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In Partnership with the NASA SBIR Ignite Catalyst Program.

For more information and to apply for the program, visit their website.

The NASA SBIR Ignite Catalyst Program is designed to help founders at any stage learn more about and prepare to apply for SBIR Ignite funding.  

Between now and May 15, founders new to NASA and those in later startup stages can apply to join key events and a digital community that will prepare them to participate in the SBIR Ignite program while building their NASA networks and knowledge.

All applicants (who can attend the events in person or virtually) can join general admission sessions, including expert panel discussions and networking events. Ten applicants at each event will be selected to talk about their technology one-on-one at the event with NASA subject matter experts, venture investors, government officials, regulatory experts, and communications and marketing strategists.


What is the SBIR Ignite Catalyst Program?

It’s a program designed to help founders and entrepreneurs strengthen their opportunity for SBIR Ignite funding. It includes two key pillars to do this, building their space startup ecosystem connections, knowledge, and resources through inclusion in:   

  • A Space Startup Ecosystem Digital Community
  • NASA Networking Events 

NASA is now taking applications through May 15 for founders and entrepreneurs to join this program. The program includes an automatic invitation to join the Space Startup Ecosystem Digital Community and to participate in general admission for two upcoming NASA in-person networking events.

It also includes an opportunity to be one of 10 applicants ultimately chosen at each event to interface one-on-one with NASA subject matter experts during these events. 

Who should apply to the program? 

The program is built for founders and entrepreneurs who have worked with NASA or are “New to NASA.” This can range from new founders with an inception-stage idea to more established founders with seed or Series round funding. It includes those already working on space applications, as well as those who have “non-space” tech with a potential space application that needs further exploration/development. 

What does the SBIR Ignite Catalyst Program application process require and how long does it take?

The application process is simple, and shouldn’t take more than an hour or two to complete. Information required is similar to what would normally be included in an investor deck. 

What are the events and what will they be like?

All applicants to the SBIR Ignite Catalyst Program will automatically receive general admission to attend an in-person expert panel discussion on the day’s core topic and join general networking activities throughout the day. These general admission activities (also available online) are designed to:

  • Strengthen the space startup founder community
  • Facilitate space ecosystem networking opportunities
  • Provide key industry insights from subject matter experts

Additionally, 10 companies at each event will be selected to participate in a series of one-on-one discussion sessions about their technology with NASA subject matter experts, venture capital representatives, government officials, regulatory experts, and communications and marketing professionals. This dialogue will focus in part on providing coaching and advice to increase the alignment of founder technology with SBIR Ignite requisites.   

The NASA Hybrid Electric Power for Drones Event, June 15    |     2023 AIAA Aviation Forum / San Diego, CA 

With growing demand for sustainable aviation, the need is urgent to develop primary power plants that can deliver high performance while minimizing environmental impact. This event is geared to founders with technology that can potentially fuel the next avionic evolution!

The NASA Low Earth Orbit Economies Event, June 29   |   Culver City, CA

Creating a robust LEO economy depends on bringing many new businesses and people to space, and creating technology that allows us to stay there. This event will focus on founders building affordable LEO transportation, lunar mining/mineral processing, in-space manufacturing, and active debris removal. 

How do I join the Digital Community and what do I get?

All applicants will receive an invitation to join the Digital Community. Run by NASA partner H4XLabs, which fosters the growth of deep tech founders and startups, the Digital Community will give applicants the real-time opportunity to: 

  • Connect with likeminded founders 
  • Learn from subject matter experts 
  • Identify key industry resources
  • Join exclusive digital learning opportunities

Can I get the interview transcript?

Sure thing! Here it is:

>> Maria Varmazis: Today, you're going to hear from Dr. Quenton Bonds about NASA's SBIR Ignite Catalyst Program. Applications are only open until May 15th. So, listen in and visit space.n2k.com/nasa to learn more. Here's our conversation.

>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: Well, I'm Dr. Quenton Bonds. I am the lead for NASA's SBIR STTR Ignite Program.

>> Maria Varmazis: What we wanted to really dive into today is the Ignite Program. So, from a really high level, can we start with- So, what is it? [laughter]

>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: One thing I want to kind of distinguish is that we have SBIR Ignite and then we have our mainline SBIR solicitation. Our mainline SBIR solicitation is awesome. However, we wanted to try something different with IBIR Ignite. We wanted to get into that experimentation mentality. That's where, you know, entrepreneurship is going. So, us in the space industry, we should do the same thing.

So, we kind of heard from a lot of our stakeholders. When I'm saying stakeholders, I'm talking about applicants, PIs, even Congress. Everyone who is somewhat familiar with SBIR, and they talked about some things they would like to see, and one of those things was they wanted things to be a little bit more commercialization focused. They want to transition more. What a transition is, going from being funded by NASA or another government agency to actually be infused into a mission, research, flight project, or be used by the United States or another country terrestrial. Like how can we take these technologies and help firms to get more customers, get more government agencies to invest in them or buy into them, or even get private funding investment.

So we've done several different things with Ignite and made our topics more commercialization focused. And so, last year, what we did- Not only did we take topics from NASA scientists and engineers, but we brought in commercialization experts, business experts. We brought in people that have their pulse on entrepreneurship and technology to help us refine the topics such that they will be commercialization focused.

>> Maria Varmazis: It sounds like a really interesting accelerator program in a way.

>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: You're exactly right. One of the things that I wanted to quickly highlight- talk about why it's this important. A lot of times when people or and firms develop technologies for NASA, they develop what we call like a one-off. They develop a technology that could be used.

So, I developed microwave instruments. One of my instruments that I really enjoyed working on was- was Sweet Sar [phonetic]. It measures snow [inaudible]. Okay, so how much water will a snow peg make? Out west it affects the water supply. It eventually affects climate.

So, let's say I was a entrepreneur and I was developing this instrument to measure snow for NASA. Okay? Once I develop it for NASA's specific applications, I don't have a lot of, what we call, terrestrial customers, customers here on Earth, to pretty much purchase my instrument. So, we said okay. Let's do some research on these topics and figure out is there a commercial market. And it- In particular, is there commercial space or aerospace market? Because one of the outcomes that we want from Ignite, we want NASA to invest, and once NASA invests, we're hoping that other investors come in and invest, or firms get other customers from other government agency or even large companies like your Boeings, your Lockheeds, your Raytheons, and one those firms get more customers, we start to stimulate those commercial space and aerospace markets.

It's a huge payoff because now NASA, large companies, other government agencies, we have more firms to choose from. Our nation has more technology to choose from. In addition, we have more tax dollars flowing. We have more people in the job market as particularly in the space and technology arena. So, it's a real big win payoff with regards to this. And so we wanted to use Ignite, try to do some experimentation to figure out what could we learn from a commercialization focused solicitation that we can apply to our main lines solicitation.

So, some of the other feedback that we were getting is that, you know, NASA keeps funding the same companies, right? So, we said okay. How could we do something that's new to NASA, new to SBIR? How could we find firms that's new to us? And so that's why we're doing this podcast. We did a bunch of "Ask Me Anything" sessions.

Firms may be dev- developing technology terrestrially that may have implications, though, that can be applied in space. And so, we're doing a Catalyst community building events leading up to the Ignite solicitation, which is going to be around August 1st. That's when the Ignite solicitation is going to be released.

The Catalyst events, you don't win an award, but you get benefit because if you are selected to participate in the Catalyst events, you'll get in front of NASA subject matter experts. You'll also get in front of potential investors, people that have their pulse on commercialization.

Even if you're not selected, we're doing- At those Catalyst events, we're doing a morning session. We're going to help with the pitches. How do you tell your story? Kind of like an accelerator for Deep Tech space innovation.

Did that answer your question? I know I- I'm kind of all over the place here.

>> Maria Varmazis: To me, the question that I'm trying to understand is who should be applying to this program, and why would they be applying and-?

>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: That's why I mentioned the morning sessions that we plan to do in the in-person Catalyst events because we set those programmings up through H4XLabs Ellen Chang, and we set those things up because we knew that firms that may be new to NASA or new to a plan to space opportunities. So, we're actually providing infrastructure to help these new NASA firms through our Catalyst events that we're doing leading up to Ignite.

What firms should really do is when the solicitation comes out for the Catalyst events and for Expert Ignite, really look at the solicitation. See what our subject matter experts are asking for, and figure out if you could develop a Deep Tech technology. When I say Deep Tech, you know, hardcore research and development. That can meet that need.

It doesn't matter that you're not currently working in the space industry. It doesn't matter that you're not currently developing technology for space. It still may be able to be applied to space as long as you can kind of solve the problems that's asked for in that solicitation.

>> Maria Varmazis: What do you envision as a successful outcome for this program? Like when you look back maybe in a year or two, what would be like a success story for you?

>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: You know, before I hit on that success story, one of the things that I wanted to encourage firms to do is that I know a lot of you don't typically work in the space industry, or you've never developed a space technology. Still consider participating in these Catalyst events because you never know what you can do. You never know what capabilities that you have. But to answer your question, like what is a success, right?

So, this is a pilot. So, we have a limited number of awards, meaning that, for example, our main line solicitation has, I think, 86 or 89 topics, and I think they award like 150 phase ones. We're only going to give six topics, and we haven't figured out how many phase ones we're going to award. But last year we awarded 12, and we'll probably award about the same amount this year. But that's over six topics, right? We're still figuring that out.

But what a success would be, for me, is that several things would happen. Number one, we get some really good quality applications in response to all of these different topics, such that my topic authors come back to me. That's my NASA subject matter experts in these areas coming back to and say hey. I have so many great firms, but I don't have enough awards, right? We need more budget. Even though you all SBIR Ignite have a budget, these firms are so great that we want to come and put on our own budget to help this phase one, this type of thing. So, that's one.

Another win that I would like to see happen, I would like for the firms to be very commercialization focused. I want to be clear in that Ignite is not a grant. This is a contract, and I say that because we want transition. We want to actually use your technology in our missions, our research, and our flight projects. Even our test [inaudible] right? So, we want to use the technology, and we want you, as the firms, to get more investors or more investment or additional commercial customers. Leverage our phase one technology to get more customers, more investment, or buy in or customers from other government agencies. So, I want our firms to start thinking about that early.

Another things that's different about Ignite is that if you're awarded a phase one, your phase two is due 120 days within your phase one.

So, NASA can't do a direct to phase two. However, that's kind of about as close as we can get. So, we accelerate everything. Not only do we look for these commercialization focused firms, we accelerate the technology development, which helps firms get more investors. They don't have to wait six months. The typical period of performance for a phase one is six months. For SBIR it's I think a year for STTR, but they don't typically have to wait, reapply, and figure out are they going to get to phase two. We accelerate everything.

Another thing that I'm going to hint at is that if firms get a phase one, for SBIR Ignite, we budget for substantially higher award waiting for phase two. So, for phase two, you're not really competing against your other cohort. You're making sure that you meet the need of that NASA subject matter expert, and you're looking at what have you done in regards to commercialization. Have you found other customers? Have you got other investment? How have you leveraged our award to get more funding? Because remember, at the beginning of the podcast, I talked about how the idea behind NASA investing kind of certifies the firm or validates the firm. Then we look for other investment or other customers. We stimulate the whole commercial space and aerospace economy type of thing.

Another win that I really would like to see happen, I really want us to work with more diverse partners. Okay? We looked at our awards last year, and we plotted, you know, how many from underserved groups, and we set some goals this year to say okay. These groups, and we kind of compared it to the census or to the population, right? We said okay. This is the percentage of, you know, Hispanics, African Americans. Both of those demographics are, I would say with regards to applications, not really participating as much as other demographics, according to their population, right? So, we set some goals to target these communities. We want everybody to apply, but especially these underserved communities. We want you all to apply as well. So, a win would be, for me, would just to have the demographics of awardees similar to the U.S. population.

>> Maria Varmazis: That is a great goal because that's not the current state of this base economy right now. Before we wrap up, is there anything else that maybe we didn't cover that you'd like to address about the Ignite program?

>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: One of the things that I really wanted to get into is how does the Ignite program really help us terrestrially, right? I saw another one of your podcasts. I think you had somebody on there and they was like for the good of Earth, right?

And so, we have several topics that we're doing in Ignite that really have implications to help us as a nation or really help the entire Earth. But I think I mentioned that one of NASA's goals that people don't know about- Everybody knows about we want to go to the moon and we want to go to Mars. Everybody knows about the goal of expanding human knowledge through scientific discoveries. But one of our other goals is to address national challenges and catalyze economic group. And so some of the topics that we've chosen do just that.

So, a lot of you all have heard of space junk, right? So, we called that active debris remediation, okay? So, we're going to run topics. We're strongly considering running topics in Catalyst in active debris remediation and active debris tracking.

Why is that important? So, the cell phones that you use today, you can use them basically because of space technology, right? And those satellites, if it gets too congested up there, you know, it could affect our communications, and it could affect the advancement of technology. And so we need to figure out, you know, how to remove or how to have a amicable or politically correct way to move space debris. And it gets tricky, right? Because what if you take an asset down that's still working? What if you remove someone else's asset? However, if it gets too congested, we can't send more technologies up.

I think I read recently that the costs to get something in low orbit 10-15 years ago was like $10,000 per kilogram. Now it's like $3000 or $2500 per kilogram. That enables so many different scientific experimentation discoveries. I mean, schools. You know, high schools are sending up into the International Space Station. People are doing all types of experiments.

From an entrepreneur's standpoint and perspective, there are various satellite technologies, in my opinion, that will be made accessible to entrepreneurs as to whether they're D-Tech or Deep Space or not. That type of active remediation, people may think, well, it doesn't affect me. But it does.

Another topic that we have is hybrid electric aircraft, right? So, we want to reduce the carbon footprint. We want to use aircraft, and it's so many derivative technologies under hybrid electric aircrafts, like fuel sales, clean energy, clean power system. So many implications here on Earth that may shape even our automobile industry. That may help shape our automobile industry because a lot of people know that batteries is one of the biggest challenges that so many electric car manufacturers face, right?

>> Maria Varmazis: Oh yeah.

>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: You know, right. We need these hybrid electric technologies, right?

We have another topic in space manufacturing. I wanted to highlight because people think okay. How does in space manufacturing, you know, how does that relate to me on Earth? So, I don't know if you all remember, but there was a chip shortage a few years ago. Do you remember that? And that chip shortage was partly because we, as America, we became so dependent upon other countries, right?

In space, we need to develop electrical components, chips. The in-space manufacturing component has so many implications because things work- They can do a lot more testing, the crystals, the purities of the crystals when you manufacture them, or when you start analyzing them and testing them in space, it's like you're in a vacuum. So, you can get higher yields, and you can kind of do a lot better research of these same semiconductor crystals and chips in space that will allow you to develop better technologies here on Earth. Helping us not to be so dependent upon China and other countries for chips.

I can go on and on about the different technologies and how they can help us here. So, we've got another one saying your decision support tools for climate resilience, where we're trying to use decision support tools to help mitigate wildfires and floods. Clear implications here on Earth, right? But who's going to invest in these technologies, right? So, these are the types of things that were doing at SBIR Ignite.

>> Maria Varmazis: I hope lots of people listening are going I've got an idea for that. I've got technology for that, and I can apply to that. The application period is open now through May 15th. Is that correct?

>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: May 15th. And if you look on your website and H4XLab's website, there is a link and you can see the topics that we plan to present through Catalyst within the near future. I know we threw a lot at you really quickly, but you can see there and you can kind of get more insights into some of the things that I'm saying.

>> Maria Varmazis: Thank you so much for walking me through this and for giving me a really great dive into what the program and who we're looking for and what kind of amazing opportunities are there. So, I wish everybody all the best of luck in the application process, and I'm sure we're going to be hearing really fantastic stories and outcomes from this program. Dr. Quenton Bonds, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.