NASA Exec: Here's How We're Helping Startups
Anyone with an entrepreneurial itch may now have a way to scratch it, thanks to NASA.
The agency launched Startup NASA, a new program that gives startups access to 1,200 of its patented inventions for licensing with no upfront costs. The licenses will go to companies that are forming for the sole purpose of commercializing the technology, says NASA Tech Transfer Program exec Dan Lockney. It was launched to solve two common problems for startups: raising capital and securing intellectual property rights. The program has the potential to create at least 100 new companies this year, says Dan.
The portfolio of NASA inventions has 15 categories, ranging from materials and coatings to sensors, aeronautics technologies and instrumentation. If the company creates a product from one of the NASA inventions that generates sales within the first three years of obtaining the license, a 4.2% royalty fee is paid to the NASA inventor. The 4.2% came from an analysis of average running royalty rates from existing licenses, and a nod to a scene from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy when the supercomputer, above, calculates that the answer to life is 42. If, after three years, the company has yet to commercialize the licensed technology, a flat royalty fee is paid to the inventor. Another flat fee is paid after four years and then if the five-year mark is hit without any action, the license is terminated.
Dan says NASA has wanted a better way to reach high-growth, risk-taking entrepreneurs. The program was developed after conversations with accelerator programs, research parks and startup collaborative spaces. The feedback was that money is incredibly tight, which is why NASA is giving away the licenses (at least for the first three years). The agency also saw a trend in its business school programs: When students were asked what types of applications could result from some of NASA’s inventions, the students wrote business plans and then wanted to license the technology. Dan says he has no idea what’s to come, but he’s hoping to be as surprised as he was when a NASA rigidizing foam to create habitats on the Moon was licensed by a company that’s now using it to create short-term, biodegradable furniture. (Look out, IKEA.)