By guest authors Irina Patterson and Vandana Upadhyay
Irina: Would you give us more details on your three programs?
Diane: Yes. The first program is the eSpace incubator, which we have talked about quite a bit.
The second program is called the Straight to Space (S2S). In this program, we provide entrepreneurial aerospace companies both in our incubators and outside our incubator with training grants to support the training of technicians and engineers they have hired from outside the aerospace industry.
We do this because there is a critical shortage of aerospace workers coming up the pipeline, given that Apollo-era folks are retiring in droves.
Then, the next program is the Venture Design program. This is the program with the University of Colorado Aerospace Engineering Sciences department, in which we provide academic and financial support to graduate hands-on design projects that have commercial potential and that can potentially be transitioned into the eSpace incubator with enough mentoring and advising.
Irina: Is there a particular interesting company in your incubator that you’d like to mention?
Diane: All our companies are interesting. For example, Blue Canyon Technologies. They’ve been very successful.
They have developed a control moment gyro for very small satellites that makes it much more efficient in terms of energy, responsiveness, and so on.
They have earned two SBIRs in the first couple of months that they were in the incubator. So, we are pretty pleased about that.
They’ve already got two industrial contacts with the CEO’s company, and the CEO is their mentor. So, that has been really interesting.
Another interesting company is called TIGON Enertec. It really reflects how we envisioned eSpace operating as a liaison between industry and academia.
It started out as a project that we supported at CU. The professor challenged this project team to develop a lightweight hybrid propulsion engine for space craft. And the important thing there is the lightweight piece of it, because this has not really been accomplished in the past.
And so, they were able to do that. The university helped them get a provisional patent. They’ve applied for a patent now. And they formed into a company called TIGON Enertec.
They recruited a CEO whose name is Les Makepeace. He has a lot of experience in this area. So, they hired him, and they came to us to be incubated after we supported the project. Now they are doing very well. They haven’t been funded yet.
The interesting thing about this is that for this hybrid propulsion engine the spacecraft market is the smallest of the markets that they are really looking at. They are looking at general aviation; they are looking at ATV [all-terrain vehicle] and marine markets as well.
For instance, in general aviation, it’s one of the only markets left that is using what is called a low-lead fuel, which is just hated by the EPA.
So, if they are able to get into that market they could eradicate the use of the low-lead fuel which would be a real triumph for them, as well as for the EPA and the other environmental organization that are interested in this.
So, the biggest markets are non airspace, commercial types of markets for that company. They’ve been going out trying to find a round of funding and they have a very strong candidate this or next week.
We are pretty excited about that because as I said, it really reflects our vision of how we are going to work with the university to bring some of their innovations out into industry and the fact that it is also a green technology, it is really exciting. So, there are all sorts of components of TIGON Enertec that I get excited about.
Irina: Your incubator is a nonprofit organization, right? How is it funded?
Diane: Our current business model is an interim one, we hope, because we rely right now on state and national agencies, as well as industry, for grants and donations.
We’ve gotten a fair amount of money from, for instance, from the Economic Development Corporation in Denver, from the University of Colorado, from the Air Force Research Lab, from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, and so on.
Because we are a young organization and our companies are also young, we don’t expect we would be getting any return on our investment from those companies for another two to three years. So, we are relying on grants for the that period.