COLUMBUS, Ohio – In September 2020, necoTech won an AFWERX Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) $500,000 Phase II contract for their advanced asphalt repair technology to enhance Department of Defense (DoD) infrastructure uptime, response and durability. The U.S. Air Force Academic Partnership Engagement Experiment (APEX) program managed by Parallax Advanced Research provided STTR consulting to necoTech, helping the start-up get selected for the highly competitive awards-based program that enables small businesses to explore technology potential within the defense arena.
necoTech is a Delaware, Ohio-based start-up with origins in the necoPlastics brand. necoPlastics was part of Founder and CEO Steve Flaherty’s entrepreneurial MBA project that sought to reduce plastic waste around the world by utilizing a plastic aggregate product in road repairs in the industrial infrastructure sector. The initial necoPlastics product was a Synthetic Lightweight Aggregate (SLA) – an asphalt aggregate made with recycled plastic. Later, SLA was transitioned to a recycled plastic resin. After necoTech incorporated in 2019, the company focused on asphalt and concrete aggregates.
necoTech’s award winning technology saw increased demand from the industrial sector in 2018 with the enactment of the Chinese National Sword Policy that banned the import of most plastics and resulted in a plastics crisis that caused the U.S. to urgently seek alternative ways to recycle its plastic waste.
“What was once an option for companies to recycle plastics, quickly became a requirement in order to thrive,” said Flaherty.
In early 2020, a conversation at Delaware Entrepreneurial Center Ohio Wesleyan University led Flaherty to TechLink which is a Department of Defense (DoD) Partnership Intermediary program that helps innovation-minded businesses and entrepreneurs identify, evaluate and license technology developed within the Department and Veteran Affairs labs nationwide.
“Until that point, we thought about the military market, but it was perceived as highly bureaucratic with lots of red-tape and not for small company engagement,” said Flaherty. “We thought of the defense market as a long-term goal, so it wasn’t our focus until we learned from TechLink that we can serve the defense market.”
With TechLink’s assistance, the necoTech team licensed an asphalt aggregate and hot patch system from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The system compliments necoTech’s recycled plastic aggregate and was revamped by the company and resulted in HOTPOD - a system for the rapid heating of hot mix asphalt material to be used as a patch repair for asphalt and concrete pavements in all ambient temperatures and environments.
In mid-January 2020, Flaherty learned about AFWERX – a U.S. Air Force-led program with the mission to expand technology, talent and transition partnerships for rapid and affordable commercial and military capability. About a month later, with Tech Link’s approval, necoTech submitted the U.S. Army technology to AFWERX STTR 20.A. The asphalt patch system patents include equipment, material and testing the performance in Phase II.
Cross-sector partnerships involving academia, industry and government are required by the U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and STTR program. necoTech’s research institute partner for their AFWERX STTR proposal is the Delaware Entrepreneurial Center at Ohio Wesleyan University where the company is headquartered today. The University provides necoTech with research while the Center provides corporate and marketing guidance.
While attending a 20.A AFWERX Union meeting for Phase I award winners, Flaherty learned about the APEX program from a fellow entrepreneur - CEO Kyle Gillis of Iconic Air, based in West Virginia. Gillis was already working with APEX to navigate his company through the proposal and execution stages for his Phase I and Phase II AFWERX proposals. APEX’s process navigation services provide entrepreneurial and academic researchers support during their pursuit for SBIR and STTR awards. APEX has the mission to help innovators build teams via the APEX team matchmaking service and navigate the solicitation process through APEX consulting cohorts and workshop webinars. APEX services are provided free of charge as part of its agreement with Parallax Advanced Research, an applied scientific research and development organization in Dayton, Ohio.
During the middle of an AFWERX Agility Prime STTR solicitation, Flaherty called APEX for help with his Phase II STTR proposal. During the conversation with APEX’s STTR Program Director Dave Nestic, Flaherty discovered he lives a mile from Nestic in Lewis Center, Ohio.
“It was someone from a different state, a different sector, a different industry who introduced me to my neighbor,” said Flaherty.
During the eleventh-hour stretch to proposal submission, necoTech was able to reach the finish line by leveraging APEX process navigation consultants.
“APEX provided every consultant they had on the subject who provided us the answers as fast as possible,” said Flaherty.
The APEX process navigation team is comprised of entrepreneurs, engineers and business executives who have extensive experience with the DoD and other agency SBIR/STTR pursuits and project execution.
“I think the subject of my email was “Urgent! Help Needed” and APEX successfully delivered that help. There are so many unknowns in that last phase of the process… that expert guidance at critical hours… the quality and success of our proposal may not have been there if I had ventured on my own. It was APEX that helped necoTech see how our innovation fits in the military and DoD industry.”
Since winning their initial Phase II award, necoTech has won an additional two AFWERX Phase I SBIR and STTR awards, respectively. The APEX program and Parallax Advanced Research helped the startup with those award proposal submissions as well.
About Parallax Advanced Research
Parallax Advanced Research is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Parallax tackles challenges by accelerating innovation; developing technology and solutions through strategic partnerships with government, industry and academia across the State of Ohio and the Nation. By building intelligent teams—composed of humans, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, and other complex entities—Parallax is where everything comes together. Together with academia, Parallax accelerates innovation that leads to new breakthroughs. Together with government, Parallax tackles critical global challenges and delivers new solutions. Together with industry, Parallax develops groundbreaking ideas and speeds them to market./p>
About the Academic Partnership Engagement Experiment
APEX builds partnerships between industry and academia to advance U.S. Air Force technology innovation and development. APEX is established via a U.S. Air Force Partnership Intermediary that is managed by Parallax Advanced Research.
necoTech is a Delaware, Ohio-based start-up with origins in the necoPlastics brand. necoTech incorporated in 2019, and the start-up focuses on asphalt and concrete aggregates.