The Technology Transfer program is a 16-week NASA Inclusive Innovation MashUp designed to connect participating entrepreneurs with industry professionals and business coaches.
Chris Campbell has wanted to be an inventor and a businessman since he was 6.
About that time his father took him to the Minnesota State Capitol and told him “this is where businesses get started.”
That dream of being an inventor and entrepreneur has come true through Simpli-Fi Automation, an automation and low voltage design company he founded in 2018. He’s got three products in various stages of development that use scents to help diagnose health issues.
“This is a technology that allows diseases to be diagnosed using only the breath,” said Campbell, who was born in St. Paul and is in the process of moving his company there from Florida where it originated. “They’re called breath biomarkers.”
Help from NASA, venture cap firm
The technology Campbell used to create the products came from the NASA Technology Transfer program, which ensures the agency’s innovations developed for exploration and discovery are broadly available to everyone in the U.S. It’s been around for nearly 60 years, with many successes having grown from it, but relatively little fanfare.
“NASA didn’t invent the cell phone camera, but we developed a technology that led to the ability to create the cell phone camera,” said Harvey Schabes, chief of the Technology Transfer program. “There’s a portfolio of technologies and you can look through it. If you find one that jumps out at you, you get it for a limited amount of time.”
A few years ago NASA tasked Schabes and his team with reaching out to more cities, states, business organizations and other potential partners to make the program more available. Through those efforts, he met Paul Campbell, brother of Chris Campbell and co-founder and managing partner of Brown Venture Group (BVG), a venture capital company funding technology startups in under-represented communities.
Now, NASA and BVG are establishing a pilot project aimed at broadening exposure to the Technology Transfer program.
“I had heard about tech transfers and know how beneficial they are to entrepreneurs who are trying to find some differentiated technologies to grow their business,” Paul Campbell said. “This benefits all of our ecosystem to know about tech transfer and commercialization.”
NASA and Brown Venture Group are announcing the pilot project partnership with a kickoff event Oct. 23 in St. Paul. The event will start a 16-week NASA Inclusive Innovation MashUp designed to connect participating entrepreneurs with industry professionals and business coaches who will help provide tools the firms need to launch new technology-based startups.
The October event will include a panel discussion and opportunities for chosen entrepreneurs to engage with mentors and instructors leading the program, including NASA inventors.
They are still planning the curriculum, but in the final phase of the program, teams will pitch their business concepts and investment readiness to a selection committee. There is no guarantee any funding will result, but winning teams will have the opportunity to pitch local and national investors. Runners-up will present to top accelerator and incubator programs.
“There is going to be a competitive element to it, but that’s not the main focus. The main focus is this is something that can help our ecosystem,” Paul Campbell said.
Already involved in efforts to build downtown St. Paul into an innovation hub resembling Silicon Valley in Northern California or Route 128 in Massachusetts, Paul Campbell has reached out to many Fortune 500 companies, civic and business organizations to inform them of the plans and see if they might be interested in doing business with potential tech companies that develop from this program.
“There are no guarantees,” he said. “This whole process is a discovery. But it provides new pathway, a new lane for entrepreneurs who are eager to figure out how to license technologies.”
Campbell and Schabes each have each have partners on the local, state and federal levels they would like to bring in to help the region with commercialization opportunities.
“What made both Silicon Valley and Route 128 corridor in Massachusetts, the MIT area and the Stanford area, was partnership and collaboration with the government,” Paul Campbell said. “We have an opportunity to create an inclusive ecosystem that draws all these talents.”