krtkl inc., a San-Francisco-based technology company, won a $50,000 Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and a $150,000 Phase I Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) contract with the U.S. Air Force to develop a high-bandwidth space mesh routing platform and 3D computer-vision technology for use in advanced manufacturing, respectively. The Phase I STTR award will be executed in collaboration with the University of Texas at Arlington. In addition, krtkl inc. won a $250,000 Phase I and a $1.5 million Phase II SBIR contract with the U.S. Army for its robotic combat vehicle sustainment program that uses sensor fusion to facilitate predictive and preventative maintenance on automated systems. Krtkl inc. also won a $250,000 Phase I award with the U.S. Space Force and a $750,000 award Phase II award with the U.S. Air Force. The Academic Partnership Engagement Experiment (APEX) provided the team with matchmaking and process navigation consulting services that aided in the small business’ wins.
When krtkl launched in 2014, it exclusively sold its products and services to the industrial automation and robotics industries. In 2020, krtkl CEO Ryan Cousins looked for ways to expand the company's client base and, in doing so, discovered the Air Force SBIR/STTR program and the Department of Defense (DoD) funding opportunities that offer low-to-no-cost assistance resources available to small businesses.
It was also around this time that Cousins found out about APEX’s services. APEX team matchmaking connected krtkl to the University of Texas at Arlington and other small businesses, like VISIMO, that helped krtkl fill its technology gaps and made krtkl’s proposal submissions stronger.
“Our focus was on embedded systems and edge computing. While we have a proven track record of working with customers on specific applications of our technology and building commercial offerings around our products, we needed a mechanism for filling wider technology gaps and delivering more complete solutions. APEX team matchmaking helped us find partners with complementary capabilities that allow us to solve bigger problems. Just going out into the ether and finding a partner is not easy. APEX’s team matchmaking service required some very basic information that gave a quick snapshot of our company and got us connected to the right industry and academic partners,” said Cousins.
In addition to the APEX team matchmaking service, krtkl also utilized APEX’s process navigation consulting service, which provides support to entrepreneurial and academic researchers during their pursuit of Department of the Air Force SBIR/STTR funding, from pre-proposal to post-award.
“For the Air Force SBIR that we won, we received very useful coaching on the structure of our proposal, how to make key areas stand out, and how to ensure our messaging was concise and resonated with Air Force reviewers. Through these consultations, we were also assisted with early-stage customer discovery and understanding of the overall structure of the DoD and the Air Force. This helped us make important connections across various government agencies and strengthened our proposals,” said Cousins.
According to Cousins, the combination of APEX process navigation and team matchmaking services can make a significant difference for innovators who want to tap into non-dilutive federal funding to propel their businesses. He recommends accessing and leveraging highly effective resources like APEX to understand the DoD structure and processes and find other small businesses and research institutions to collaborate with.
“It's amazing the ecosystem that's out there and the resources that are available to small business owners. I strongly recommend teaming both with other small businesses and research institutions, as well as defense primes, making those earlier connections and research, and leveraging the available free resources. You'd be amazed at how useful and effective resources like APEX can be, which provide free assistance and guidance from highly experienced consultants who've been in my shoes, running small businesses that have won SBIR/STTR awards from various federal agencies,” said Cousins.
From not getting any business with the government at the beginning of 2021, krtkl went on to win SBIR and STTR contracts with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Space Force, and two SBIR contracts with the U.S Army by the second half of 2021.
Today, krtkl is focused on developing application-specific solutions using their technology as well as developing new intellectual property and retaining its ownership. In the immediate future, they intend to aggressively pursue more SBIR and STTR opportunities, particularly within the DoD, as well as work with defense prime contractors. Once their current technology is fully funded and developed, they would like to branch back out to the commercial sector.
“Our company's background is really centered around commercialization, so figuring out how we can leverage DoD dollars to bring defense-specific solutions to commercial applications, and vice versa, is our long-term vision,” said Cousins.
To date, the APEX Process Navigation Team has assisted with over $46million across 223 Department of the Air Force SBIR/STTR awards, resulting in research and development efforts from 118 organizations nationwide. Of those awards, 131 are STTRs and contain 50+ research institutes across the United States as partners. APEX’s process navigation service helped to transition 55 Phase I awards into Phase II awards. Additionally, more than 750 introductions have been facilitated via the APEX team matchmaking service, which creates collaborations between academia and industry nationwide.
If you are an academic or industry innovator with promising ideas or intellectual property that you'd like to commercialize, are interested in collaborating with other innovators across the Nation on research projects, or you need assistance and/or academic or industry partners in pursuit of U.S. Air Force funding, then we want to hear from you! Contact APEX at Contact the Academic Partnership Engagement Experiment (apex-innovates.org)
About Academic Partnership Engagement Experiment (APEX)
APEX cultivates innovation by expanding the American research enterprise for the Department of the Air Force by engaging, connecting, and enabling innovators across academia, industry, and the Department of Defense. utilizes data analytics to identify transformational operational defense solutions in academia, industry, and government sectors; provides process navigation services for academic teams and small businesses and enhances cross-sector engagement by providing direct connections to the technology needs of multiple Department of Defense programs.