NASA’s T2U Program Takes Flight at Virginia Tech


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NASA researchers are constantly working on the cutting edge of technical development, striving to address the challenges of tomorrow, today. Many of these discoveries have been identified as “commercially viable” by NASA’s Technology Transfer Office (T2). In effort to realize the full potential of such innovations, the Tech Transfer Office looks for ways to bring the invention out of the lab and put it into the hands of companies and entrepreneurs.

NASA’s Technology Transfer University (T2U) program takes this idea one step further, bringing NASA-developed technologies into colleges and universities for academic application. T2U is an important asset to NASA’s new Technology Transfer Expansion (T2X) program. With the help of higher education faculty and students, T2X accelerates commercialization through identification of potential use cases and target markets while students have the opportunity to engage in real-world, hands-on studies.

In the fall of 2020, T2X representatives connected with professors at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business to discuss incorporating NASA-developed technology into the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Experiential Module of their Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) course. This EMBA course, taught by Mr. Jeff Johnson, MBA, David Townsend, Ph.D., and Richard A. Hunt, Ph.D., was designed for business professionals to complete while working full-time jobs.

The instructors worked with the members of the T2X Program, and the Tech Transfer Office at the NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC), to put together a hands-on T2U pilot program for the EMBA students. Rather than go the traditional route in which students review the entire NASA patent portfolio, a short list of technologies based on the experiences of the participants was selected for this program.

Three technologies from KSC were evaluated: Layered Composite Insulation for Extreme Conditions (LCX), Feedthrough for Severe Environments and Temperatures., and Farming in Space. A series of technologies developed to grow plants in microgravity. KSC inventors associated with the chosen technologies, Jacob Torres, Trent Smith, and Adam Swanger, answered technical questions for the class and engaged in active discussion around their innovations.

The result? A distinctively interactive T2U program. Each of the groups found a way to take technologies that were developed to serve a specific space-based purpose, and re-imagine them to solve Earth-based challenges; from advanced residential insulation and customizable feedthrough technologies to live wall growing systems for boutique hotels.

“One of the things that I love most about my job is the opportunity to take the technologies I develop in the lab and help others find a way to use them in their business. Participating in the Virginia Tech T2U program gave me the chance to see firsthand the potential of NASA-developed technologies in the hands of forward-thinking individuals. It was an honor to be a part of this program!” said Jacob Torres, Technical & Horticultural Scientist.

The three small student groups operated like three lean startup companies, applying technical information from the NASA inventors to the data they gathered from rigorous market research, customer interviews and competitive analyses, to put together meticulously composed business plan pitch decks. At the end of the semester the teams delivered their pitch presentations to a panel of professors and NASA T2X personnel.

“The inclusion of NASA-developed technologies allowed us to take the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Experiential Module of the EMBA program to a new level of applied learning. Working with the inventors offered students the chance to gain valuable technical insights, which informed their approach to conducting customer discovery and devising commercial applications for the technologies. These students gained invaluable perspective into the way early-stage innovations make their way into the commercial marketplace. We look forward to continuing to build on this momentum through future work together.” said Jeff Johnson, MBA Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation Experiential.

While this program was focused on graduate level business students, the T2U program is open to university and college students at all levels, in any discipline.

Congratulations to the 2020 Virginia Tech T2U Student Groups!

ALL-Insulation (Jacklin Segler, Pat Sutphin, & Christopher Gaines)

Team Feedthrough (Kate Brennan, Jeanmarie Gallagher, Evan Slee, & Mark Taylor)

AQUA ENTRÉE (Stephanie Mages, Randy Wood, Jonathan Wendland)

To learn more about T2U visit our website.

For additional information about T2X or T2U, please contact Christie Funk at christie.j.funk@nasa.gov