NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate Technology Transfer Expansion (T2X) program inspires commercialization through entrepreneurship and partnerships to launch NASA technology-derived startups.
Jeff Johnson, Executive Director of the Tech Center Research Park in Newport News, VA, is working with NASA T2X to lead an exciting pilot commercialization program. The launch of the Tech Center Research Park Accelerator Network pilot Program (TCRP ANP) is connecting leading-edge NASA-developed technology with underrepresented entrepreneurs to turn hypothesized ideas into sound tech-based business concepts.
To launch the program, Mr. Johnson curated a lean teaching team including Dr. Oliver Jones, Professor of Business and Entrepreneurship at Hampton University, and M. von Nkosi, Founder of the Institute for Local Innovations (ILI). With diverse yet complementary experiences, perspectives, and networks, the team focused on recruiting a cohort of passionate entrepreneurs to evaluate the potential for NASA technologies to solve global challenges. Creating a collaborative environment and bringing in the right people were key to making this bold idea work.
In August 2021, The TCRP ANP kicked off with an intensive boot camp week, convening an inclusive cohort of highly skilled university student and alumni entrepreneurs from around the country at the Tech Center Research Park. The development of this program prioritized collaboration with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), intentional community creation, and passion-led projects to inspire long-term investment from the participants and the instructors. Mr. Johnson explained, “We made strategic decisions around creating this community that involved bringing the group together in a safe way (per CDC guidelines). This cohort is moving the NASA technology forward by finding the intersection of technology, purpose, and passion.”
Three pillars emerged during the kickoff week: Collaborative communication, organic community building, and spontaneous ideation. Unique experiences and perspectives led to the formation of well-balanced teams around a problem-solution fit, and lean startup groups emerged with passion, purpose, and NASA technology to make it a reality. TCRP ANP participant Loubao Kraka remarked, “We [Dr. Clifford Latty and I] chose to work on greywater recycling because our homelands on the Ivory Coast of West Africa and Jamaica struggle with access to clean water. We want to use these water treatment technologies to recycle greywater and increase access to clean water.”
During the kickoff week, the teaching team delivered high-impact lectures in the mornings, followed by collaborative group work in the afternoons and evenings. Guest lectures from members of the Hampton Roads community enhanced the participants’ experiences by providing diverse perspectives and knowledge to help them shape business models and prepare for potential future business opportunities. TCRP ANP participants are now continuing in the program from their homes with weekly online lectures, group work, and mentoring throughout the fall months.
“From day one, the community building that was taking place was evident. As we continue to craft collaborative engagements around entrepreneurship and commercialization, we are privileged to be a part of this effort that drives the commercialization of federal lab technologies, supports connectivity across the country, and reaches traditionally underrepresented entrepreneurs who are invested in solving critical global challenges.” Said Christie Funk, NASA T2X program manager.
What has begun here is special and unique, but not singular. There is space to bring programs of this type into communities across the country, and ultimately, develop sustainable pipelines to accelerate commercialization, launch high-tech, high-growth businesses, and solve the world’s greatest challenges. The Tech Center Research Park Accelerator Network Program is making great strides to do just that.