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Tech Student Wins NASA Funding To Launch Start-Up

Tech Student Wins NASA Award To Launch Start-Up

SOCORRO, N.M. – Tech grad student Phillip Clift is one of 15 winners of the Space Race Startup Challenge, which allows him to commercialize a NASA invention.

Clift and the other winning entrepreneurs were selected based on their 10-page business plans, financial models, and 20-minute “live pitches” to a panel of expert judges. Each winning team in the competition receives $2,500 and will be guided through incorporation and NASA licensing with support from the Center for Advancing Innovation. Winning teams move on to the third and final phase of the challenge, in which they will compete for up to $1.2 million in seed funding for their new companies.

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Philip Clift

Master's student in Materials Engineering

Clift said he was interested in two different NASA inventions, but eventually settled on the solid oxide fuel cell IP because it seemed to present more options for commercialization. His start-up company is called Petra Power, LLC.

“We hope to become a major player,” Clift said. “We want to be able to compete in manufacturing these fuel cells in large quantities.

He said the potential market is greatest for residential customers and the transportation sector.

The fuel cell will function much like a battery – with an anode, a cathode and an electrolyte membrane. The cell will be about the size of a mini CD and when stacked with other cells the system will be capable of powering electronic devices and systems. These small and scalable modules will have a higher energy density than other fuel cells currently available – thanks to the NASA developed technology, Clift said.

His ceramic system relies on ionic conduction for  power generation. Furthermore, the system produces no toxic byproducts.

Clift has partnered with Aaron Goodman, a Ph.D. student at Princeton, Dr. Alberto Correa, a professor of entrepreneurship at UTEP and the CEO of the International Association for Entrepreneurship, Dr. Stephen Sofie from Montana State Univeristy, and Dr. Arash Mousavi of the Mechanical Engineering Department here at NMT.

The Space Race is a first-of-its-kind global initiative, which was formed by the Center for Advancing Innovation in partnership with NASA to encourage the use of federally-funded technologies by startup companies.

From a pool of more than 300 aspiring entrepreneurs with expertise in engineering, business, and law, 37 multidisciplinary teams were selected to write business plans in Phase 2 of the Space Race startup challenge. A new NASA program rewards tech companies for building machines destined for Earth orbit, Mars missions — or even beyond. Dubbed "Startup NASA," the new program will make it easier for young companies to commercialize NASA technology by helping them with their cash flow and securing intellectual property.

The other winning teams are from Texas Tech, University of Texas-El Paso, Carnegie Mellon, University of Guelph (Canada), Northern Illinois, Johns Hopkins, University of Rochester, Universidad Tecnologico de Ciudad Juarez (Mexico), M.I.T., UCLA, and the University of Chicago.

In Phase 3, the finalists will be tasked with incorporation and licensing NASA technologies. Startups will receive continued guidance from CAI and available support from NASA technical personnel. The Space Race features 11 risk-mitigated inventions, conceived and developed by seven NASA field centers.

All teams in Phase 2 were offered a rigorous accelerator training and mentorship program for the duration of the challenge. The Space Race was overseen by Daniel Lockney, Technology Transfer Program Executive at NASA, and by Rosemarie Truman, Founder of CAI.

"The Space Race Startup Challenge has provided NASA with the unique opportunity to engage with bright minds and entrepreneurs from around the country and assist them in forming new companies to commercialize NASA technology. We’re very excited to continue our relationships with these high-energy startups and help guide them through the finish line of successful commercialization," said David Makufka, manager of the Technology Transfer and Partnerships at NASA Kennedy Space Center.

Rosemarie Truman, CAI Founder, added, “The SPACE RACE challenge is a timely and promising response to the recent Presidential Memorandum, which addresses the need to focus on establishing policies concerning climate change. We are enthusiastic about the impact these winning teams, focusing on renewable energy and other innovative technologies, will make as a result of this challenge.” 

The Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI) is a global public-private partnership, non-profit focused on creating a virtuous circle of innovation and driving growth breakthroughs through novel, creative paradigms and models. Through its previous "challenges," CAI has launched 58 startups and trained more than 2,000 entrepreneurs. For additional information about CAI, please visit http://www.thecenterforadvancinginnovation.org.

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The Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI) is a global public-private partnership, non-profit focused on creating a virtuous circle of innovation and driving growth breakthroughs through novel, creative paradigms and models. CAI's mission is to accelerate and increase the volume of research commercialization in support of high growth business to ignite entrepreneurship, bolster the global economy, and maximize the commercial and knowledge-based potential of promising inventions. Through its NIH-sponsored Breast Cancer Startup Challenge, Neuro Startup Challenge, and Nanotechnology Startup Challenge in Cancer competitions, as well as its NASA-sponsored Space Race, CAI has launched 58 startups and trained more than 2,000 entrepreneurs. For additional information about CAI, please visit http://www.thecenterforadvancinginnovation.org.