Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator's latest class announced partnerships with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Maxar Technologies and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) North America, among others, at Wednesday's long-awaited showcase. It was the culmination of months of focused and sometimes grueling remote work.
The program aims to help companies achieve several years of commercial growth within three months, with mentorship from the accelerator's partners, including the U.S. Air Force, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Lockheed Martin, Israel Aerospace Industries North American (IAI), SAIC and Maxar Technology.
The class of 10 companies come from Los Angeles, Toronto, Poland and states across the U.S. Among them is a company that provides a user-friendly AR/VR platform for use in education and training, a developer of an advanced AI system for data scientists as well as an air contamination and quality monitoring system.
"This is cutting edge development, and we need it for space exploration," said Tom Cwik, who manages the space technology office at JPL.
Because of the pandemic, Wednesday's Demo Day was held over YouTube, rather than in-person at the California Science Center. "It's kind of like the first day of the rest of your life," said the program's managing director Matt Kozlov.
Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator - Demo Day 2020 (Updated) www.youtube.com
Here are some of today's key announcements:
Prewitt Ridge Partners with JPL
Los Angeles-based Prewitt Ridge co-founder and CEO Steve Massey joined forces with his co-founder, Zeke Brechtel, both formerly with SpaceX to build an integrated software platform that aims to remove data duplication, lower the likelihood of error and let companies work faster.
Prewitt Ridge announced that JPL will be its first major external user in the aerospace and robotics space, which is a target market for the company. Massey said the company has been able to gain a deeper understanding of JPL's needs, approaches and challenges through the accelerator program. The company will help with a small research and development project, building the robotic arm for the lunar lander payload — which helps deploy equipment onto the moon's surface.
Urban Sky's Stratospheric Balloon Gets PreSeed Investment
In less than a year, Urban Sky co-founder and CEO Andrew Antonio said the company has "designed, built and flown the first-ever reusable high altitude balloon and collected sample aerial imagery from the stratosphere."
Its microballoon is reusable and reduces the cost of high-resolution remote sensing and weather-related data capture from its stratospheric vantage point.
Antonio announced that Urban Sky oversubscribed its pre-seed round with investments from New Stack, L.A.-based VC firm TenOneTen, Catapult and Techstars. The company also won a $250,000 cash grant from the state of Colorado as a top startup in the state and a small business innovation research contract from JPL to further develop its tech for wildlife monitoring applications. Antonio also said that Maxar has stated its interest in partnering with Urban Sky as an imaging subcontractor. Lastly, Atonio announced the company's first commercial customer and partner, Arturo, to conduct its one-year imaging pilot program over Colorado.
vRotors Gets a Slew of Partnerships
L.A.-based vRotors, which provides a platform that aims to make it easier to control a remote robotic device from a PC, Mac, mobile phone or VR headset, from anywhere in the world.
Co-founder and CEO Neil Malhotra announced vRotors' first partnerships with Dish Network to help with remote tower inspections; with Maxar Technologies to do real-time, high-resolution 3-D map applications; and Honeywell to do remote supervision of its autonomous air taxi fleets. vRotors is also working with IAI to automate the landing process for their next moon mission.
Lux Semiconductors Gets Federal Backing
Co-founder and CEO Shane McMahon announced that Lux, which has developed a flexible silicon wafer to help miniaturize electronics, has raised more than $200 million from major federal agencies including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense.
The company has been collaborating with Oak Ridge National Laboratory on technical matters and is also working on several cooperative research agreements with strategic defense agencies focused on advanced microelectronics. McMahon said the company has received support from five of the top aerospace and defense firms and is partnering with two of them on "joint proposals to embed our electronics into their systems."
Bifrost Will Generate Martian Landscape
Charles Wong, the CEO and co-founder of Bifrost, which helps AI developers generate labelled datasets faster, announced Wednesday that it will be working with JPL to generate synthetic Martian terrain with the aim of helping to achieve the dream of safely landing a helicopter on Mars. Wong said the company is also in talks with Rolls Royce to enable new capabilities in aerospace.
Holos Will Bring Its Virtual Reality Training to the Air Force, IAI
The Madison, Wisconsin-based company Holos aims to "give people agency over the virtual experience" so that they can create immersive education and training environments without having to outsource to a firm.
The company received a $750,000 small business innovation grant from the U.S. Air Force to work on developing a virtual maintenance and repair training system for the F-35 out of Southern California's Edwards Air Force base. It's also contracted to develop a prototype to integrate the command and control of space, air and cyber assets for the U.S. Air Force. Holos also announced that it will be working with IAI to explore developing a next generation multi-domain command and control system powered through AR and VR that can be used for training.
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Techstars announced its second class of Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator on Monday, a mentorship-driven accelerator based in Los Angeles that aims to help build the next generation of space technology companies.
The class of 10 companies come from Los Angeles, Toronto, Singapore, Poland and states across the U.S. Among them is a company that provides a user-friendly AR/VR platform for use in education and training, a developer of an advanced AI system for data scientists; and an air contamination and quality monitoring system.
Due to COVID-19, the program is being run virtually this year. The accelerator's program partners include the U.S. Air Force, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, Israel Aerospace Industries North America, SAIC and Maxar Technology.
The partner agencies helped select the companies to participate in the program. Each partner agency will provide 10 to 30 mentors, usually executive level or officers from the commercial, civil and military worlds to provide guidance, contacts and help bring the early-stage company to maturity, said Matt Kozlov, the program's managing director.
"Our partners are looking for ways they can work closely not just as a mentor, but to get a commercial agreement, pilot, grant or contracts in place with the startup," Kozlov said.
While roughly half the mentors come from agency partners, the remaining half will be from the broader space and technology industry, including those with SpaceX and Relativity.
The program's predicate is helping companies achieve several years of commercial growth in three months.
Kozlov said most of the companies come in beyond the prototype stage and are about as far along in development as a company in its early commercial days.
More than half of this new class are made up of white men. Kozlov didn't specify the exact number, but said the program needed to do better.
"It's never enough," Kozlov said. "The aerospace and defense sector in particular has struggled. It has been an industry famously dominated by mostly white men. We strive for diversity of background and gender and race and geography as well. We continue to struggle and continue to strive for improvements. At the end of the day, we are not satisfied right now with how we're doing. We need to do better."
The accelerator runs for three months and its demo day is scheduled for Sept. 9.
Per Techstars, here are the 10 companies:
- Bifrost, which lets you build AI 10x faster by allowing AI developers to generate labelled datasets.
- Holos, which provides a user-friendly AR/VR software platform that's revolutionizing education, training, and military command and control.
- Infinite Composites Technologies, which aims to make the most efficient composite pressure vessels and structures in the universe.
- Lux Semiconductors, which is developing next generation System-on-Foil flexible electronics.
- Natural Intelligence Systems, which is developing advanced AI systems that provide deeper insight and allows data scientists to focus on results instead of data prep.
- Prewitt Ridge is developing engineering augmentation software to help engineers design and build complex engineering systems.
- SATIM Inc., which is a fintech company providing insights on risks related to critical, linear infrastructure.
- Urban Sky, which provides a stratospheric remote sensing vehicle, the Microballoon, delivers the lowest cost, highest resolution Earth Observation data available.
- vRotors, which brings telerobotics to everyone: remotely control any partner robot or drone in the world from your PC or VR headset.
- WeavAir, which offers the most accurate platform for monitoring air contamination, air quality and mechanical system failure using a combination of networked sensor modules and predictive algorithms.
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