Company building businesses from Air Force ideas

Innovations that could change the future of technology, health care and safety are coming out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. And entrepreneurs are noticing.

From offices in Riverside and Virginia, about 34 SP Global Inc. staffers try to find the most promising technologies emerging from the base, attempting to transform them into commercial opportunities.

So far, so good, say the two executives leading that effort, Roger Mann, vice president-solutions for Chantilly, Va.-based SP Global, and Timothy Shaw, the company’s vice president-Midwest operations.

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Said Mann: “We’re genuinely all in for the economic development of this region.”

Both men have a background in government, with Shaw having served as an FBI special agent and Mann having served as a U.S. Navy submariner who was a weapons officer, a nuclear engineer and recipient of the Navy Achievement Award.

They bring that experience to SP Global when searching for ideas that can cross from military or first-responder development to civilian business.

Shaw cites SP’s relationships with local stakeholders like Dayton’s Entrepreneurs Center, the Wright Brothers Institute and others.

“All of those components working together are building and finding unique intellectual property,” Shaw said.

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Shaw says SP can take the right intellectual property and take it to revenue in 18 to 24 months.

An early SP investment has been Dayton start-up GlobalFlyte Inc., where Shaw serves as president and chief operations officer and Mann as chief executive. The company launched in 2015 and offers a suite of situational awareness tools and apps to keep police and first responders connected.

The city of Fairborn and the University of Cincinnati rely on GlobalFlyte tools.

In the Wright place 

Being based in the Dayton area, home to Wright-Patterson, doesn’t hurt SP. In fact, it’s exactly where the firm’s principals want to plant their flag, they say.

“We’ve been getting inquiries recently from capital firms,” Mann said. “I won’t name names …. but they said, ‘The reason we’re contacting you is because you’re not in Silicon Valley.’”

In other development hotbeds, there is often too much money chasing too few ideas, Mann said.

SP is more than Mann and Shaw, of course. The staff includes former Air Force pilots, a retired two-star general and others, all of whom are comfortable with military and defense work.

The Air Force encourages technology transfers to private companies where that makes sense, often relying on a non-profit outfit in Montana, called “Techlink,” to serve as a bridge between the Department of Defense and business.

In fiscal year 2018, Techlink facilitated 91 technology-transfer license agreements across the Department of Defense, including 48 for Air Force-borne technologies, 28 for the Navy innovations and 15 Army innovations.

“Where are the hotbeds of things like machine learning?” Mann said. GlobalFlyte uses machine learning through an agreement with the 711th Human Performance Wing — which is anchored at Wright-Patterson — to build an acoustic language and vocabulary model “that is better than anything that Silicon Valley has,” Mann said.

In health care, innovations like stabilized anti-bodies have a powerful Air Force Research Laboratory pedigree.

“That’s not coming out of anywhere else,” Mann said.

SP Global start-up saWyze is working on health care solutions, including wrist bands the company says can help doctors detect individual symptoms, especially in crowded and chaotic refugee camps.

Another SP Global company, CoreSyte, is developing a “sweat sensor” being tested by pro-athletes that provides information on how to best provide rehydration.

“If we look at a billion-dollar market, and we can get five to 10 percent of that, that’s a good company,” Shaw said.

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