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

By Victoria Mann

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)