4 San Antonio Startups Win Air Force SBIR Contracts to Fund Innovation

By Iris Gonzalez
Olifant Medical team, from left: Dr. Steven Venticinque, (chief medical officer), Justin Rice (chief technical officer), Christopher Carroll (chief executive officer). Courtesy photo.

Four San Antonio technology companies have won an Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 contracts for $50,000. The businesses that received awards over the past several weeks are:

  • Olifant Medical, a startup commercializing a new airway device,
  • Hatchbed, a robotics research and development (R&D) engineering startup,
  • Inflow, a cybersecurity startup focused on national security, and
  • Elevate Systems, a product design and development company specializing in mechanical engineering services.

The highly competitive U.S. government program awards non-dilutive funding for companies to develop advanced tech innovation for the market. The R&D must have the potential for commercialization and meet an Air Force need.

San Antonio companies are starting to receive more awards from the Air Force’s new SBIR program. Denim Group, a cybersecurity company that developed a vulnerability resolution platform called ThreadFix and  Allosense, a startup company producing internet-of-things or IoT tracking devices, also won Air Force Phase 1 SBIR awards in December.

Read more: Geekdom Startup Allosense Wins Air Force Funding for Asset Trackers

These winning companies are eligible for up to $2.3 million in the SBIR program’s equity-free funding. While Phase 1 awards are for $50,000, companies may be awarded up to $2.3 million or more in Phase 2 and gain the ability to move to an unlimited number and value of contracts in Phase 3.

Only those granted a Phase 1 SBIR award (or a Direct to Phase II contract) are eligible for Phase 2 and 3 awards.

Sam Riehn, head of business development for Long Capture, which helps small businesses write successful SBIR proposals, explained how the Air Force SBIR program for its new innovation arm called AFWERX only started in 2017 with the first round of contracts announced in February 2019 so it “took a while to gain traction.”

“There’s been only four award rounds so far, and we had San Antonio companies Denim Group and Allosense win in round 3,” Riehn said. “Momentum is building with four San Antonio winners in round 4.”

Winning a highly competitive SBIR award is the reward for meeting stringent technical criteria in a company’s R&D approach. Phase 1’s $50,000 funds a company’s “customer discovery” over 90 days to find Air Force customers who need the technology.  With at least one signed agreement from potential customers in hand, the winner can then secure additional Phase 2 and Phase 3 funding.

A bonus feature: In Phase 2, the Air Force will match one dollar of SBIR funding to every one dollar raised in venture capital (VC) up to $1.5 million, and match 2 to 1 any federal customer funding.

Equity-free funding and SBIR validation will help Olifant Medical’s founder and anesthesiologist Dr. Steven Venticinque, who invented an airway device that is easier for healthcare providers to use.

“Airway management is one of the most stressful procedures for clinicians to do in both pre-hospital and in-hospital settings,” Venticinque said. “When you can introduce a ground-breaking leveraging advantage in a medical procedure that is stressful to perform, you will discover healthcare professionals will want to embrace it.”

Venticinque is confident Olifant Medical will be able to secure at least one, if not more, signed agreements over the next 90 days for its patent-pending airway device.

“When I tell them what our device does, every doctor I talk to—before I can even finish—chimes in with how they could have used this easier intubation device,” Venticinque said.

Applying for SBIR funding can be challenging, especially for first-time applicants unfamiliar with the stringent requirements.

Read more: 7 Tips on How to Win Non-Diluting Federal SBIR, STTR Grants

Hatchbed founder Kris Kozak won SBIR funding for his company to develop a means to robotically inspect tall antennae structures that are much too dangerous for humans.

“Sam [Riehn] gave us a lot of help in submitting our award application by helping us focus our expertise on an Air Force stated need,” said Kozak. “The Air Force and all military branches have a substantial need for our specialized robotics R&D expertise.”

For those interested in applying to the SBIR program, Riehn, who worked on all six (including Denim Group and Allosense) SBIR proposals, recommends first registering your company on the U.S. government’s system for award management at SAM.gov.

He also said to start securing letters of support from interested Air Force customers for the SBIR application because that process takes time.

“It helps to have a history of commercials sales and investments in your company because it demonstrates that you have experience commercializing solutions for the market,” Riehn added.

Instructions and topics for the next SBIR award round release May 6. The solicitation period opens June 3 and closes with the deadline for submission on July 2.

Featured image is of the Olifant Medical team. From left: Dr. Steven Venticinque (chief medical officer), Justin Rice (chief technical officer), Christopher Carroll (chief executive officer). Courtesy photo.

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