A Montana State University researcher and NASA collaborator have taken steps toward establishing a company to sell a computer technology designed to withstand the elements of space.
In the last year, the company, Resilient Computing, has gained much-needed funding to establish itself, including a recent $90,000 grant from NASA’s Entrepreneurs Challenge.
The computer technology, called RadPC, comes out of more than a decade of work and research at MSU.
“This is a computer that is designed to operate in the harsh radiation environment of space,” said Brock LaMeres, founder of Resilient Computing.
LaMeres’ lab created the technology with multiple rounds of testing and development in partnership with NASA. He estimates his lab has received around 15 grants for the technology, with almost 100 students involved in its development in the last 12 years.
An advanced prototype of the computer technology is scheduled to launch on a SpaceX flight to the International Space Station later this month and a second one in February before a planned 2023 trip to the moon.
The university has licensed the technology that was developed in LaMeres’ lab to Resilient Computing, with MSU receiving a royalty if the company sells the product.
“We were at the point where it’s ready. The technology was ready to come out of the lab but it wasn’t ready to be a product,” LaMeres said, adding he talked to a lot of companies who were interested in buying a finished product.
“…There’s this gap that’s needed between computer in the lab to the point where a company can buy it and that’s the role Resilient Computing is serving.”
Potential customers who might be interested in purchasing the RadPC technology range from NASA, SpaceX, Boeing, the U.S. Department of Defense and companies like Astrobotic Technology, Firefly Aerospace and Blue Canyon Technologies.
Applications include imaging, communication and science.
“All of those run on a computer. If you’re doing something important, you don’t want your computer to crash,” he said.
LaMeres began working to create Resilient Computing about a year ago, with support from the university’s Technology Transfer Office to establish the license between his company and MSU.
LaMeres said there was more support for small business creators than he was aware of, including an organization that helps startups in the state called Early Stage Montana. He also received support and funding from MSU’s Blackstone LaunchPad, CATalyst Gap Fund grant and Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship.
“I understand how computers work but then I go to do a business and I don’t understand anything,” he said, adding they helped with everything from business taxes and hiring employees.
Through the Early Stage Montana program, LaMeres said he did dozens of 10-minutes pitches about his company. He credits that experience with helping in NASA’s Entrepreneurs Challenge, where potential candidates pitch their business startups to a panel.
“If I had not done Early Stage Montana I would not have won this,” LaMeres said of the grant.
Earlier in the year, Resilient Computing received a NASA Small Business Innovation Research grant of about $125,000, which allowed the company to hire part-time employees. LaMeres said he is applying for a second round of funding from that grant, which would help the company hire a full-time engineer.
“It would be a huge breaking point for the company,” LaMeres said of receiving the grant. “Once you have a full-time engineer that’s when things really start happening. Our hope is we could potentially have a product by the end of 2022.”
The company has part-time employees now, including LaMeres, who still works full time at MSU.
“Our hope is as we grow, we’ll always have sub-contracts back to MSU and it will be a co-development, co-researched arrangement,” he said.
LaMeres, an electrical and computer engineering professor, said it’s been a challenge and a learning experience to transition to creating and running a business.
The dream of Resilient Computing is to have between 20 and 25 employees, create jobs and bring money into Montana, LaMeres said.
It was important to him to keep the company in Montana to give back to the state and provide high-tech, high-paying jobs for his students who typically go on to work with companies like SpaceX or Raytheon.
“It’s cool because the people who understand how to do it are here in this lab. It will be really neat for our students to be able to do aerospace in town,” LaMeres said.