To increase participation of entrepreneurs in its technology portfolio, SMD will award, through a three-staged process, up to $100,000 in prize funding to each finalist, along with education opportunities provided by the Agency’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program, to those participants who can successfully contribute ideas that advance the state-the-art in three, broadly-defined science technology focus areas. For the inaugural Entrepreneurs Challenge the technology areas are:
Physics-based transfer learning and artificial intelligence for autonomous spacecraft and surface rovers, and for Earth observation and disaster management systems, trained on the ground with historical data and using physical models to inform the transfer learning process before the algorithms are run onboard; for the processing of astronomical data, developing optimal data, developing optimal diagnostics and algorithms for interpreting spectral and temporal datasets.
Advanced mass spectrometry for life detection and other science applications, using instrumentation that is beyond state-of-the-art in low-power and mass, and utilizing innovations in sampling technologies and processes, cutting edge materials, and components.
Quantum sensors that support high precision assessments of gravity, magnetic fields, dark matter, and any other measurements to support NASA science.
Any technologies developed must contribute to addressing science questions as stated in the National Academies’ Decadal Surveys, which support the Earth Science, Planetary Science, Heliophysics, and Astrophysics Research Divisions.
The prize competition will be conducted in three rounds:
Interested parties will submit white papers in these topic areas that broadly describe the capability being offered, the capabilities’ relevance to a specific technology area and science question, whether the idea represents an existing product or a concept to be matured over time, a brief description of the technology, and the company’s overarching business model. A statement as to the idea's commercial potential, based on the idea being submitted, is required. White papers are not to exceed 5 pages in length, and may be submitted in any format desired. SMD will conduct a review of the white papers using the scoring criteria and down-select to the top 15-20 ideas. The selected companies will advance to the next round of the competition.
The next step in the process is the Entrepreneurs Challenge Presentation Day, where the selectees from Round One are brought together for a virtual pitch event to make oral presentations about their ideas to a judging panel consisting of NASA program managers. The judging panel will select up to ten finalists receiving best scores to receive prize awards of $20,000 each, based on the same scoring methodology in Round One. The companies are expected to develop their technology and flesh out their concepts into more detailed proposals. Venture capitalists, who may have an interest in the topic areas, will be invited to attend. Round Two finalists may also choose to propose to future SBIR solicitations, and the NASA SBIR program will offer a “SBIR 101” briefing following the Presentation Day, or they may choose to submit a proposal to one of the SMD's 15 established technology programs. NASA program managers will available to provide advice to the winning teams regarding opportunities for future funding. The finalists will be invited to virtually attend and present at the Innovation and Opportunity Conference (IOC) in Fall 2020, to enable networking with NASA customers and the aerospace market. They will also be provided with information about other NASA support services, including local technology development entrepreneurial support organizations, SBIR road tours, the iCorp program, and others.
Round Two prize winners will submit a white paper that describes their concept in more detail and present the details live in a secondary pitch event to be eligible for an additional $80k in prize funding. The judging criteria for Round One will be repeated, and the winners will be the top 10 selected for those proposals receiving at least 40 points from the scoring process. The secondary pitch event and subsequent presentations will take place during the Innovation Opportunity Conference (IOC), where winners will be named on-the-spot. The selection process and judging for any awards beyond Round Three will be based on the established rules for the interested program.