It’s not rocket science. On second thought, it just might be.
This June, Toledo will be just the second city in the nation to host an experimental federal program that will pair NASA scientists with local companies that need help solving research and development problems.
The NASA scientists — engineers and technical specialists from the agency’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland — will provide up to eight hours of free R&D consultation and, in some cases, share declassified technologies that until now were used exclusively by the federal space agency.
“This is your tax dollar at work,” said Joe Shaw, deputy director of the office of technology partnerships and planning at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Glenn Research Center.
The Toledo event, set for June 12 at the University of Toledo, is part of a federally funded, three-year experimental “NASA Roadshow” program, Mr. Shaw said.
The roadshow program started in December with an event at Youngstown State University that paired NASA scientists with four companies, and it followed up with a technology trade show in February in Detroit that showcased NASA’s many technologies that could be adapted for the private sector.
“Technology and commercialization has been, and will always be, an agency mandate,” Mr. Shaw said.
“What is different now, from our standpoint, is the commitment from the center to make these a priority. This is a really big deal for us,” Mr. Shaw said.
Keith Burwell, president of the Toledo Community Foundation, which is one of nine agencies and organizations staging the event, said about 20 NASA experts and up to 10 regional companies will participate in the event.
“We are excited. It’s a unique opportunity,” he said.
Companies that would like to be selected to participate must submit an application — available at prism-nasa.fluidreview.com — by Wednesday.
The chosen companies will be notified in mid-May.
Mr. Burwell said applications will be limited to firms in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
The NASA engineers will provide confidential help. Their expertise will be in disciplines that support the Glenn Research Center — propulsion systems, communications technology and development, cryogenics, materials and structures for extreme environments, physical sciences and biomedical technologies, power and energy storage and conversion.
Mr. Burwell said company officials who think NASA engineers wouldn’t be able to help their firm might be surprised at the wide range of technologies the government agency has studied over the years.
Mr. Burwell said one Youngstown company that participated estimated that the NASA assistance saved it six months of R&D work.
“Initially, the idea is to make a difference in the eyes of the people sitting across the table from us, to provide them with insights,” Mr. Shaw said.
But the NASA deputy director said there is a larger goal as well.
“In the longer term, it’s about building and increasing understanding and support from the community that their investment in R&D at NASA and in NASA missions comes around and benefits us here on the ground right now,” he said.
“Part of that is breaking down the perception that the people at Glenn, they’re just a bunch of damn rocket scientists and no way could they help me.”
Mr. Burwell and the other supporting organizations hope that helping local companies will eventually lead to those companies hiring more people.
Mr. Shaw said the roadshow program is the direct result of an October, 2011, mandate by President Obama, who tasked all federal agencies, including NASA, with accelerating their technology-transfer activities and making available to all the benefits of federally funded research and development investments.
But Mr. Shaw added that the Glenn Research Center had begun such activities well before the mandate occurred.
As an example, in early 2011 the Glenn Research Center, the city of Cleveland, and Cuyahoga County set up a program — which the roadshow is patterned after — to help Cleveland-area companies solve their R&D problems.
When the program got rolling in early 2012, NASA Glenn assisted a Cleveland-area phonograph record maker, Gotta Groove Records, to develop an updated process to press vinyl records.
“We gave them new perspectives on how to improve their business model,” Mr. Shaw said.
Mr. Burwell said that thus far 12 northwest Ohio companies have filed applications seeking participation in the roadshow.
Applications will be reviewed by a team that will include NASA officials.
The team will seek companies with problems that NASA’s experts may be able to solve, but they also will favor companies with solid financial and product development backgrounds.
“They don’t want a company to be a startup,” Mr. Burwell said.
The agency is looking for a specific product or process for which it can be of immediate assistance, Mr. Burwell said.
The nine agencies or organizations involved in the program are the Toledo Community Foundation, the University of Toledo, the Lucas County Economic Development Corp., the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, Rocket Ventures LLC, the Northwest Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the Cleveland-based Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network, the Ohio Development Services Agency, and northeast Ohio’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative.
The roadshow program, which is funded through 2015, is limited to western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and southeast Michigan, but Mr. Shaw said there are unlikely to be any other events in 2014 other than the Toledo event in June.
Mr. Burwell said the Toledo groups heard about the plans for the roadshow in Youngstown and began working hard to bring the event to northwest Ohio.
“We built relationships so when they were ready to try again, Toledo was ready,” he said.
©2014 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)