Technology transfer -- taking technology and applying it in other places -- is a cornerstone of the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology's economic development efforts. With the collaboration of federal agencies, universities and industry, MSET's tech transfer program encourages and enables business startups to build on and adapt technology for new purposes.
At MSET, it's combined with a business incubator program at Stennis Space Center, to house and foster the development not only of the technology, but the business as well. And MSET's tech transfer has had its share of success stories:
NVision Solutions, based at the Stennis Technology Park in Bay St. Louis, provides information technology, software design and development, database design and engineering, and GIS and remote sensing services.
The company was formed in 2002 and tapped into the Mississippi Space Commerce Initiative, established by the state and NASA to foster the geospatial industry in support of NASA's commercial remote sensing program.
NVision began its operations in the MSET's incubator at Stennis Space Center.
Joel Lawhead, the chief information officer, said that a decade ago, NVision began building a software system based on NASA remote-sensing products. It evolved into NVision's Real-time Emergency Action Coordination Technology, or REACT, which uses GIS visual mapping and analysis in a web-based emergency management system that links an operations command center
by handheld units to those in the field during hurricanes and other emergencies.
The company received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from NASA to help develop the system. "We also received several NASA dual use contracts that require matching funds from a company or a partner. We were able to find a county or parish willing to invest in the technology. It allowed us to further develop the system and add different modules until it got very robust."
On a Mississippi state trade mission to France, NVision found a company in Toulouse to partner with for the hardware in its touch table system, a multi-user surface computer that responds to touch rather than traditional keyboard/mouse.
"The touch interface made a lot of sense, with decision makers working together in a group during a crisis. We thought it was a natural fit to have a big touch table using our software to work through a crisis. We started building those," Lawhead said. "It all started with the software funded by technology transfer, and we built up our customer base."
In 2009, NASA bought NVision's system and two touch tables and the software was used at all of its centers. Others were purchased by the Mississippi Department of Homeland Security Fusion Center and St. Tammany Parish, La., Emergency Operation Center. Users include the Mississippi National Guard and the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security.
If it hadn't been for technology transfer opportunities, Lawhead said, NVision would not have been able to come as far as it has.
"As a small business, absolutely not," he said. "With a start up, you're just trying to make it. You don't have any money for internal research and develop. It's a really powerful way for companies to develop innovative ideas."
WorldWinds Inc. uses models produced by federal agencies to predict ocean conditions and provides daily forecasts for mariners, fishermen, surfers and emergency responders.
Owner and CEO Elizabeth Valenti founded the company in 2000 at Stennis Space Center as part of the Mississippi Space Commerce Initiative (MSCI). It was one of the first MSCI companies to locate in the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology's facility known as the Mississippi Technology Transfer Center. Valenti previously worked as a NASA contractor for the commercial remote sensing program.
Three staff meteorologists pulled together weather data from government sources and integrated it into composite products for clients, including Baron Services of Huntsville, Ala., who have customers worldwide. The weather forecasts are available around the clock to marine users and emergency responders. Another early customer was the Commander, Naval Oceanography and Meteorology Command at Stennis Space Center.
The company also has worked with Louisiana's St. Tammany Parish to provide wind information to help predict oil spill movements following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A secondary line of business is forecasting and forensic analysis of hurricane storm surge.
"Technology transfer is 100 percent of what we do," said Valenti. "We transfer it to the commercial marketplace." Baron Services, for example, provides weather information to boaters and offshore interests who need real time weather data.
FEMA is another large client. WorldWinds' supercomputer is used to make flood maps of areas prone to flooding.
WorldWinds is developing products for television weather broadcasters through a Small Business Innovation Research project. Valenti said the new suite of products now being tested should be available in the fall.
A2Research is a joint venture between Alcyon, the majority partner, and Alutiiq and was formed three years ago for the NASA Laboratory Services contract at Stennis Space Center.
Employees of A2Research average over 15 years experience providing lab services for NASA, resident agencies, contractors and commercial companies including National Data Buoy Center, U.S. Geological Survey and the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology, which services thousands of items annually as part of its technology transfer program for industries in Mississippi and across the country.
Services provided include instrument calibration, environmental testing and material analysis. Instrument calibration, cleaning and repair services are conducted onsite in an 18,000-square-foot laboratory.
Program Manager Al Watkins reports 26,834 items pass through the lab each year. "The services we provide are extremely unique and include nuclear power companies in Arizona, Louisiana and Mississippi," he said.
One critical service provided by the laboratory is material analysis, if something goes wrong during testing of a rocket motor, "we try to figure out what went wrong," Watkins said.
"We bring a lot of commercial work to Stennis because of what we provide onsite." Environmental testing of the air, water and other natural resources is done "to make sure Stennis is not polluting anything here," Watkins said. "NASA is a good corporate neighbor for South Mississippi and is very cautious. We sample all over the site."
A2Research employees also administer the center's Wetland Mitigation Bank, control invasive species, manage wildlife, maintain the local weather station and help the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers manage the Stennis Space Center timber assets.
The laboratory staff has assisted Technology Transfer and is credited with solving technical problems that saved more than 200 jobs in Mississippi.
Recently, MSET began to increase emphasis of technology transfer in their existing programs. The first Lunch and Learn event featuring technologies available for license was held in January, where inventions developed by scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory's Stennis office were presented. These licensing opportunities are attracting interest across Mississippi. In July, a second such event will be held highlighting inventions developed by NASA scientists.
"The hope is that the right person or company will be in the room learning more about these technologies, which include new sensors and systems, models and software, processes and procedures. At some point, someone will say - I heard about a new technology that will solve that problem - and a new company or new business line will be created," said MSET President and CEO, Charlie Beasley.
He said that MSET's technology transfer program, a partnership between NASA and the state of Mississippi, recently received a renewal to operate at Stennis Space Center for another five years. Beasley also said that new programs and new relationships are being established to further support technology transfer. He said incubator space is available for entrepreneurs to work beside the companies and agencies at Stennis. "Good things lie ahead for those eager to utilize our state's technology transfer programs to build businesses and create jobs," he said. - Lisa Monti