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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

What these NASA tech awards teach us about innovation

NASA announced this week that it made $106 million in small business innovation awards to 129 companies

Technically, it is 142 awards to 129 companies. The largest award under the Phase II Small Business Innovation Research program is for $750,000.

The dollar amount isn’t huge but the technologies are pretty cool: solar panels, robotics, new coatings and materials, batteries and a wide range of sensors.


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But as I looked at the companies winning awards, I was struck by the geographic diversity. NASA touts that the awards are going to companies across 28 states and Washington, D.C.

Not surprisingly, California leads the way with 32 awards, followed by Colorado with 20. Virginia is third with 11. California has Silicon Valley and major research universities. Colorado has the Air Force, NORAD and Space Command. And Virginia has the Pentagon and the rest of the federal government at its doorstep.

But what’s in Belgrade, Montana: where Anasphere Inc. won a contract for a “low-cost mixed phase cloud characterization sensor suite,” whatever that is?

Belgrade is about 10 miles west of Bozeman, Montana and has a population of under 7,400.

Another company in a small town is Great Lakes Sound & Vibrations Inc., which is developing a technology to simulate soundwaves for virtual spaces. They are in Houghton, Michigan, in the state’s Upper Peninsula. The town gets over 200 inches of snow, but they love it and are considered a “Winter City” because they celebrate all that snow.

There are other companies in places like Conroe, Texas; Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Palmetto, Florida.

I could go on but here’s my point: California and Silicon Valley are definitely hot beds of technology development, but as a long-time industry analyst told me few years ago: “You fly over a lot of great tech companies on your way to California.”

This NASA list is a great example that innovation is happening in a lot of places. You just have to know to look, and maybe bring some long underwear.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on May 17, 2019 at 8:50 AM

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