Greenbelt, Maryland -- In 2021, MTI Systems won a $150,000 Air Force Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I award and a $450,000 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase III award for its technology “ORBs through Multidomain 5G Network Connectivity.” In addition, MTI pitched another technology - FlowAgility, a proactive network controller for robust communications - at the Air Force Nuclear Weapon Center Pitch Day for SBIR Direct to Phase II and won $1.5 million. The Academic Partnership Engagement program, or APEX, provided MTI Systems free SBIR/STTR proposal navigation and consulting services that ultimately helped the company achieve selection of these awards, respectively.
According to MTI Systems Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Colleen McGraw, their recent slew of SBIR/STTR funding successes are due to the help they received from the APEX program, which is a Department of the Air Force partnership intermediary program. APEX provides free SBIR/STTR process navigation services, such as team matchmaking and proposal consulting, to small businesses and academic researchers with technologies and/or scientific capabilities that have the potential to advance U.S. national security interests.
McGraw, who was a NASA engineer for 18 years before she founded MTI Systems, saw a need for a complex communication systems technology that could work with small infrastructure, which led her company to innovate a network intelligence controller device and related software that can seamlessly integrate different data streams, utilize them efficiently and apply machine learning to make decisions autonomously. MTI System’s primary customers are NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA Glenn Research Center. The company also has contracts with Google, Facebook, and Telesat, along with other big satellite providers.
“On the commercial side, the communication systems technology was pretty advanced with artificial intelligence, machine learning and data manipulation but, their solutions were heavily tied to big infrastructure that wasn't applicable to somebody in the field, or a small device. We also saw the need for robust and reliable communications through multiple data links which allows for no fail communications systems. That led us to develop an autonomous and predictive network intelligence controller technology which could be applied to many different use cases.” said McGraw.
MTI Systems submitted its STTR Phase I proposal in partnership with The Ohio State University. While the STTR proposal was focused on modeling and simulation, the SBIR Direct to Phase II proposal is focused on the control device.
When noting how she started her innovative venture, McGraw said, “At NASA, I designed and built flight hardware and worked my way up through the ranks. Looking for further growth, I took a leap of faith and started MTI systems, and it's really been very eye-opening in terms of everything I’ve learned that I could never have learned staying within the government for an entire career.”
While participating in Agility Prime and before submitting her STTR Phase I proposal, McGraw met APEX STTR Program Director Dave Nestic who oversees APEX’s Process Navigation Services that are free of charge to academic and industry researchers seeking Air Force funding of their innovations. Nestic and the APEX team helped MTI Systems with structuring and presenting their STTR proposal.
“We had all the technical content, and we knew that there was a need for FlowAgility, but from the STTR and commercialization side, we needed guidance. Dave and his team gave us great comments on our initial set of charts and asked pointed questions about the technology so that the proposal would read clear to the reviewer. We took those comments and tweaked the package that eventually led us to winning the award,” said McGraw.
McGraw attributes MTI System’s success to her team of experts who possess a combined 50 years’ experience in science and technology innovation, across government and private sectors. She also is grateful for opportunities provided by AFWERX that support small businesses like hers to make vital connections across the DoD and Air Force science and technology ecosystem and compete for various awards throughout the year.
“These connections open new doors for future small business success,” said McGraw.
Today, MTI Systems is expanding their service portfolio to include products.
When asked about her goals for her company, McGraw said, “I think our future is very bright. We will continue to leverage the awards that we've been given, work with the commercialization experts we have made connections with and get our breakthrough product out in the market.”
About the Academic Partnership Engagement Experiment (APEX)
APEX builds partnerships between industry and academia to advance Air Force technology innovation and development. APEX is established via a Department of the Air Force Partnership Intermediary.
About MTI Systems
MTI Systems is a woman-owned communication systems small business, headquartered in Greenbelt, Maryland and has an office in Cleveland, Ohio. The MTI Systems team of experts possess over 50 years of experience in cutting-edge networking research and development at NASA, Google, IETF, and others.