From Inside Business
Hampton Roads entrepreneurs will soon have access to the tools and resources of small satellite data and NASA researchers through a new grant program.
The Virginia SmallSat Data Consortium was recently awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Virginia Research Investment Fund.
The consortium is a private-public partnership led by Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University with additional support from the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority and the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton. As a condition of the grant, the project has also secured an additional $1.8 million in funding.
Saikou Diallo, ODU project lead and a professor with the Virginia Modeling, Analysis & Simulation Center, said in an email that the program will create bridges between companies that capture and own small satellite data, stakeholders and problem-solving entrepreneurs.
“The program will provide tools and promote activities that will allow creative people to quickly identify critical problems that can be solved using data from smallsats,” Diallo said. “The ultimate goal is to create a framework where creative solvers can quickly access critical data, design solutions and bring them to market.”
For example, Diallo said a Virginia winery might be having trouble figuring out where to place fertilizer effectively. It needs a cheaper solution than sending employees out to the field. A startup might be able to lease satellite data of the area using the new program.
“Simultaneously, the startup posts a bid to the winery and agrees to build a visualization and analytic tool that the winery can use to create a strategy for laying fertilizer,” he said.
The program has a potential to help entrepreneurs and small businesses use resources in the space industry that might otherwise be too costly or inaccessible, said Lynn Seuffert, associate for research investment at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
“For a lot of startups and small companies who might want to use this data for other purposes, they have no idea how to navigate that and where to get into and who they need to contact,” Seuffert said. “Part of this proposal is to have one place were people can call and gain entry to these assets that Virginia has.”
For example, Seuffert said the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority has committed a launch slot for the program as part of the matching grant funds.
“That’s a huge incentive for their partners to come together and participate in this because, of course, launches are extremely expensive,” she said.
Explaining the nature of the public-private partnership, Diallo said a public-private advisory board will first identify critical needs that might be filled by entrepreneurs and small satellite data. Then, the program will “foster monthly encounters, competitions and workshops” to assist entrepreneurs in solving those problems and growing their businesses.
The Virginia Research Investment Fund was created by the General Assembly in 2016 as a way to support academic research to stimulate economic growth. The investment fund has $8 million in grants to award each year of the 2018-2020 biennial budget.
Before grants are awarded, the applicants undergo a peer review process to make sure they have a high probability of success, said Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education.
“We were satisfied that it (the Virginia SmallSat Data Consortium) had met those standards, and are excited about the potential that it has to bring together some of the best university researchers we have with venture capital and with businesses that might need some of this data to create new products to advance some economic development in the region,” Blake said.
Seuffert said investment fund committee members hope to announce an additional award at their October meeting.
From Inside Business
By Trevor Metcalfe
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