Orbital Micro Systems Partners with Georgia Tech for Next-Generation Integrated Radiometer Chip Development

Expertise in silicon-germanium semiconductor chip design will result in reduced size and power usage in radiometer designs 

Source: Orbital Micro Systems

Boulder, CO, July 09, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — via NEWMEDIAWIRE — Orbital Micro Systems (OMS), a leader in advanced instrumentation for small satellite missions and analysis-ready earth data intelligence platforms, announced that it has partnered with Georgia Tech (Georgia Institute of Technology) to develop Monolithic Millimeter-Wave Integrated Circuit (MMIC) devices using silicon-germanium semiconductor hybrid material for its next generation of commercial earth observation radiometry instruments. Working closely with the University’s Silicon-Germanium Devices and Circuits group, led by Professor John D. Cressler, OMS anticipates the single-chip solution will dramatically reduce the weight, size, and power consumption of its satellite-based instruments while taking advantage of the inherent radiation tolerance of silicon-germanium devices. Dr. Cressler is a renowned expert on silicon-germanium design and is the Schlumberger Chair Professor in Electronics and Ken Byers Teaching Fellow in Science and Religion in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“We could not be more excited about our collaboration with Georgia Tech’s world-class team in the area of silicon-germanium devices and circuits,” said Michael Hurowitz, chief technology officer for OMS. “Designing instruments for use in key weather and climate observations requires us to continuously innovate to achieve state-of-the-art capabilities while simultaneously optimizing for size, weight, power, cost, resiliency, reliability, sensitivity, and resolution. Working with our esteemed colleagues at Georgia Tech will accelerate our earth observation constellation mission and ultimately enable better weather and climate data collection for every point on the globe.”

OMS brings decades of successful design and miniaturization of microwave radiometers to the effort. The company’s recent launch of the first satellite in its Global Earth Monitoring System (GEMS) constellation employs the current generation of miniaturized instruments.

The GEMS constellation is planned to incorporate some 48 satellites operating in low earth orbit (LEO) gathering global temperature, humidity, and precipitation data. When fully complemented, the satellites will provide observations at a 15-minute revisit rate – a dramatic improvement over the infrequent observations from large government-owned weather satellites. Delivering more dense weather data to commercial and government customers through the International Center for Earth Data (ICED), OMS will address unmet needs in multiple areas including safety, security, and prosperity, as well as commercial transportation, insurance, and agriculture markets.

“Our team is delighted to support OMS’ mission to substantially improve the quality and frequency of earth observation data for government and commercial stakeholders,” said Dr. Cressler. “We’re honored to participate in this project, which we hope will be able to positively impact hundreds of millions of lives around the globe.”

For more information about Orbital Micro Systems, please visit www.orbitalmicro.com.

About Orbital Micro Systems 

Orbital Micro Systems (OMS) specializes in the development and delivery of technology and data for space applications. With broad expertise in applied science, weather science and earth observation, instrumentation development, data science, space operations, and program delivery, OMS is positioned to deliver innovation to many areas of the aerospace sector. For more information about OMS, please visit www.orbitalmicro.com

John Stafford
Parallel Communications, Inc.
+1 515-708-1296


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.”


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


Alumni companies from Colorado Springs accelerator win research grants

Colorado Springs Gazette


Colorado Springs, Colorado – October 10, 2018 –

Four of six companies that spent four months this year in the Catalyst Accelerator at Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation have won Small Business Innovation Research Grants.

The four companies — Adaptive Systems, Advanced Radar Co., Guidestar Optical Systems and SaraniaSat — all were part of the first session of the accelerator’s program that was completed in April.

Read more on gazette.com


Seven SBIRs Awarded to Recent Catalyst Accelerator Alumni

Multiple Small Business Innovation Research Awards Go to Four Companies from Inaugural Cohort 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado – October 2, 2018 – Air Force Research Lab Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV) Catalyst Accelerator, at the Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation in downtown Colorado Springs, is proud to announce that four of the six companies in the Accelerator’s Terrestrial Weather cohort, who attended the inaugural session of the program from January to April 2018, have together won a total of seven Small Business Innovation Research awards (SBIRs).

Most of the SBIRs awarded were new Special Topics Phase I SBIRs, typically bringing up to $50,000 in non-dilutive funding for each company selected. This new fast-funding mechanism means awards occur within 60 days of application as part of the Air Force’s commitment to acquiring new technologies rapidly. The performance period is short, as well – three months to develop the basic blueprint for each company’s innovative technology.

CEO and Chief Scientist of Adaptive Systems LLC, Rob Lancaster, is thrilled about the $50,000 SBIR awarded to his company to further develop their weather intelligence support environment software. Adaptive Systems first heard about Catalyst Accelerator from their Intellectual Property (IP) lawyer, who was helping them with a dilemma. At that time, Rob emphasized, “We were stuck. Our issue was that we didn’t want to take on any investment money and lose the [rights to the] IP for the technology we were developing… but we had to maintain full-time jobs. We just couldn’t afford to put in our own funds and do it full time to really ‘accelerate’ the technology ourselves.”

Catalyst Accelerator changed all that. “Catalyst offered us a great opportunity by giving us seed money; not only that, it opened so many doors to potential customers…. But I thought the most beneficial part of the whole program was that it taught us the ropes, how to really market your product. They gave us access to services and help that we didn’t know existed! Marketing support, customer discovery, how to actually build a solid business plan and how to get it out there to actually make it happen – those services were invaluable.”

Winning the SBIR award brought more than just excitement: “The fact that AFRL did indeed see value in what we were doing validated our whole vision – ‘Yes, finally, somebody sees something!’”

Guidestar Optical Systems is the recipient of four recent SBIRs, with a value of $500,000. Troy Rhoadarmer, Founder & Principal Scientist, explained, “We were only expecting maybe two out of four! It’s exciting in that these programs are going to provide a little more stability for our company.

“Three of the [award] topics are related to the technology we brought with us into the Catalyst Accelerator. We shifted a little bit as we went through the Catalyst program and modified what we ended up pitching. Through the Catalyst Accelerator process we talked to potential customers who gave us a better understanding of what they are looking for and how and where our technology can be applied in what they are doing. When the last round of SBIRs came out, we saw several topics where our technology could provide a solution. We’re very pleased and a little shocked that we got all four of them.”

Troy went on to say, “Because we went through the customer discovery [at Catalyst Accelerator], we used some of the techniques we learned when we talked to the SBIR customers ahead of time, even the ones where we thought, ‘Okay, we’ve never talked to these guys before but we could probably do what they are asking.’ Catalyst also opened up a new market area for us to look at. One of the SBIRs we went after, we probably wouldn’t have except for being at Catalyst and talking through the technologies and the customer requirements.”

The bottom line? According to Troy, “We are using a lot of what we learned at the Accelerator to adapt how we are doing business. We are a little more intentional, which has helped us become more stable and less of a roller coaster.” As an exciting postscript, Troy also announced that they have recently been awarded a Phase II SBIR, which will encompass prototyping their proposed technology.

Advanced Radar Company (ARC) spun off from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, according to Director of Strategy Ben Tarr, and has been primarily selling weather radar and weather radar processing software systems to international customers, focusing on the commercial market. “We haven’t done any business with the DoD or the US military, so the big reason we were excited to get involved with the Catalyst Accelerator program was the significant amount of [government] work related to meteorology, weather forecasting, and weather radar specifically; right now, we see a big opportunity to diversify who the DoD goes to when it comes to achieving their goals and meeting their needs related to these types of activities.”

Ben went on to explain, “As a small business, it is really hard to jump into a new vertical. We have established pipelines and customer relationships around the world for the commercial work we do, but to launch into a campaign to make the DoD community even aware of the fact we exist takes a considerable amount of time and resources.  What the Accelerator program really did for us was jump-start that entire process. The ability to talk directly to the user and the acquiring customer on the DoD and Air Force side was really powerful. We were directly introduced to the right set of people at the right time and were able to establish exactly what our offering would be. It became clear to us when talking to the DoD that our open-source AregnTM software product could be very advantageous to what the DoD is doing in the weather community.”

As for winning the SBIR, Ben and his co-workers at ARC are eager to get going on the work it requires: “We proposed doing a feasibility study to look at what it would do to take the open source Aregn product and cyberharden it so it could be deployed as a toolset that the Air Force could use. Because Aregn today has the ability to bring in more than just weather data; the DoD is very interested in how they can leverage existing sensor assets that are on orbit – exploring the ability to ingest some of those existing sensor datasets and looking at what Aregn can do to merge them with radar data to create standard meteorological data products.”

When asked how he felt about winning a SBIR, SaraniaSat’s CEO Tom George immediately said, “I am very grateful!” He followed that exclamation with this explanation: “The SBIR award is extremely important to us because it is the first key step to getting the DoD as a customer. SaraniaSat thanks the Air Force’s Special Topics Phase I SBIR program for making our DoD engagement possible.”

SaraniaSat’s advanced remote sensing technology 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 for their application. Tom explained that, thanks to the SBIR award, his proposed technology now has Air Force Weather and two organizations within the Army’s Engineer Research and Development Center as potential end customers.

“What Catalyst did is prepare us really well,” especially “with the customer discovery process. We got a really good appreciation for how our tech could dovetail into their requirements, so even before the SBIR Phase I call came out we had a lot of our homework done. The preparation and training we got at Catalyst was invaluable in that it was a no-brainer to write the proposal when the SBIR came out because we had all the elements in place. Responding cold to an opportunity that came out, I doubt that our chances would have been as good.”

Ultimately, according to Tom, the SBIR award “is a very important foundational steppingstone for SaraniaSat’s engagement with the DoD. There is an ancient Chinese proverb: ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.’ Nowhere can that be truer than with this SBIR.”



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.

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.







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!


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/