so unusual, SaraniaSat was written up in VentureBeat as a ‘Unicorn’ with a unique solution. Located in Los Angeles, California, SaraniaSat was originally founded to address a Grand Challenge facing the agricultural industry, the need to break through the current ‘logjam’ blocking the widespread acceptance of satellite remote-sensing data and information products.

When asked how participating in the Catalyst Accelerator helped with writing the proposal, Dr. George could not say enough: “Catalyst was literally a catalyst, because without them we would never have been able to submit this proposal.

“You know how they say, ‘It takes a village?’ It definitely took a village to get this proposal right. There are so many I’s to dot and T’s to cross; any mistakes and the government rejects it outright. We could handle writing the technical part of the proposal, but there was so much else! Catalyst Accelerator offered us many great resources: PTAC [Procurement Technical Assistance Center] generated the very valuable compliance matrix, and SBDC-Boulder [Small Business Development Center, Boulder, Colorado] helped us in several ways, including funding for professional assistance in producing the financial budget documents.

“Even at the last minute, trying to convert from Word to PDF pushed all the proposal tables and illustrations out of place, so Becca [Accelerator Director Dr. Rebecca Decker] sent it to the Catalyst Campus’ executive assistant, who straightened it all out like it was nothing. We could not have done it without the full support of everyone!”

Congratulations go out to Dr. George and SaraniaSat for their exceptional work in winning this contract award!

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About Catalyst Accelerator

The Catalyst Accelerator is a defense and national security industry accelerator, headquartered on the Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation 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. Its inaugural cohort, of which SaraniaSat was a member, pursued solutions to Terrestrial Weather problems from January to April of 2018. The next cohort, who will be working on Positioning, Navigation and Timing, GPS alternative technologies, is slated to arrive on campus in September 2018.

 

Catalyst Accelerator Terrestrial Weather Demo Day Wows Investors and Military

Inaugural Cohort Pitches to Audience of 100 Investors and Weather Experts

Catalyst Accelerator held their very first Demo Day on Monday, April 16, 2018 at the Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation, the exciting climax to 12 weeks of hard work for the inaugural cohort of six companies hand-selected for the program last year by Space Capital Colorado, a Catalyst-endowed accelerator fund.

The Harvey House event center was packed with 100 government and corporate strategic investors, weather experts, venture capitalists and angel investors who held on to every word as each company in the cohort cleanly and persuasively pitched their disruptive technology for about seven minutes.

Catalyst Accelerator Director Dr. Rebecca Decker launched the event with a brief introduction to the Catalyst Accelerator program. After explaining that it was a unique public/private collaboration, she went on to say that Dr. Tom George, CEO of SaraniaSat, had truly captured the spirit of this program in a recent interview when he said, “Catalyst Accelerator is a completely different environment. Maybe it’s the spirit of Colorado, but I found the spirit of the Catalyst Accelerator is to help rather than take undue advantage of the companies. The Catalyst Accelerator’s more humane approach is to nurture companies rather than make a buck off them.”

Dr. Decker then went on to introduce an invaluable partner, 1st Lt Jacob Singleton, Program Manager for the Center for Rapid Innovation, Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV). His remarks covered the ambitious move the Air Force is making towards more agile practices and more rapid development of technologies – “Ladies and gentlemen, I am here today to tell you that those mountains are moving!” – but those remarks did not even begin to cover the value of his assistance to the cohort, who praised his advice and help highly throughout the program.

It is no surprise that the presentations that came next went smoothly, since ‘Pitch Practice’ was a dominant feature of the latter part of the accelerator curriculum. With the help of many experts, each company honed and then re-honed their pitch to perfection, practicing and then reworking their pitch over and over as the advice of experts poured in. Compelling data sheets were created as handouts and the slide presentations that accompanied each pitch were designed with expert assistance. Thanks to all this preparation, the attention of the audience never wavered as each innovative technology was presented.

First up was Dr. Tom George, CEO of SaraniaSat and a former NASA scientist, who pitched an advanced remote sensing technology that is so unusual, SaraniaSat was recently written up in VentureBeat as a ‘Unicorn’ with a unique solution. Using satellites, drones and aircraft, SaraniaSat acquires high-temporal and high-spatial resolution, hyperspectral imagery of vast areas that they then process rapidly so that clients may receive early warning of remotely-detected changes among numerous customized data points. Currently under contract in the agricultural industry, which uses remote sensing to protect and optimize many square miles of crops, SaraniaSat sees many other potential applications for their unique technology, including use by the military.

The next founder to speak was Amin Djamshidpour, CEO of Koolock, Inc., a geospatial company providing satellite thermal imagery to monitor weather-related events and natural hazards. The company’s tagline is dramatically simple and speaks for itself: “Hourly Thermal Imaging of the Entire Earth.” Amin explained how a gap in the currently available data proved to be an opportunity for his technology, and how he has gone on to work with the Air Force to identify their priorities for the missing information that Koolock can provide. Another issue Koolock solves nicely is the high cost of this type of data, as well as providing proprietary data that does not derive from other global systems, which are often not under the control of the United States.

Aaron Buckner, Vice President and Chief Engineer of Guidestar Optical Systems, then presented Guidestar’s advanced optical solutions for forecasting, monitoring and compensating for optical turbulence. After explaining that a simple example of optical turbulence is the mirage of ‘heat waves’ shimmering near the ground on a warm day, Aaron went on to discuss how military commanders currently have no source of information about optical turbulence. Directed energy laser weapons are in development, and a hindrance to their deployment is optical turbulence, which obstructs the ability to optimally plan, deploy and utilize laser weapon platforms to protect people and assets. Space situational awareness systems – which help keep spacecraft and satellites safe – also struggle with optical turbulence issues that Guidestar can resolve with real-time data. The current intense interest in both directed energy laser weapons and space situational awareness means that Guidestar is offering very timely solutions to some highly-anticipated problems.

Next up was Ben Tarr, Director of Strategy for Advanced Radar Company, who discussed Aregn, a modular open-architecture solution that enables customers to affordably integrate sensor data from multiple manufacturers to produce enhanced weather information for use in nowcasting. Aregn performs real-time, multi-sensor weather data processing, visualization and product distribution by ingesting and normalizing data feeds from multiple weather sensor platforms via adapter modules, then distributing various weather information products in standard formats, with analysis visualization tools for meteorologists and researchers. This proven software already has over 20 international customers in addition to those stateside, so the company’s traction, as Ben explained, is already very deep. Despite being open source, it is a tested, secured, maintained software product with continual improvements and updates based on customer needs that, according to Ben, the Air Force should be able to take advantage of quite easily.

The next presenter, Robert Lancaster, CEO of Adaptive Systems LLC, started off by stating, “We are solving the problem of saving lives in general aviation” as well as helping air staffing officers with mission execution and the refinement of air tasking cycles for the Air Force. “96% of all aviation accidents occur in general aviation,” according to Robert, and among those accidents, “weather is the most lethal factor.” His Aviation Weather Intelligence and Assessment System (AWIAS) is a completely unique disruptive technology, providing autonomous support for weather effects for flight situational awareness, fine-scale monitoring of flight routes, and the ability to correlate terrestrial weather information against flight performance and objectives to provide recommended courses of action. AWIAS offers a continuous mitigation process, managing and calculating myriad data points in real-time and allowing the pilot to focus on flying. To cap off the excitement surrounding this technology, additional research has revealed it to be a strong fit for the Air Force as well, representing the next generation of flight management systems.

Demo Day presentations concluded with Brandon Tripp, COO of Aerolynk (formerly XplotraX), who discussed the LynkMod, a sensor-agnostic platform that solves remote tracking and communication problems anywhere in the world. With global data coverage, self-sustaining power, encryption and the ability to work with any sensor, the LynkMod runs on solar with battery backup, can accommodate any sensor, has internal GPS, and can send the data securely anywhere using Iridium Short Burst Data, with no need for cell coverage. Envisioned use cases include oil and gas fail safe switching and status tracking, as well as secure DoD communications and asset and personnel tracking in remote locations. Ultimately, they can be dropped and left anywhere in the world and still be trusted to operate.

Once the presentations were over, many thanks were offered to the mentors and sponsors who were instrumental to the success of Catalyst’s Terrestrial Weather Accelerator. The reception that followed gave the many investors in the audience plenty of time to chat with the founders; if the noise level at the reception was any guide, some very interesting and informative talks were being conducted.

When asked “Did you feel participating in the accelerator was helpful to your company?” Dr. Troy Rhoadarmer, Founder and Principal Scientist of Guidestar Optical Systems, replied, “”Oh, heck, yeah! The Accelerator has been a tremendous opportunity for us and has provided many benefits. From the business management and marketing workshops to being introduced to a network of excellent people and resources as well as potential new customers, the Accelerator has helped us make connections that are creating new opportunities for our company to grow.”

Catalyst Accelerator Terrestrial Weather Cohort #CATWX Charges Ahead With Customer Discovery

Interviews by Dr. Rebecca Decker and Lora Premo

The Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation has been a hotbed of activity for the past ten days while the inaugural cohort of the Catalyst Accelerator energetically tackled the curriculum provided by our partners at the Small Business Development Centers of the Boulder and Pikes Peak regions. Recent interviews with the founders found them bursting with eagerness as they worked through the Customer Discovery phase of the curriculum.

“Customer Discovery” refers to cohort founders making both warm and cold calls to helpful people in their target markets to learn as much as possible about the viability of their product, the direction their industry is headed, the names of even more helpful people – and oftentimes to discover an entirely new use for their technology. These conversations can bear tremendous fruit, and some of the founders we spoke to seemed stunned by the rapidity of the changes in their plans as they quickly incorporated and adapted the many things they learned during this phase.

As Dr. Rebecca Decker, Program Director for the Catalyst Accelerator, explained, “It was like watching lightning strike over and over again, as everyone made sudden, big discoveries about their products, with the result that many founders are now pivoting rapidly to keep up with the new information.” Becca went on to explain that a list of industry insiders and technical experts was provided to the cohort, which was helpful in reducing the inevitable pressure of cold-calling by ensuring some, at least, were warmer calls.

XplotraX, Colorado Springs

As we spoke with Brandon Tripp, COO of XplotraX, he was vibrating with excitement over the results of his customer discovery calls. As Brandon tells it, “It was a fantastic experience! [It was] a massive revelation for us because we learned that our product, Weather Rock, has actually been created by another company already for the special ops community. That saved us a ton of time, effort and energy, because now we know that we don’t want to pursue that market sector. We’ll go the commercial route, which is fantastic! So it was a great customer discovery experience.”

When we asked Brandon what else he learned during the customer discovery phase, he replied enthusiastically, “The biggest thing that we learned was not to pitch our technology but actually to ask intelligent questions and let the customer or user speak about what they think the application would be for in their particular market segment. And that was really enlightening for us, because we actually found out certain segments, like AFRL, aren’t even interested in our technology because they developed their own types of technology. I would say we learned a lot more what not to do rather than exactly what to do, which has been good in guiding our business canvas.”

Brandon went on to explain that the hardest part of customer discovery is “finding the lowest hanging fruit for us in terms of market turnaround. Who needs this product right now, who is willing to pay for it, and how big is that market segment. We are looking for our entry point into the market, and we think it is most likely going to be on the commercial side.”

Brandon finished by saying ruefully, “It was interesting doing cold calling; what a juxtaposition that was to warm calling, because when you are cold calling a company and they don’t know who you are or what you want, it’s a chilly reception!”

SaraniaSat, Los Angeles

Dr. Thomas George, Founder and CEO of SaraniaSat, also seemed excited, almost ebullient, as he spoke to us about his technology and his efforts during customer discovery. As it happens, Tom has so far only spoken to one potential customer, but the experience has been very encouraging: “The customer I spoke to at the Air Force Academy is an expert on Air Force Weather, to get the requirements from him. I am getting what the Air Force’s needs are, and then I will go and see if there is a funding mechanism that will enable us to do what we need.” Tom went on to explain that there have been several very helpful discussions with this customer, but that he also has some appointments set up with other customers.

When asked what he had learned so far during the customer discovery phase, Tom enthusiastically described his product in great detail (it is currently serving an essential need for the agricultural industry). Then he caught himself, laughing. “The problem with being an engineer is that an engineer likes to explain all the details. I was stopped short by a venture capitalist who said, ‘Just answer the question like a lawyer does!’” In brief, Tom’s remote sensing technology uses multiple wavelengths to produce data wherein both the spatial and temporal resolution are very important. He discovered that the Air Force needs data from additional wavelengths and requires a much higher temporal resolution compared to the current agricultural applications for this technology. Customer discovery has led SaraniaSat to the conclusion that, “If we have to supply what the Air Force needs, we will have to pivot.”

The most difficult part of this phase? According to Tom, it is “how do you get into the procurement process? what is the right mechanism? how do you respond to an RFP? and so on. So thankfully, I am in the right place at the right time because this is the place to learn how to handle that part.”

Guidestar Optical Systems, Longmont, CO

Dr. Troy Rhoadarmer, President and Principal Scientist, and Aaron Buckner, Vice President and Chief Engineer of Guidestar Optical Systems, sat with us to share their experiences with the customer discovery process. In yet another bolt from the blue, they, too, discovered that they would have to pivot to find a viable market niche.

Aaron: So, our main product from when we went into business, thinking that this is the “it” thing, was adaptive optical systems. The majority of the folks I have talked to said that, while they believe that adaptive optics is needed to meet the government customer’s goals, the government customer doesn’t want to fund it. So there’s a barrier to entry there that is partially due to [the fact that] they don’t believe the technology is mature enough; they don’t believe that the supporting technologies, the other pieces that have to go with what we build, are mature enough. Our system might be several hundred thousand dollars but what they are finding is that the supporting pieces need even more expensive development efforts before they are ready.

So we kind of had to take a step back after hearing all that. The other thing we found was that calling these guys and saying, “I’m not trying to sell you something,” saying we were involved with the accelerator, involved with the Air Force, kind of gave us credibility with the guys that we were talking to. They understood that we weren’t coming to them trying to sell them something, we were trying to understand their problem and where their issues are. Most of the people I called already knew what we did, so I wasn’t spending ten minutes explaining what we do. It was very quickly, “Here are the problems that I see and where your stuff might be able to play, and issues to bringing your things to market.” A big one was where they said, “These illuminator lasers [which are needed to make adaptive optics work for directed energy] are the big issue, and they are five years out.” So that caused us to take a step back, and we’ve got a couple different areas and projects that we have been working on, and so very quickly we are shifting our focus to putting more resources into developing those technologies.

So rather than investing a bunch of money in this unobtainable laser, maybe they want to come to us and buy a more efficient sensing technology that can use lasers that they already have. So…we are kind of revectoring a little bit.

Troy: And there is still some development that needs to be done there, but it looks more obtainable than lasers which have physical constraints on them already. I think it’s a more of a clear path to get there.

We broke into their enthusiastic descriptions to ask Troy and Aaron what they felt they had learned from the customer discovery process:

Troy: I think the biggest thing we’ve learned is when we jumped into the accelerator, we were coming from a technology applications base that can use weather. So, we talked about taking some of the sensors and some of the technology that we’ve developed for the laser applications and applying it to the weather question that the Air Force has posed as a supporting thing for these other applications. Almost everyone that we’ve talked to [sees that as] the million-dollar thing right there. If we can solve that, if we can provide something there that’s simple to use, small, fairly low-cost, that’s really a plug on to these larger systems, that’s something that they definitely need. And while we all kind of knew that going in, it’s hearing it from the customers, and from the prime contractors, hearing them all say “Yeah!”

Aaron then went on to share the most difficult aspects of customer discovery – including an often-scarce commodity for all of us:

Aaron: For us it’s been time.

The other thing I’ll say on a personal note is that I had to get over my introverted-ness, not wanting to just pick up the phone and call people. That was the hardest thing, other than the practicality of carving half an hour out of my day to talk to someone. Having the introduction and being able to say I am working on this small business accelerator at the Catalyst Campus with the AFRL – everyone I emailed to ask for a meeting or a phone call came back with a “sure, no problem.”

The primes that I was talking to, [the fact that] the Air Force is looking for innovative procurement avenues was really interesting to them. Some of the primes I talked to haven’t heard of the OTAs (Other Transaction Authority) and the ways that we are looking to connect to the Air Force as a small business, and that the different ways that we are looking to connect don’t disqualify large businesses from playing. So they were very interested in, “Can they really do that? Is that really going to happen?”

[And the answer is] “Yes, they’ve done it already and the groups that we’re working with here are connecting us to that infrastructure.” They were looking at it as, “Hey, if we connect with Guidestar, we might get pulled along,” even though it sounds weird for Guidestar, this little company, to pull along this behemoth prime, they are seeing it as a potential opportunity. They don’t know what might come of it, they don’t know what it is, but it’s the fear of missing out.The founders we spoke with were universally surprised and pleased to learn so much more about their potential markets during the customer discovery process. They all experienced an “a-ha” moment, a lightning bolt of revelation about the true prospects for their products, which is exactly the reason customer discovery is conducted so early in the curriculum.

Stay tuned for our next blog post to learn how our cohort progresses as they delve even more deeply into the Catalyst Accelerator process.

Catalyst Accelerator Cohort Learns to Pitch Their Technologies

Preparing for the Big Pitch Day, Founders Get Plenty of Practice

Written in collaboration with Dr. Rebecca Decker

The Catalyst Accelerator cohort has been very busy over the last several weeks doing many things, but with a deadline looming they have been heavily focused on practicing the best ways to pitch their technologies to investors and potential users. This is such an important activity that, if you were to ask the cohort, they would say they have been practicing their pitches since they first conceived of their unique technology; they might also tell you they are thrilled to finally learn how to hone their pitches to a quick but effective seven minutes.

Pitch practice is critical at this stage of the curriculum because the mid-April grand finale for this first cohort of the Catalyst Accelerator will be a demonstration day, when each team will pitch to government and commercial investors for an opportunity to raise additional capital or follow-on government funding. To succeed on pitch day could be very important to the futures of the founders, so the cohort has been throwing themselves into this part of the process with the same intellectual rigor they used to create their unique technologies.

As part of the learning process, everyone recently attended a two-hour presentation called the ‘Tell Your Story’ workshop. Sales and marketing expert Mark E. Bittle, a ‘Certified Resultant & Chief Intrapreneur’ with an array of certifications, led the workshop on behalf of the Catalyst Campus-based Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Mark was highly entertaining as he spent nearly two hours explaining the many necessary steps and techniques used to support a successful pitch. The objective of his seminar, he explained right away, was to help the founders condense their complex technologies into a fast pitch. He asked: “How fast can you communicate who you are, what you do, how you do it and, most importantly, why do you do what you do?”

That’s a tall order, but fortunately, Mark had a lot of ideas to share to make this possible. One significant point he made was that most people no longer simply make a purchase – instead, they choose between a variety of options: “Once they meet with you, they are going to go online. Think about the last product or service you purchased; did you purchase it without doing any research on whom you’re going to be purchasing from and who are the competitors? Do you make purchases without researching each product and the competitors?” A murmur of understanding filled the room as Mark concluded, “Your goal is to get them to choose YOU!”

In addition to the ‘Tell Your Story’ seminar, Jake Eichengreen of the Quad Innovation Partnership worked with the cohort for over two hours, discussing the many elements involved in ‘Pitching to VC,’ the title of his presentation. Jake is the Executive Director of Quad Innovation Partnership, a joint initiative between Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College, University of Colorado Colorado Springs and the United States Air Force Academy that helps graduating innovators build successful, fulfilling careers while remaining in the Colorado Springs area.

Pitch practice for the cohort also consisted of hours of practice ‘whiteboarding’ their ‘OV-1.’ An OV is an operational view, and the OV-1 is one of the many operational views specified in the Department of Defense Architecture Framework: the view that provides the highest-level, big-picture overview of what your system or systems do operationally. Graphical views of the high-level system architecture are an important part of the OV-1, although other materials must also be presented. This practice highlighted one of the key issues the founders have had to confront: the need to understand the lingo of both commercial and military markets.

During the first whiteboarding effort, Brandon Tripp of XplotraX grabbed a marker and volunteered to start sketching while Ben Tarr of Advanced Radar Company verbally described the highest-level flow of his proposed technology. Plenty of laughter ensued as Brandon proved to be adept at rapidly sketching cartoon-like motifs and images, and the whiteboarding effort was off to a good start. Much more practice with expert advisors was gained the next day as well. More help with whiteboarding came from Audrey Crane of Design Map in San Francisco, who gave the cohort a class on modeling for use in building the best possible OV-1, including putting together a team of volunteer design experts to review the results and help improve these all-important operational views.

In fact, an entire community of volunteers has come together to assist with the Catalyst Accelerator, and that was especially evident throughout the pitch practice process. As another example, a critical element of pitch training included practicing each pitch to experienced executives and other local experts in the fields of both commercial and military acquisitions. Dr. Decker wanted to make sure we gave the following accelerator volunteers a shout out!

The Honorable Sue Payton, former Assistant Secretary of the US Air Force for Acquisition /

Dr. Dale W. Meyerrose, Major General, U.S. Air Force retired /

Melissa Freigang / Michelle Parvinrouh / Rob Patterson /

Russ Fellers / Steve Friedman / Greg Roman / Al Kansa

Although grueling, all this practice, training and advice – which will continue through mid-April – is an essential element of preparation for the big moment, Catalyst Accelerator Demo Day, when each company will get seven minutes to pitch to government and commercial investors, preferably with no more than 30 seconds spent on each slide. The best advice to the founders has been to keep it simple, with graphics and images that merely accentuate their talking points, rather than leaning too heavily on the slides to present vital information. Part of the Catalyst Accelerator curriculum includes a document that breaks the best pitch deck down into all of its most vital components, trying to offer the cohort as much support as possible as they compose the final version of this all-important effort.

Additional training in pitching to VC was supplied by Peter Adams, co-author of Venture Capital for Dummies and the Executive Director of the Rockies Venture Club and Managing Partner of the Rockies Venture Fund and Rockies Impact Fund. Peter’s unique perspective includes the idea that when you pitch your company, you should pitch as a STEWARD of your company as opposed to an OWNER. This is largely because a ‘steward’ is not just in it for himself, whereas an ‘owner’ behaves so possessively as to make a poor investment partner.

Examined in retrospect, the curriculum has been designed from the beginning to assist the founders in learning how to pitch their ideas, even including the soul-searching done during the customer discovery phase described in an earlier blog. Every element of the hard work the #CATWx cohort has been doing since January 31 dovetails into this final presentation where, now fully-prepared to respond to any query, each company can stand confidently before a group of commercial and government investors with their disruptive technology and make their pitch, well-grounded in what will be required of them as they move their small business forward.

Excitement Rises Among Catalyst Accelerator Cohort As They Discover OTAs

Other Transaction Agreements Offer Surprisingly Simple Way to Fund Prototypes, R&D and Follow-On Production

Six weeks into the first Catalyst Accelerator program, the inaugural cohort has developed a strong sense of camaraderie. Laughter abounds as they work together to understand the complexities of their business-building adventure. Hints of collaboration between some of the businesses are in the air, and a general feeling of accomplishment permeates the group.

This overall sense of well-being kicked up a notch on Tuesday, March 13, 2018, when retired Army Brigadier General Stephen B. Leisenring, Deputy Director of Colorado PTAC, delivered a stimulating 90-minute lecture on the utility of Other Transaction Agreements, or OTAs. Located here on the Catalyst Campus, Colorado PTAC – Procurement Technical Assistance Center – was the obvious choice to deliver the presentation. Colorado PTAC provides a wide range of government contract assistance, with a staff of experienced contracting and acquisitions counselors to help businesses navigate the arcane world of government contracts.

Also gathered, with plenty of guidance for the cohort, was the Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC) program team from Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center Advanced Systems & Development Directorate. SpEC, among several high-level goals, works to attract, retain, and mentor consortium members to prepare them to compete for federally-funded space-related prototype projects. SpEC also minimizes barriers to entry for small, non-traditional businesses to work with the Government, and identifies research and prototyping teaming opportunities.

Deputy Director Stephen Leisenring’s introduction to OTAs began by describing their purpose, then listing all the things they are not: “The purpose of OTAs is to engage industry and academia to participate with the federal government in either research and development or in the production of prototypes. They are not standard contracts, they are not grants, they are not cooperative agreements – a CRADA [Cooperative Research and Development Agreement] is not an OTA. They are interesting anomalies.” Mr. Leisenring went on to explain that, although not every Federal agency has authority for OTAs, the list of those who do is long: Department of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation, Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration, Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Energy.

The founders in the audience were clearly intrigued as Mr. Leisenring outlined the significant differences between the less stringent OTAs and the traditional and far more cumbersome FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulation]-based government contracts. Flexibility was the number one distinction; while FAR-based contracts are hemmed in by 1000s of pages of regulations, OTAs are largely managed by a single Agreements Officer with broad authority to customize each contract using their highly-experienced judgment. Another positive aspect of OTAs revolves around intellectual property, which can often be shared or wholly retained under OTA agreements, whereas FAR-based contracts typically require the surrender of IP rights to the government. Other benefits include a heavy bias towards non-traditional defense contractors, more flexible funding arrangements with an option for some upfront payments and the possibility of continued, long-term relationships via follow-on, FAR-based contracts.

The flexibility of OTAs became even more obvious as Mr. Leisenring explained that OTA eligibility is dependent upon meeting only one of four possible conditions – with the final condition being an open invitation to even more flexibility:
• One non-traditional contractor participates to a significant extent OR
• All significant participants are small, or non-traditional contractors OR
• At least 33% of total prototype costs are other than Federal funds OR
• Agency Senior Procurement Executive determines in writing that there are
– Exceptional circumstances OR
– A unique opportunity to expand the defense supply base

The cohort raised many incisive questions throughout the presentation. In response to fears that Congress may soon tighten restrictions on OTAs, the Hon. Sue Payton, former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisitions) and an expert member of the audience, chimed in: “Believe me, people are waiting, just waiting, to pounce on a big screw-up, so we’ve got to make sure we are doing this right.” Her remark was sobering and underlined a universal desire not to squander the innovative opportunities offered by OTAs in the current climate, where FAR-based acquisitions move at glacial speed compared to the accelerated research and development and more rapid prototyping possible under OTAs.

After an absorbing hour of discussion, founder Brandon Tripp, COO of XplotraX, exclaimed, “I’ll tell you, I’m loving these OTAs!” His enthusiasm was echoed in the grins of the other founders, who seemed thrilled to learn that there is such an attractive alternative to the FAR-based contracts they had learned about in recent conversations with a PTAC counselor.

During an October 19, 2017 speech, Air Force Director of IT Acquisition Process Development Maj Gen Sarah Zabel opined, “This mechanism [OTA] is just so much faster and so much more attuned to getting something quickly that we want today and not have to spend a couple years going through this huge process to get something we wanted two years ago. Everyone is very enthusiastic about OTAs.” 1 By the time the Other Transaction Agreement seminar ended, it was easy to see why this would be. An aura of hope surrounds these unique instruments designed to support non-traditional defense contractors while vastly simplifying the process of contracting with the government – and there seems little doubt that these mechanisms will allow the US to more easily stay abreast of both our allies and enemies in the ongoing race for technological advantage.

1. Source: https://federalnewsradio.com/acquisition/2017/10/ota-contracts-are-the-new-cool-thing-in-dod-acquisition/

Catalyst Accelerator Kicks Off Intensive 12-Week Journey

Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation launches inaugural accelerator cohort in partnership with the Air Force Research Lab Space Vehicles Directorate

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado – January 30, 2018 – Catalyst Accelerator, a defense and national security accelerator and the first accelerator program to be held in Southern Colorado, is launching its inaugural cohort today at the Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation in downtown Colorado Springs. Catalyst Accelerator’s mission is to promote technology advancement for the warfighter and to guide technology transfer between the government and the commercial market. Atypically, Catalyst Accelerator represents a collaborative effort between public and private organizations, including Catalyst Campus, the Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization (C-TRAC) and the Boulder Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and in partnership with Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) and Colorado Springs SCORE.

Catalyst Accelerator is partnering with the Air Force Research Lab Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV) for the first cohort. The AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate serves as the Air Force’s “Center of Excellence” for space technology research and development; through their partnership with AFRL/RV, the Catalyst Accelerator will expose the AFRL team and other government partners to commercial technologies with innovative solutions to warfighter needs.

Catalyst Accelerator will be utilizing 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 a potential rapid funding mechanism, 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 – will be greatly reduced, from an average of two years in the typical government market to less than three months through the Catalyst Accelerator.

The intensive 12-week program will task participating companies with developing solutions for providing better terrestrial weather data and other commercially-viable, related products. The Catalyst Accelerator will give the participating companies direct access to operational weather experts and stakeholders from the United States Air Force and other government agencies, as well as the Catalyst Campus, SBDC, PTAC and SCORE National network of mentors, partners and investors.

The promising teams chosen to participate in Catalyst Accelerator after undergoing a highly-selective application process are Colorado-based companies Adaptive Systems, LLC, Advanced Radar Company, Guidestar Optical Systems, Inc. and XplotraX, as well as two California companies, Koolock, Inc. and SaraniaSat. The participants will receive immediate capital of $15,000 from Space Capital Colorado, a Catalyst-endowed accelerator fund. Space Capital Colorado may further invest in any of the accelerator companies if they show potential.

The program will culminate with a demonstration day at Catalyst Campus in mid-April, when each team will pitch to government and commercial investors for an opportunity to raise additional capital or follow-on government funding via Other Transaction Authority (OTA) for further prototype development. OTA funding is designated for research and development and prototyping, and was developed as a quick way for the government to support an innovative new idea without elaborate contract requirements and masses of red tape.

“It’s an honor to have a hand in introducing the Air Force to the Catalyst Accelerator cohort of entrepreneurs who are developing next-gen solutions to bring accurate weather forecasts to our warfighters,” enthused Dr. Rebecca Decker, Program Director of the Catalyst Accelerator. “Our team is eager to immerse the cohort in a concentrated customer discovery experience so that they have a greater understanding of the military’s requirements from a decision making and operational perspective. Our cohort will also have the opportunity to explore further commercial uses of their technologies to benefit industries like agriculture, insurance, retail, energy, outdoor sports, and transportation.”

ABOUT THE COHORT:

Adaptive Systems, LLC
Founded in 2011, Adaptive Systems LLC is a technology integration and services startup with a focus on developing weather intelligence and data integration products for next generation impact-based decision support. They leverage progressive technologies to develop sophisticated autonomous intelligent decision support systems for enhanced weather risk decision making. Adaptive Systems, LLC is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Advanced Radar Company
Advanced Radar Company (ARC) was founded in 2006 by the UCAR Foundation to commercialize a new generation of advanced weather radars (hardware, software and customized products). These systems are simple to maintain, calibrate and operate while still maintaining accuracy and reliability. ARC is located in Boulder, Colorado.

Guidestar Optical Systems, Inc.
Guidestar Optical Systems, Inc. develops advanced optical measurement and control systems for light propagation through the atmosphere. Applications include beam control and adaptive optics for free space laser communications, directed energy, and astronomical observatories, as well as atmospheric monitoring and remote sensing. Guidestar is located in Longmont, Colorado.

Koolock, Inc.
Koolock,Inc. is a geospatial company providing satellite thermal-imagery to monitor weather-related events and natural hazards. Their service enables situational awareness and decision making in real-time. They are working on providing on-demand access to the past, present, and future state of the environment through an advanced analytical pipeline and cloud-based platforms. Koolock is located at Moffett Field, California.

SaraniaSat
SaraniaSat was founded to address a Grand Challenge facing the agricultural industry, which is to break through the current “logjam” blocking the widespread acceptance of satellite remote-sensing data and information products by the industry. SaraniaSat was recently written up in VentureBeat as a “Unicorn” with a unique solution. SaraniaSat is located in Los Angeles, California.

XplotraX
XplotraX is committed to connecting the world by simplifying satellite communication to be as easy as your iPhone. They have perfected short burst data over satellite to be used for GPS tracking & communication and ground-based weather systems. They specifically design their technology for everyone, to be used anywhere. XplotraX is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

ABOUT CATALYST ACCELERATOR
The Catalyst Accelerator is a defense and national security industry accelerator, headquartered on the Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation 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 has partnered with the Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization (C-TRAC), Colorado Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) in the Boulder and Pikes Peak regions, Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) and Colorado Springs SCORE to provide a robust, mentor-driven curriculum for accelerator teams.

ABOUT CATALYST CAMPUS FOR TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION
Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation is a research and development campus focused in aerospace, space and defense technology 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.