NASA offers cutting-edge tech to entrepreneurs

A commercial startup licensing program from NASA's Glenn Research Center is putting the organization's cutting-edge technology into the hands of private startups, including a portable device for use in the fitness market serving as the venture's first spin-off.
 
Startup NASA, offered by the space agency's technology transfer program, allows new companies to choose from a portfolio of 1,200 NASA-patented inventions in aeronautics, instrumentation, robotics and more. Startups are encouraged to apply the technology to products and services in the commercial marketplace.
 
In early April, Startup NASA signed a licensing agreement with AirFlare LLC of Nashville, Tenn., to produce Glenn-patented metabolic-analysis sensors originally designed for astronauts exercising during long missions. The mask-like device's earth-based applications include monitoring metabolic and cardiovascular data, which can then be transferred to a fitness enthusiast's exercise or diet regiment.
 
The agreement makes AirFlare the main source for the public to access NASA's tech in the fitness market, says Kim Dalgleish-Miller, chief of the agency's Technology Transfer Office. AirFlare owes no upfront fees, nor will the growing business have to give NASA minimum payments over the product's first three years. Once the company starts selling its product, NASA will collect a standard royalty fee.
 
"Startups can take that small amount of capital and plug it into the technology itself," says Dalgleish-Miller. "They can use that money to get their business going."
 
The NASA initiative is meant to help burgeoning companies address two major challenges; raising funding and securing intellectual property rights, Dalgleish-Miller says. Program patents are protected by the U.S. government and pre-vetted for viability, giving startups a boost without as many complications.
 
"Companies are getting their feet wet with a startup license," says Dalgleish-Miller. "They can work on the technology for a couple of years, and when they're ready for full-up commercialization, they can go and do that."
 
NASA has signed eight startup licenses since the program launched last October. Interested entrepreneurs can scope potential patents on the program website and download a sample licensing agreement. Ideally, more startups will transform NASA technology into robust economic and business opportunities, Dalgleish-Miller says.
 
"We have lots of smart people working here, so creativity and innovation is ongoing," she says. "Anything we can do to tap into that technology and improve the economy is very exciting." 

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.