Tech, talent and culture: Why Dayton entrepreneurs never stop innovating

Gem City innovation didn’t end with the Wright brothers or John H. Patterson.

Improvements coming from Dayton didn’t end with the airplane, the cash register or the pop-top can.

Even a cursory look around the region shows new ground ambitiously broken by companies and organizations large and small, new and old, and by the military with its partners.

“I think there are three things that the Dayton region has,” said Scott Koorndyk, president of the Entrepreneurs Center (EC) in Dayton. “We have technology, we have talent and we have culture.”

The University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI), recognized for its work with materials and sensors, and an array of private companies call the area home, as does Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, with the Air Force Research Laboratory, which is headquartered at Wright-Patterson.

A lot of the Air Force’s research and science work are anchored at Wright-Patt, and much of that makes its way to commercial applications. In fact, 40% of the EC’s technology portfolio involves technologies or companies that originated with the Air Force, Koorndyk said.

“There is this technology availability that makes our region very unique,” he said.

These efforts continue a legacy of innovation that has been part of Dayton’s DNA for more than a century. Perhaps most famous for the invention of piloted, powered flight, this area has produced forward-looking minds who brought the cash register, the car engine starter, the parachute, the ice cube tray, the bar code and even Cheez-Its into existence.

Among those innovators has been the Dayton Daily News, which was first published on Aug. 22, 1898 and has been chronicling progress in Dayton since. To recognize the 125th anniversary of the Dayton Daily News, we’re spending this week telling stories of the city, its history, our history and the future of both the region and the news organization that has been there marking milestones since the late 1800s.

An important part of that coverage has been focused on breakthroughs Dayton has brought to the world. They continue today.

‘The future of flight is still being invented in Dayton’

Based in Evendale, but with about 1,400 employees in Dayton, Beavercreek and Vandalia, GE Aerospace has been testing the potential of hybrid electric flight, harnessing electric power as either a boost or an alternative to internal combustion. As in automobiles, the idea is to improve the overall efficiency of the aircraft’s propulsion.

GE has multiple programs underway to develop technologies to make such propulsion possible. NASA recently selected GE to develop an integrated, megawatt (MW)-class hybrid electric propulsion system as part of the Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstration (EPFD) program.

That’s where the GE EPISCenter — the company’s Electrical Power Integrated Systems Center on River Park Drive on the University of Dayton campus — comes in.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

The components and electrical system of the EPFD hybrid electric powertrain will be tested in Dayton at the EPISCenter before ground and flight tests in the middle of this decade.

“The future of flight is still being invented in Dayton,” said Chelsey Levingston, a spokeswoman for GE Aerospace.

“The EPISCenter is really a gem,” said Christine Andrews, GE Aerospace hybrid electric system executive leader. “We’re never not testing at the EPISCenter.”

EPFD advancement calls for ground and flight tests of the hybrid system this decade, working with Boeing, using a modified Saab 340B aircraft and GE’s CT7 engines.

NASA also has awarded GE Aerospace a contract for the Turbofan Engine Power Extraction Demonstration under the Hybrid Thermally Efficient Core (HyTEC) project.

Essentially, GE is testing hybrid electric components in Dayton for both the EPFD and HyTEC programs.

GE anticipates increased demand for hybrid electric aircraft engine component testing in coming years.

That’s why, in May, the company announced plans to invest up to $20 million to add a new test cell and equipment at the EPISCenter.

Hybrid propulsion was on the radar back in 2013 when GE built the EPISCenter. But the technology has become only more important since.

“I think it’s a huge asset,” Andrews said. “I have been to a number of other testing sites. And nothing really compares to the EPISCenter. ... The demand is really much stronger than the foresight we had in 2013.”

Andrews sees what she calls an “aviation belt” around the Dayton area — a collection of small start-ups, established companies and Wright-Patterson, all acting as a “huge hub for aviation as well as innovation.”

The military-commercial nexus is important. The military also has its eyes on hybrid power and related technologies, said Joe Krisciunas, GE Aerospace president and general manager of electrical power systems.

In fact, military imperatives often act as “enablers” for advances in commercial technology, he said.

“It’s the same underlying technology,” Krisciunas said. “In some cases, it’s formed first for military applications. And in some cases, we take things that are available commercially, and we apply them back toward the military.

“So it’s a two-way street — and it’s enabled right in the Dayton region.”

Aeroseal: ‘Sometimes things just work out’

How does an already profitable, medium-sized Miamisburg company land a hefty $67 million investment from a venture fund backed by Bill Gates?

Ask Amit Gupta, chief executive of Aeroseal, whose business this summer managed to do just that.

“Sometimes things just work out without planning,” Gupta said.

With its system to reduce residential energy leaks, Aeroseal in July announced that it is receiving $67 million in a Series B funding round led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Climate Investment.

Breakthrough is backed by Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire now focusing on philanthropy.

“The company’s solution will make it easier to electrify both new and existing buildings by significantly reducing HVAC demand and mitigating wasted energy from conventional heating and cooling systems,” said Carmichael Roberts, who co-leads Breakthrough Energy Ventures’ investment committee.

The company says its technology zeroes in on leaks by pressurizing ductwork or a building itself to carry a non-toxic, water-based sealant formula to any leak point.

Gupta bought Aeroseal when it was a division of air conditioning company Carrier, moving the business in 2011 to the Dayton area. In 2019, the company moved from Centerville to the former Evenflo building on Byers Road.

When Gupta acquired the business, he didn’t necessarily see himself securing support of this kind or being highlighted in an annual newsletter from Gates.

“We imagined we would attract some support, but of course the kind of support we have gotten could not be imagined 10, 12 years back,” Gupta said.

“Thanks to deals with several large homebuilders and developers in the United States and Canada, Aeroseal has already sealed 250,000 buildings,” Gates wrote late last year. “Within three years, they hope to be doing that many every year.”

There’s a clear need for Aeroseal’s innovation, in Gupta’s view. Buildings consume 40% of all energy in the world, and up to 50% of that leaks out, Gupta said.

Aeroseal was already profitable and growing before the recent investment. Gupta connected with a partner of Gates, who at one point nudged him on the prospect of growing even faster.

“You can have a significant impact on the world,” Gupta said he was told. “Why take 10 years when you can do it in two?”

Air duct sealing is one of the company’s three principal technologies, all aiming to keep energy leakage to a minimum from homes and pipes.

The $67 million investment will go toward what Gupta called “mass adoption” of its technology as well as research and development, marketing and more.

“We want our technology on every HVAC truck and every insulation truck,” he said. “We want our technology to be a valid choice for every home being built in the nation, if not around the world.”

Aeroseal has about 220 employees today, and about 75% of them are in the Dayton area. But Gupta sees the impact as much bigger: Aeroseal works with close to 1,300 dealers, who buy the company’s machines. Aeroseal has trained some 5,000 technicians around the world, with more employees trained to sell Aeroseal products.

Closer to home, the business hired 12 employees in past 60 days, with some 30 openings remaining. Gupta expects a hiring trajectory of about 50 to 70 employees nationally every year over the next four to five years, with many of those working in Miamisburg.

Aeroseal has expanded the former Evenflo building by 25,000 square feet since acquiring the site. Today, the company has close to 99,000 square feet there.

“We are already thinking we are running out of space,” Gupta said.

Air Force Research Laboratory: ‘A lot of cool stuff going on’

Master Sgt. Vincent Olshove is in the Space Force and stationed at Wright-Patterson. He is a Project Arc veteran, working as program manager at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Center for Rapid Innovation. (Since 2022, the center has been called the “Integrated Capabilities Directorate.”)

Olshove was in the Air Force for 16 years, working in communications by trade, before switching to the Space Force two years ago.

He served at Fort Liberty (the former Fort Bragg), spent time in the Middle East, North Africa and NATO, along the way earning a master’s degree in systems engineering and engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology and working for NASIC, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center. (Both AFIT and NASIC are at Wright-Patterson.)

Olshove feels he is surrounded by Dayton-area colleagues who encourage innovation.

“We do things very rapidly,” he said.

His team often finds itself “reaching across barriers” at AFRL and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center to find solutions to technical issues.

“This is a place that is very unique in that we can reach out and touch almost any flavor of expert that we need right here in the local area,” Olshove said.

“I don’t know where else (that can be done). The Army has the Army Research Lab, the Navy has their own version. But as big as the labs are and as many folks as there are right here, it makes our job very easy to have such quick access from all of these individuals.”

The directorate is all about rapid problem solving.

If an office or group has a problem where a solution isn’t readily apparent, “We can help with that,” Olshove said.

The solution isn’t always found in Dayton or with a Dayton-area business. But the first step to finding that solution often begins at Wright-Patterson.

“Just set up a tour through AFRL and go and see a dozen things that you had no idea existed,” Olshove said. “Every day there is a lot of cool stuff going on.”

The Dayton Daily News celebrates 125 years

The first edition of the Dayton Daily News published on Aug. 22, 1898. We’re celebrating that anniversary this week with stories, photos and graphics about the past and future of the Dayton region and the role of the Dayton Daily News in covering and participating in that path.

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