Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Interview: Julie Holland, NASA Commercialization Center
Julie Holland is the director and founder of the NASA Commercialization Center at Cal State University Pomona. I spoke with Julie to understand what the center's purpose is, and how it is helping to incubate new companies.
BK: What's the NASA Commercialization center, and what is its purpose in life?
JH: The NASA Commercialization Center is a business incubation program that includes physical facilities and services. Its purpose is to provide support and infrastructure for technology companies that are developing NASA funded technology.
BK: When was the center founded, and what services does it now offer?
JH: The NASA Commercialization Center opened in August 1998 in interim headquarters on the Cal Poly Pomona campus. Today it resides in a 52,000 square foot complex called the Center for Training, Technology, and Incubation that is the entrepreneurial anchor for Innovation Village, a 65-acre technology park being developed by campus. The NASA Commercialization Center is operated by the organization AccelTech, through which client companies access a range of services individually or as part of a program being piloted by NASA to improve the commercialization rate of NASA Phase II companies. AccelTech produces workshops and business services around business development issues. For example, AccelTech is launching a Market Entry Series which will help companies strategize and prepare to close their first sales. Through the NASA pilot program, companies have received funding assistance for flight tests to validate technology performance, legal assistance for licensing negotiations, and successful introductions to NASA missions.
BK: What kind of technologies have been commercialized by the center so far, or are in progress?
JH: By commercialization standards this is still an early stage program as many technologies are still in development or approaching first applications. Some technologies that are closer to application usually with a beta test of some time include a femtotrace level sensor for compounds, RF MEMS wireless technology for industrial use, flow characterization flow sensors, and GPS wireless technology with broad applicability in transportation.
BK: Are all of your client companies NASA spinoffs, or do they also include companies that provide technology aimed at NASA use?
JH: The clients of the NASA Commercialization program are all companies that have funding for research/development directly from NASA or are licensing technologies from NASA. However, The operating organization, AccelTech, accepts clients commercializing other novel technologies. We will invest in the best opportunities we can find.
BK: Are your services open to non NASA-affiliated companies looking for business incubation services?
JH: Yes, technology companies of all types and stages may rent incubation space, attend workshops and receive business services.
BK: Why the location in Pomona?
JH: The NASA Commercialization Center and AccelTech are projects of Cal Poly Pomona thus are located on its campus. We are a part of the broader 65-acre technology park, Innovation Village, currently being developed by campus.
BK: From your experience with early stage companies, what is the most difficult part of getting a technology startup off the ground?
JH: From my experience, technology entrepreneurs have difficulty integrating their technology development with the business case -- they need to develop the business model at the same time that they are developing the technology. The companies often look like a captive R&D house. Management does not properly anticipate resources for marketing and business development, thus our motivation for focusing our workshops and services around these issues.
BK: Finally, what is the biggest benefit companies at your center find in your business incubation program?
JH: Companies housed at AccelTech find the most benefit from having access to Cal Poly faculty expertise and student labor. They also enjoy the high quality, specialized space with wet labs, manufacturing facilities, and office space, where the incubation program assumes the risk of build out. Planning for a bright future, the companies that grow out of the incubator have opportunities to expand and move into space in Innovation Village.
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