Innovators with emerging technology at our nation’s top research universities pitched potential Department of Defense (DoD) and commercial investors at the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) Emerge Accelerator Showcase Day. The pitches included use cases for their companies, exploring opportunities for further collaboration.
The Showcase Day featured three stages for different dual-use technologies:
- Cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) analytics, and advanced materials.
- Energy and the environment.
- Health, first responders, and wireless communications sensors.
Some of the solutions presented included:
- A balloon administered via the esophagus to stop internal torso bleeding.
- An antimicrobial to fight skin infections that evades antibiotic resistance.
- A lithium-ion anode that’s immune to degradation from dendrite growth.
- Live-video activity monitoring with AI.
- Geothermal heat exchange with ordinary groundwater.
- A hybrid of AI and 5G technologies to maximize performance.
- A non-allergenic domestically produced substitute for latex.
“We have a mission to build networks of innovators and problem solvers to generate new solutions to national security problems,” said NSIN Acceleration Portfolio Director Abi Desjardins. “We believe that if we, the DoD, want to maintain resilience, leverage emerging tech, and solve problems differently, we need to incorporate new problem solvers. We recognize that there exists amazing talent and tech within our universities, and that we should make a much more deliberate effort to accelerate that tech and the individuals around that tech.”
Watch the NSIN Emerge Accelerator Showcase Day Playlist
Over the last quarter, the participating companies learned startup business fundamentals and tips for navigating federal contracts as part of the NSIN Emerge Accelerator program. The cohort programming included weekly meetings with mentors and coaches with expertise in federal contracting and startup creation and opportunities for the teams to share their experiences on topics such as preparing for prospective DoD partner visits to review the technology. In addition, the companies had coursework to refine marketing and communications materials for federal partners as well as networking opportunities with military and commercial investors to showcase their dual-use technologies.
Earlier this year, universities nominated more than 200 teams for the most recent NSIN Emerge cohort. After an intensive selection process, 42 teams from 17 universities were selected. The companies in the cohort worked on various technologies with significant government and national security applications, including energy and environmental tech, cybersecurity and analytics, digital optimization, healthtech, and communication and sensing in difficult environments.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about shiny new techs, it really is about the competition we are facing,” explained Dcode CEO Meagan Metzger about how university IP is essential for commercial technology. “Most of them [commercial technologies] start from really fantastic IP that’s coming out of our top universities. And there’s nothing more exciting than taking advantage of that IP and putting it into the most critical pressing problems that we have inside the DoD today.”
Here’s what some of the teams had to say about their experience in NSIN Emerge Accelerator:
“Overall, it’s [NSIN Emerge] a great program and I’m happy I had the opportunity to participate in it and learn from so many other people.” - AeroFlow
“I’ve done a lot of these pitch competitions over the years… the feedback that I got [from the program mentors] on several occasions was phenomenal because we never even considered a [military] angle. I really appreciate talking to them. I took copious notes that I can go back to try and take advantage of those conversations. I got that feedback from the mentors, ‘maybe that’s the focus you need to have for this particular arena, and ‘warfighters in training would improve their capacities by using this tech.’ We hadn’t even thought of those things.” - BreathForce
“I found the ability to actually give the pitch to multiple people from multiple perspectives and incorporate that critique extremely helpful. When I started pitching, there were all these things I thought that were incredibly important for you to know. Being able to change my pitch from 8minutes to 5min and I don’t think it’s lost anything. In addition, some of these meeting with mentors and this demo day will lead to significant federal involvement because people like our mentors will be able to raise us to higher levels.” - EnergyEne
“There were a number of things I knew I wanted to learn, and then a number that I didn’t know that I need to learn that have been really helpful. That’s probably one of the biggest benefits [of NSIN Emerge] because this [DoD] landscape is so vast. The coaching they provided on the pitch deck ‘hey, this is too generic’ or ‘hey, be more explicit.’ I’ve been through three different accelerators, and they’ve all been more focused on investors rather than customers. And so, this was a new lens for me. To think about it and use the government as a sample. I have found that really valuable… The last eight weeks has really highlighted what that kind of resource can bring and the importance of having that as well just given the complexities of navigating all this.” - Darcey Solutions
“It was a good experience. You start learning the different federal organizations and all the acronyms. Everything is quite opaque, so this was a good unveiling and introduction into federal for me. This is going to accelerate our formation of a company. I met some contacts I’m going to follow up with… and they’re interested in us. I’m not a business guy. I’m used to giving scientific talks for my career. And then the last couple years as we try to start a company, I’ve been learning how to pitch it. Now, I’m learning how to pitch it to potential customers. It’s been a good immersive experience for on-the-job training.” - Chemical Earmuffs
“I learned a lot about what I didn’t even know, [such as] creating the two-pager, a focused slide deck, thank you notes, emails, and follow-up communications to build relationships. I’m going to go after the SBIR [Small Business Innovation Research] funds harder than I was before. I was more leaning towards the venture capital direction, but it makes a lot more sense to get the product in the market proving itself and the SBIR allows you to do that. Instead of just proving it works, but actually proving it with an application. This program enabled us to meet potential customers, gain exposure, and the fact that we’re in this program gives us more credibility for future exposure. Stepping back and looking for little applications and SBIRs we can apply for. Just that idea from mentors to look at these little things and learn how to search for these applications has been incredible.” - empower Battery Tech
“One of the things that was really helpful for us was that it opened up a whole new avenue in terms of looking at the federal government as a customer and as a partner. I think most startups overlook that. You’re not really used to that and you don’t realize that it’s a huge segment of our economy and there’s some real value in partnerships there that you can draw from. Going through the curriculum, I learned the various stems and systems such as the federal government budget cycle, who are the program managers, who are the right people, how to go about getting a grant, how to pitch the federal gov, what are the issues in terms of IP sharing and licensing right and any risks of doing business with the gov. We’ve been a part of four or five accelerators before, and this was truly unique. All the others are your standard, it’s the same thing over and over, but NSIN was really unique in the sense that it just opened up a whole new aspect of the economy.” - SynCell BioTech
“Our pitch when we first started was very basic. The experience and what we learned helped us create a very effective two-pager and also present our message very easily to the DoD. We also had interactions with lots of DoD organizations… so we’re going to start meeting with them and we expect some interest there.” - e-skin Displays
“The program helped me because the DoD is just kind of such an overwhelming place to get involved with. Even through the curriculum, which helps, it can still be overwhelming. But, we were also able to identify use cases and make contact and develop some interest in understanding what the DoD might need out of tech. During pitch practices, mentor mentioned features of the tech that… emphasized a new approach and a new value prop they didn’t consider before.” - Hydrolyst
The National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) is a program of the U.S. Department of Defense that collaborates with major universities and the venture community to develop solutions that drive national security innovation. NSIN operates three portfolios of programs and services: National Service, Collaboration, and Acceleration. For more information, visit: nsin.mil. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about NSIN Emerge or the companies in the 2022 cohort.