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NGA is Federal Leader in Technology Transfer

NGA Recognized as Federal Leader in Technology Transfer

The Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer has recognized NGA as one of two federal agencies, along with the Department of Energy, for creating significant benefit for state and local economies where they operate. The award was presented March 29 during FLC’s national meeting in Cleveland, Ohio.

The “FLC Star of 2023” award for state and local economic benefit recognizes the agency’s Accelerator program, executed through a partnership with the Missouri Technology Corp. The Accelerator program worked over the past three years to advance cutting-edge innovations in the geospatial market. 

The unique 13-week program was the first of its kind in the intelligence community. Through it, NGA technology-transfer experts and mentors engaged directly with nearly 25 commercial start-ups to accelerate the development-to-operations timeline by educating the companies on working with the federal government. 

NGA hosted three cohorts overall, for which companies were selected through a highly competitive process. The companies received feedback, connections and pilot opportunities to help their businesses scale. Each company also received a $100K grant made possible through Congressional funding. In turn, NGA subject matter experts worked with some of the most innovative mission-specific capabilities being developed in the commercial market. 

“The Accelerator highlighted how a Partnership Intermediary Agreement enables NGA to collaborate with industry, while also meeting inclusion requirements and contributing to growth of the St. Louis geospatial ecosystem,” said Christina Higgins, director of NGA’s Office of Research and Technology Applications, which brokered the agreement. “It enabled knowledge sharing, technology development, and possible follow-on collaboration opportunities through cooperative research and development agreements, prototyping opportunities — such as the Small Business Innovation Research program —and other pathways.” 

NGA established the agreement with MTC in 2019 to influence the growing St. Louis geospatial technology sector, according to Higgins. The relationship with MTC allowed NGA to access companies that might not have otherwise considered working with the agency. To run the Accelerator program, MTC engaged Capital Innovators, a firm based in St. Louis that operates a top-rated accelerator and provides venture fund management for creating new businesses and corporate innovation consulting services.

Significant Impact

“The Accelerator, which operated from 2020-2022, was a tool that allowed NGA to collaborate with industry through structured engagements outside of the federal acquisition cycle, thereby permitting advanced technology discovery,” said Christine Woodard, Moonshot Labs director. “The Accelerator lowered barriers to entry for small, early-stage companies that are unfamiliar with working with the federal government.”

Feature events were conducted through Moonshot Labs, an agency initiative to encourage innovation through NGA’s unclassified collaboration space of the same name in St. Louis. The 24 companies selected from nearly 800 applicants engaged with NGA for workshops, presentations and mentoring sessions at Moonshot Labs. At the end of each 13-week program, companies were able to present their offerings through public Pitch Days attended by members of the intelligence and defense communities, as well as other members of industry as potential partners. Pitch Days typically drew upwards of 175 attendees. 

NGA awarded a total of $2.4 million in follow-on contracts as a result of the Accelerator. In addition to exposure to innovative start-ups, the program enabled NGA to leverage investment capital to decrease the cost of research and development for NGA. For fiscal years 2020-2022, NGA invested $6.6 million to run the three cohorts, using congressionally directed funds.

“NGA’s interest in further evaluating 33% of the participating companies — 8 of 24 — across the three cohorts is a tremendous measure of the Accelerator program’s overall success,” said Higgins. “Research from the Kauffman Fellows Program suggests that accelerator programs lead to partnerships less than 1% of the time.”

Before the Accelerator, 50% of the companies had no or minimal contact with NGA; afterward, 100% of the companies described being moderately or actively engaged with NGA. For the broader community, 25% of the companies had no/minimal contact with DOD; afterward, 100% had at least occasional contact with DOD entities.

It was the Accelerator’s impact on St. Louis, however, that caught the attention of the FLC. Before the program, none of the companies involved had contact with the St. Louis Geospatial Ecosystem. Afterward, 62.5% described moderate to active engagement. The engagement resulted in the creation of 50 new full-time employment positions, averaging three new full-time equivalents per company.

“That’s great news for NGA too, as it prepares for the opening of a new, expanded ‘N2W’ [Next NGA West] campus in St. Louis,” said Higgins.

Since the conclusion of the Accelerator program NGA continues to nurture innovation in the St. Louis area through its Moonshot Labs initiative.


Article written by Jeanne Chircop, Research Communications