NASA is courting companies to use and develop its technology

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Petra Power, a Warren-based portfolio company of Brite Energy Innovators, is likely one of the few companies in the area to credit the National Aeronautics and Space Administration with bringing it to Ohio.

The company has partnered with NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland to develop the agency’s solid oxide fuel cell technology for commercial use.

“NASA has been very conscious, very focused on bringing this technology to market,” said Aaron Goodman, CEO of Petra Power.

Goodman, Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University, said he and co-founder Phillip Clift entered a competition run by a third party in conjunction with NASA several years ago.

“We were fortunate enough to have a business and commercialization plan in place that was compelling enough to be able to license our patent,” Goodman said. “From there, I have to give credit to NASA for helping us develop this relationship. NASA and Brite kind of teamed up to get us to Ohio.

Goodman declined to be specific about the company’s work. But he said solid oxide fuel cells could play an important role as a power source for emergency rescue stations and as auxiliary power for ground and air transportation. “I think the future encompasses all of this energy space,” he said.

The partnership is one of many that NASA Glenn hopes to cultivate with the private sector in northeast Ohio to bring its technology to market, said Tom Doehne, office of technology incubation and innovation at NASA Glenn.

“Most people think it’s very difficult to work with a government agency,” Doehne said. “We try to make it very easy for people to reach and understand our programs.”

Doehne was the guest speaker at a technology transfer information seminar held Thursday at America Makes. Youngstown State University’s APEX Accelerator, Brite Energy, Youngstown Business Incubator and America Makes hosted the event.

“We have a lot of different technologies that we’re looking to commercialize,” Doehne said.

Countless joint products are derived from NASA space technology, exploration and research, Doehne said. These include memory foam, firefighting equipment, GPS technology, cell phone imaging technology, satellite and space communication, invisible dental appliances and wireless technology, Doehne said.

Even infant formula and the Dust Buster vacuum cleaner have their origins in NASA, he added.

The space agency has also pioneered work on advanced materials and electrical systems that could be used by manufacturers and applied across a wide range of industries.

“People wonder what we’re actually creating from NASA technologies,” Doehne said. “There are things you use in your daily life that you probably don’t know come from NASA technologies.”

Doehne said NASA offers funding opportunities through its traditional Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. Both initiatives are designed to help companies leverage technology developed by NASA in the private sector.

Small businesses – one with less than 500 employees – can participate in the SBIR program as a stand-alone entity. However, to be eligible for STTR funding, the company would also need to partner with a nonprofit research institute.

Doehne said the goal was to use NASA Glenn to leverage a stronger economy in northeast Ohio. However, many companies that receive early stage funding for their SBIR program, for example, do not often proceed with Phase II and Phase III funding.

This has led to the adoption of a new program, SBIR Ignite, which focuses on funding entrepreneurs and start-ups that aim to bring new technology to full commercialization through all three phases, Doehne said.

NASA’s technology transfer initiatives involve building partnerships across the country with universities and organizations looking to support entrepreneurs and start-ups using NASA technology, Doehne said.

One program, the Technology Transfer University, is specifically designed to engage students, he said. “We ask them to use our technology portfolio in their entrepreneurship courses,” he said. Throughout the course, students would learn about licensing and business opportunities with NASA.

If a company’s needs match the mission and technology NASA is developing, they could license that technology and gain access to the agency’s patent portfolio, Doehne said.

A research license, for example, allows a company to work with that technology and its inventor to further explore how it might fit into the commercial market, Doehne said. “It gives you a track to work with the technology and get a real look at what your product is,” he said.

The license is free for start-ups and universities, but costs $2,500 for all other applicants, he said.

A government use license is granted to organizations performing research and assisting NASA with its mission, Doehne said. This license may not be used for commercial purposes, only within the government.

The commercial license, however, allows a private entity to obtain the rights to manufacture and sell products based on NASA technology, Doehne said. These licenses are both non-exclusive – that is, they are open to any company for use in the same field – and partially exclusive, which allows a company to enter a specific market, such as metals or transport.

Jon Loveland, procurement consultant for the APEX accelerator at YSU, said Thursday’s event was intended to educate manufacturers and local businesses about business opportunities with NASA.

“We’ve worked with their technology transfer office for a number of years,” Loveland said. However, this is the first NASA event that incorporates resources from APEX, Brite, YBI and America Makes.

“The goal is to get people to use our technology,” Doehne said. “We are not here to make a lot of money with these technologies. Taxpayer dollars have supported and paid for the research, and all we’re trying to do is get these technologies back to market so industry can have an impact.

Top of photo: James O. Wilson of the United States Patent and Trademark Office; Aaron Goodman, CEO of Petra Power; Tom Doehne, specialist in the NASA Glenn Research Center Technology Transfer Office; and Harvey Schabes, director of NASA Glenn’s technology transfer office.

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

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