Using simulation computer code technology that was originally developed by University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign's Center for Simulation of Advanced Rockets (CSAR), IllinoisRocstar has built a thriving small tech company based in the University of Illinois Research Park.
There may not be a space facility or major defense installation in Illinois, but that hasn’t stopped related innovation from happening in the state. In its first four years, IllinoisRocstar has leveraged research funding from federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program to help realize its goal of developing a commercializable product. The company has received more than a dozen SBIR awards, mainly from the Department of Defense and NASA.
“Our ideas stem everywhere from modeling hot gasses and plumes coming out of Navy shipstacks to modeling rockets which are really our base, our claim to fame” said Chief Operating Officer Mark D. Brandyberry. “We started out modeling 100-foot rockets (and) we also model rocket propellant on the millimeter scale. We really look down to the micron-sized particles, very small particles that make up rocket propellant. And we have SBIR awards in all of those areas.”
The (SBIR) Program and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program are two competitive programs that provide funding for the nation's small, high-tech, innovative businesses as part of the federal government's research and development efforts. IllinoisRocstar’s SBIR awards allowed the company to progress from four guys working on laptops in their living rooms to opening up an office in the EnterpriseWorks incubator.
Brandyberry has simple advice for startups seeking SBIR funding: read the call for proposals carefully.
“The SBIR process is geared to the services put out there, things they need. They might put out a couple hundred different requests for proposals, but they are fairly targeted pieces of material,” he said. “But the times that we have been most successful is when our code, our science, what we know fits that topic really well.”
Like most companies that benefit from SBIR awards, IllinoisRocstar is looking to move forward in the commercialization process. The company’s next focus is to take its products to market, with potential customers that include government entities as well as industry.