Inaugural Cohort Pitches to Audience of 100 Investors and Weather Experts
Written by Lora Premo
Catalyst Accelerator held their very first Demo Day on Monday, April 16, 2018 at the Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation, the exciting climax to 12 weeks of hard work for the inaugural cohort of six companies hand-selected for the program last year by Space Capital Colorado, a Catalyst-endowed accelerator fund.
The Harvey House event center was packed with 100 government and corporate strategic investors, weather experts, venture capitalists and angel investors who held on to every word as each company in the cohort cleanly and persuasively pitched their disruptive technology for about seven minutes.
Catalyst Accelerator Director Dr. Rebecca Decker launched the event with a brief introduction to the Catalyst Accelerator program. After explaining that it was a unique public/private collaboration, she went on to say that Dr. Tom George, CEO of SaraniaSat, had truly captured the spirit of this program in a recent interview when he said, “Catalyst Accelerator is a completely different environment. Maybe it’s the spirit of Colorado, but I found the spirit of the Catalyst Accelerator is to help rather than take undue advantage of the companies. The Catalyst Accelerator’s more humane approach is to nurture companies rather than make a buck off them.”
Dr. Decker then went on to introduce an invaluable partner, 1st Lt Jacob Singleton, Program Manager for the Center for Rapid Innovation, Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV). His remarks covered the ambitious move the Air Force is making towards more agile practices and more rapid development of technologies – “Ladies and gentlemen, I am here today to tell you that those mountains are moving!” – but those remarks did not even begin to cover the value of his assistance to the cohort, who praised his advice and help highly throughout the program.
It is no surprise that the presentations that came next went smoothly, since ‘Pitch Practice’ was a dominant feature of the latter part of the accelerator curriculum. With the help of many experts, each company honed and then re-honed their pitch to perfection, practicing and then reworking their pitch over and over as the advice of experts poured in. Compelling data sheets were created as handouts and the slide presentations that accompanied each pitch were designed with expert assistance. Thanks to all this preparation, the attention of the audience never wavered as each innovative technology was presented.
First up was Dr. Tom George, CEO of SaraniaSat and a former NASA scientist, who pitched an advanced remote sensing technology that is so unusual, SaraniaSat was recently written up in VentureBeat as a ‘Unicorn’ with a unique solution. Using satellites, drones and aircraft, SaraniaSat acquires high-temporal and high-spatial resolution, hyperspectral imagery of vast areas that they then process rapidly so that clients may receive early warning of remotely-detected changes among numerous customized data points. Currently under contract in the agricultural industry, which uses remote sensing to protect and optimize many square miles of crops, SaraniaSat sees many other potential applications for their unique technology, including use by the military.
The next founder to speak was Amin Djamshidpour, CEO of Koolock, Inc., a geospatial company providing satellite thermal imagery to monitor weather-related events and natural hazards. The company’s tagline is dramatically simple and speaks for itself: “Hourly Thermal Imaging of the Entire Earth.” Amin explained how a gap in the currently available data proved to be an opportunity for his technology, and how he has gone on to work with the Air Force to identify their priorities for the missing information that Koolock can provide. Another issue Koolock solves nicely is the high cost of this type of data, as well as providing proprietary data that does not derive from other global systems, which are often not under the control of the United States.
Aaron Buckner, Vice President and Chief Engineer of Guidestar Optical Systems, then presented Guidestar’s advanced optical solutions for forecasting, monitoring and compensating for optical turbulence. After explaining that a simple example of optical turbulence is the mirage of ‘heat waves’ shimmering near the ground on a warm day, Aaron went on to discuss how military commanders currently have no source of information about optical turbulence. Directed energy laser weapons are in development, and a hindrance to their deployment is optical turbulence, which obstructs the ability to optimally plan, deploy and utilize laser weapon platforms to protect people and assets. Space situational awareness systems – which help keep spacecraft and satellites safe – also struggle with optical turbulence issues that Guidestar can resolve with real-time data. The current intense interest in both directed energy laser weapons and space situational awareness means that Guidestar is offering very timely solutions to some highly-anticipated problems.
Next up was Ben Tarr, Director of Strategy for Advanced Radar Company, who discussed Aregn, a modular open-architecture solution that enables customers to affordably integrate sensor data from multiple manufacturers to produce enhanced weather information for use in nowcasting. Aregn performs real-time, multi-sensor weather data processing, visualization and product distribution by ingesting and normalizing data feeds from multiple weather sensor platforms via adapter modules, then distributing various weather information products in standard formats, with analysis visualization tools for meteorologists and researchers. This proven software already has over 20 international customers in addition to those stateside, so the company’s traction, as Ben explained, is already very deep. Despite being open source, it is a tested, secured, maintained software product with continual improvements and updates based on customer needs that, according to Ben, the Air Force should be able to take advantage of quite easily.
The next presenter, Robert Lancaster, CEO of Adaptive Systems LLC, started off by stating, “We are solving the problem of saving lives in general aviation” as well as helping air staffing officers with mission execution and the refinement of air tasking cycles for the Air Force. “96% of all aviation accidents occur in general aviation,” according to Robert, and among those accidents, “weather is the most lethal factor.” His Aviation Weather Intelligence and Assessment System (AWIAS) is a completely unique disruptive technology, providing autonomous support for weather effects for flight situational awareness, fine-scale monitoring of flight routes, and the ability to correlate terrestrial weather information against flight performance and objectives to provide recommended courses of action. AWIAS offers a continuous mitigation process, managing and calculating myriad data points in real-time and allowing the pilot to focus on flying. To cap off the excitement surrounding this technology, additional research has revealed it to be a strong fit for the Air Force as well, representing the next generation of flight management systems.
Demo Day presentations concluded with Brandon Tripp, COO of Aerolynk (formerly XplotraX), who discussed the LynkMod, a sensor-agnostic platform that solves remote tracking and communication problems anywhere in the world. With global data coverage, self-sustaining power, encryption and the ability to work with any sensor, the LynkMod runs on solar with battery backup, can accommodate any sensor, has internal GPS, and can send the data securely anywhere using Iridium Short Burst Data, with no need for cell coverage. Envisioned use cases include oil and gas fail safe switching and status tracking, as well as secure DoD communications and asset and personnel tracking in remote locations. Ultimately, they can be dropped and left anywhere in the world and still be trusted to operate.
Once the presentations were over, many thanks were offered to the mentors and sponsors who were instrumental to the success of Catalyst’s Terrestrial Weather Accelerator. The reception that followed gave the many investors in the audience plenty of time to chat with the founders; if the noise level at the reception was any guide, some very interesting and informative talks were being conducted.
When asked “Did you feel participating in the accelerator was helpful to your company?” Dr. Troy Rhoadarmer, Founder and Principal Scientist of Guidestar Optical Systems, replied, “Oh, heck, yeah! The Accelerator has been a tremendous opportunity for us and has provided many benefits. From the business management and marketing workshops to being introduced to a network of excellent people and resources as well as potential new customers, the Accelerator has helped us make connections that are creating new opportunities for our company to grow.”