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Veteran’s Business Accelerator Thrives in Huntsville

Huntsville — the hub city for businesses doing business with the Department of Defense — is a natural home for The Catalyst Center for Business & Entrepreneurship’s new Veteran’s Accelerator, a business accelerator focused on military veterans.

According to Veteranownedbusiness.com, Alabama has 45,099 veteran-owned businesses, which makes veteran majority-owned businesses about 11.8 percent of the businesses in the state.

The Catalyst Center for Business & Entrepreneurship provides supportive programs and resources to veterans for starting or growing a business.

Services include customized coaching, financial education and training for veterans who are interested in starting a business or growing an existing one. Services also focus on Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses, a federal program to enable service-disabled veterans to gain access to economic opportunity by leveraging the federal procurement system and expanding participation of procurement-ready small businesses.

The Veteran’s Accelerator is a membership consortium of Veteran Owned Small Business and Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses, with a steering committee comprised of veterans and business leaders to provide guidance and advice on matters of interest to its members.

Space Entrepreneur Lands a Load of Air Force Contracts

Jay Skylus makes a presentation at the Dawn of Private Space Science Symposium 2018 at Columbia University.

The fourth quarter of 2019 has been good for space entrepreneur Jay Skylus, the CEO of Huntsville headquartered Aevum Inc., whose primary target is launching privately owned satellites.

Aevum has yet to do its first launch, but it’s promised in 2021, and the U.S. Air Force recently showed enough faith in the operation to award to Aevum, in the last four months, three contracts totaling as much as $12 million.

In September, the Air Force awarded Aevum a $4.9 million contract to lift experimental satellites to low Earth orbit. In August followed a small business innovation research contract for Aevum’s launch and space logistics service. And in October, the Air Force assigned Aevum part of an eight-company, $986 million award for rapid launch services.

A recent blog in Forbes estimates the total of the Aevum contracts to be $12 million. A story on spacewar.com says the three contracts are “worth up to $11.9 million or more.”

Aevum’s business is to provide a relatively low-cost way of putting private ventures into space. Usually that means small communications satellites circling in low earth orbit. And the method of delivery, engineered by Aevum and its CEO, is to use drone rockets.

Aevum’s Air Force contracts are based on its plans to launch its drone rockets from Jacksonville, Florida’s Cecil Spaceport. Skylus told the Jacksonville Daily Record that the selection of the Spaceport came “after an extensive evaluation process of all FAA-licensed spaceports that began in 2017.”

According to Forbes, Aevum currently has five employees and “after receiving some angel investment so far, Aevum is working on a Series A funding round, and Skylus says he is feeling optimistic about the company’s prospects. ‘We’re obviously extremely jazzed about the results of our efforts this year. It’s been a great year.’”

Aevum’s mission statement says its ultimate goal is to make telecommunications satellites affordable enough so that the internet can reach the most remote populations on earth: “Right now, there are over 3.4 billion people around the world whose stories cannot be heard because they do not have access to basic digital technologies like the internet.”

Skylus graduated from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 2013 with a baccalaureate in math and physics. His LinkedIn post says he “began studying combustion dynamics in 2005 using internal combustion engines. To fund his development, Jay Skylus operated a successful automotive hardware business on internet forums. His work was featured on the cover of a popular magazine in the UK earning him additional sponsorship from the auto industry towards his development.”

Cyber High Coming to Huntsville

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Officers of Redstone Federal Credit Union presented a donation of $3 million at a fundraiser for the Alabama School of Cyber Technology. In addition, Redstone Arsenal is located near the school grounds and military leaders are discussing a potential ROTC program focused on cybersecurity.

Modern businesses and governments depend on data security for survival. And as cyber threats continue to become more sophisticated, there’s a crisis-level shortage of cyber professionals qualified to address those threats. That’s why Alabama is launching its new Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering (ASCTE), a public, residential high school based in Huntsville and open to students from across the state.

The new high school, created by state legislation SB212 and signed into law by Governor Kay Ivey in April 2018, is scheduled to open in August 2020. It will be the state’s third magnet school, joining the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham and the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science in Mobile.

With Huntsville’s concentration of high-tech and engineering professionals, the school is a natural fit.

“We like solving challenges in the Rocket City,” says Claire Aiello, vice president of marketing and communications at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce. “Local companies have expressed a need for these workers, and we are answering the call to help Alabama supply more cyber systems and engineering professionals to this very needed specialty.”

The Business Case for a Cyber High School

Alabama doesn’t need a technology magnet school because its current high schools are failing. On the contrary, “public schools in Alabama are performing at unprecedented levels,” says Matt Massey, president of the new school and former superintendent of Madison County Schools, a graduate of Citronelle High School in Mobile County and Troy University. “This is not because our public schools aren’t working. The need is because we’re facing a crisis of cyber threats in this country and Alabama wants to start earlier to help fill those needs.”

Cybersecurity has become increasingly important for industries of all types. For instance, while enemies of the state historically attacked governments and government offices, “they are now going after the industries that are important to the country, such as financial networks and utility networks,” Massey says.

Matt Massey, president of the Alabama School of Cyber Technology. Photo by Dennis Keim

As a result, companies such as Alabama Power and its parent, Southern Company, have expressed interest in partnering with ASCTE to help develop the next generation of cyber professionals. As new businesses and government entities relocate to Alabama, many have shown interest in partnering with ASCTE as well, Massey says, because the need for qualified cyber and engineering professionals is widespread.

Globally, 82 percent of employers report a shortage of cybersecurity skills, and 71 percent believe this talent gap causes direct and measurable damage to their organizations, according to McAfee research. Currently, there are 4,400 unfilled cybersecurity jobs available in Alabama, and more than 300,000 in the United States, Massey says.

School Building from the Ground Up

Alabama’s solution to the cyber workforce challenge will be the first school of its kind in the United States. Creating something completely new is exciting and promising for future generations and for the success of security of the country, but it’s also challenging, Massey says.

ASCTE’s four-member executive committee meets monthly, and its 19-member board of trustees meets quarterly to make decisions and keep the process moving. Plans are to open the school in a temporary location beginning in August 2020, and to move into a permanent location by 2022.

Decisions about the number of students will depend on the level of interest, but Massey predicts that ASCTE will start with about 150 students in ninth and possibly tenth grades, and that it will grow to about 350 students in ninth through 12th grades, when it reaches full capacity.

Fundraising is an important part of the process, and many high-tech companies are lining up to donate. Huntsville-based companies such as Davidson Technologies and Torch Technologies have made large donations, and at the 2019 Paris Air Show, accounting firm Deloitte gave $100,000 to the school’s foundation.

Massey, who came on board in June 2019, is in the process of hiring his leadership team and will begin hiring teachers in the coming months. Once teachers are hired, the team will work together to develop the school’s curriculum. While some high schools focus on cybersecurity, ASCTE will be unique, because it will include the engineering piece of the puzzle.

“We’ll be teaching students to implement cyber protections throughout the engineering process, designing products and programs with cybersecurity in mind throughout,” Massey says. “Cyber protection is traditionally seen as the icing on the cake, added when a product or program is already developed. But instead of icing on the cake, our students will learn to bake cyber protections throughout the whole process. That’s the long-term solution, to engineer with cyber protections.”

Students at ASCTE will have a wide range of options for high school experiences and work opportunities after graduation. For instance, as the FBI relocates a large piece of its headquarters to Huntsville, there will be potential opportunities for students to gain experience in digital forensics for law enforcement. With close proximity to Redstone Arsenal, ASCTE and military leaders are discussing a potential ROTC program focused on cybersecurity. And a variety of high-tech employers in the Huntsville area are interested in working with students and providing hands-on educational opportunities.

“Our students will be exposed to internships, co-ops and field experiences throughout their high school careers,” Massey says. “Many will go on to college, but our high school curriculum will also offer a gateway to industry, and some local industries will be interested in supporting them through college. We’ve got industry that is knocking our doors down because they want our students in their company. Our students will have lots of options.”

Reaching Students Across Alabama

Those students will represent a cross-section of Alabama’s population, Massey says. While all students will go through an application process, school leaders are committed to securing a student body that will represent all regions of the state.

But ASCTE won’t just welcome applicants from across the state; it will also work with public school districts throughout Alabama to ramp up their own cyber and engineering courses.

In fact, that task is a requirement according to the legislation that established the school. It requires the magnet school and its personnel to “assist teachers, administrators and superintendents across the state in replicating cyber and engineering studies in their own schools.”

Massey looks forward to helping boost cyber technology and engineering instruction across Alabama. “We can’t solve this problem just with our own students,” he says. “Our goal is for this school to serve as a flagship school for the state.”

Student applications are expected to be available in January 2020, with selections made in March before the school opens in August.

Learn more and stay updated with news about the school at ASCTE.org.

Nancy Mann Jackson and Dennis Keim are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Jackson is based in Madison and Keim in Huntsville.

DSV Maintains Huntsville Air Cargo Operations

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Air cargo service at Huntsville is transferring from Panalpina to DSV Panalpina A/S after the Danish cargo carrier bought its Swiss counterpart.

When a Danish company spends 37 billion Danish crowns for a Swiss company, it could be big news only in northern Europe. But the fact that the Danish firm — DSV — purchased Swiss-based Panalpina to create the world’s fourth largest freight-forwarding company echoes back all the way to Huntsville.

DHL Logistics, Kuehne & Nagel and DB Schenker are the only freight-forwarders larger than the new DSV Panalpina A/S.

Panalpina has been a key player in the Port of Huntsville’s role as a key cargo port since 1990. Back then, the Luxembourg to Huntsville service was Panalpina’s first Europe-to-US schedule cargo-only route.

Panalpina “believed that flying non-stop, round-trip service on almost a daily basis would guarantee capacity and control and thus enable them to be very responsive to customers’ different requirements,” the Port of Huntsville wrote recently, adding, “And it worked.”

By this year, service had expanded to include weekly international non-stop to Europe, Mexico, Hong Kong and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

DSV Panalpina A/S plans to continue these operations at Huntsville.

The Port of Huntsville decided to pursue air cargo operations in the 1980s, building a main-deck loader to attract 747 cargo craft. Panalpina, looking for “a non-traditional gateway,” responded.

Today, Huntsville International Airport owns three air cargo buildings with 300,000 square feet of warehouse and office space and 2.1 million square feet of ramp area. The port opened an 18,750-square-foot perishables facilities in 2018, for a total of 35,000 square feet of cold storage space. The airport has invested $212 million in cargo with plans for a additional $52 million investment.

HSV has a 10,000-foot runway and a 12,600-foot runway, that latter among the longest in the Southeast. The runways are 5,000 feet apart, allowing HSV to be uncongested even during instrument landing conditions.

In addition, HSV has U.S. Customs facilities on site.

DSV owns another 100,000-square-foot warehouse at HSV, less than 100 feet from its tarmac docking space, for ease of unloading. A Boeing 747-8F can be unloaded, loaded and dispatched in two and a half hours, the port reports.

By the way, 37 billion Danish crowns equals about U.S. $5.5 billion.

Behind the Scenes at Huntsville Startup Glimpse K12

Glimpse K12 co-founders Nicole Pezent and Adam Pearson located their company in Huntsville. They got their startup in a venture capital accelerator in Silicon Valley. Photo by David Higginbotham

Glimpse K12 co-founders Adam Pearson and Nicole Pezent started working together in the ed tech industry more than a decade ago, when Alabama-based Chalkable (then STI), a company offering web-based education data management solutions to K-12 schools, acquired Learning Earnings, a startup that Pearson co-founded in 2006. As the two worked on integrating Learning Earnings into Chalkable and partnering with school districts throughout Alabama, they repeatedly saw the challenge districts faced tailoring their budgets to ensure that money spent on curriculum and professional development was being put to its best use.

“There were problems we couldn’t unsee,” says Pezent, referring to the lack of information shared between accounting departments, curriculum and the student demographic.

When Chalkable was sold to Power School in 2016, Pearson and Pezent decided to found their own company. “We really wanted to help [school districts] by providing tools that allow them to look at student outcomes in the context of what they did to generate those outcomes,” Pearson explains. With that information, a district could then assess its classroom investments and take corrective measures as needed to ensure that future expenditures would have maximum impact on student achievement.

“No school system has as much money as they need to solve all the problems that they face,” says Pearson. “So, we figured, since we can’t print more money, we can help them understand which expenditures may not be as effective as others, so they can divert those resources to more effective activities.”

Pearson and Pezent started Glimpse K12 in 2017. The company’s AIM platform creates a curriculum map that lays out resources, products and tools that are being used throughout a district. Those components are then organized into impact areas and aligned with objectives, goals and costs, providing a foundation for analyzing and managing an education Return on Investment (eROI).

“Basically, the platform allows us to pull out data from different systems that are sort of siloed in the district,” Pearson explains. Those silos include financial accounting, student demographic information and student achievement data. “Traditionally, the problem has been that the accounting systems don’t have the concept of a student, right? And vice versa, you know, student achievement and student demographics platforms don’t have a concept of cost for activities.” Over the course of a year, AIM connects those dots and provides a student outcome analysis and eROI insights that pinpoint where spending is effective.

Pearson says it takes about 30 days to set up the software and provide user training. During this phase, districts can identify the issues they want to focus on, such as the correlation of a specific activity and a certain student demographic. For example, working with the Morgan County school district, Glimpse K12 was able to identify that when a curriculum platform was used with fidelity — in this case, 45 minutes a week — they saw double the growth in student achievement, compared to students who weren’t exposed to the resource as much.

“And that established a good best practice for them,” Pearson says. “They could put that information back out into the district and say, ‘Look at the data. When we use this activity, it’s helping students succeed.’ That was a big success story.”

“In training, we talk about the annual process districts go through identifying what spending was ineffective, so that they can re-allocate those resources,” he continues. “Most of the time we’re redirecting those funds to something that may bear more fruit for the students.”

“We really want to get to the redirecting of spending,” Pezent adds. “Because of the way their budgets work, they’re not in the business of banking a lot of their funds; they have to spend them in certain increments or by a certain deadline.” If a district is looking to spend less, Glimpse K12 can certainly identify areas where less-effective resources can be eliminated. Otherwise, “we want to make sure that we can tell them when they’re dispersing funds to other areas that they can rest assured it will directly impact their students in a positive way.”

Glimpse K12 currently has over 50 clients across Alabama and the Southeast. Its software developers, data analysts and sales team members are split about evenly between Madison County and the rest of the state and region, with Pearson and Pezent working out of its Huntsville headquarters. Pearson, who is from Huntsville, and Pezent, who relocated from Mobile, were both drawn to the area’s talent pool.

“We could have been based out of San Francisco,” Pearson says. When Glimpse K12 was in development, they applied for funding from Y Combinator, a venture capital accelerator based in Silicon Valley that has helped launch more than 2,000 companies, including Dropbox, Airbnb and Reddit.

“Ten thousand companies worldwide apply every year, and we applied and were accepted for the winter session in 2018.” Startups attend a three-month training cycle in Silicon Valley that works with them to expand their business goals and connect them with investors. It also strongly encourages participants to stay in Silicon Valley and continue to tap into its many resources. Y Combinator “is a great experience, and it would have been a really great opportunity,” says Pearson, “but we wanted to see if we could build a successful business in our home state.”

“We talk to superintendents all the time who want to make sure their students graduate and go to college and come back and build industry where they’re from,” Pezent adds. “And that’s something that was close to us. When you see that progress, that’s what you want to do, too.”

Pearson and Pezent encourage other area entrepreneurs to take advantage of programs like Y Combinator to expand their access to West Coast capital and business connections that may be useful to them. “We try to do that as much as possible: broaden the outlook. You feel like that’s a different world, and you get there and you realize it’s the same world, just a different location.”

Remaining in Alabama hasn’t hurt the company at all, and it’s beginning to get inquiries from school districts across the country. “We’re in a big growth phase at the moment,” says Pearson. The company already has its sights set on expanding beyond the Southeast in 2020, viewing population centers on the East and West Coasts as areas of big opportunity. They’ve also had a lot of interest from the Midwest, where Pearson sees a lot of similarities in the challenges faced as those in the Southeast. And, he points out, when the Glimpse K12 platform is nationwide, Alabama will be known for its genesis.

Katherine MacGilvray and David Higginbotham are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. She is based in Huntsville and he in Decatur.

Subs for Navy SEALs Special Ops by Teledyne Brown

The Navy has contracted with Teledyne Brown Engineering, in Huntsville, for additional mini-subs designed to deliver Navy SEALs teams to landings for special operations missions.

The award is a sole-source contract valued at $178 million from the Naval Sea Systems Command for the follow-on production of MK11 Shallow Water Combat Submersible Systems (SWCS), a replacement model for an earlier version of a SEALs mini-sub.

Teledyne Brown was awarded the initial contract for design and development of the vessel, and this contract is a follow-on.

The SWCS System is a manned combat submersible vehicle specifically designed to insert and extract Special Operations Forces in high threat areas. Under the initial contract, Teledyne Brown designed, manufactured, tested and delivered the initial Engineering Development Model (EDM) SWCS System. The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) exercised options for Teledyne Brown to produce and deliver additional MK11 SWCS Production Systems.

“Teledyne Brown Engineering is proud to be supplying advanced technologies and systems enabling our Special Operations Forces to perform their missions successfully,” said Jim Hess, the company’s president. “The Shallow Water Combat Submersible is a complex system that will assist in the safe delivery and return of those who are protecting our nation.”

Under the Naval Sea Systems Command contract, Teledyne Brown will continue production and delivery of MK11 SWCS Systems, including spare parts production and the provision of engineering and technical support services through fiscal year 2024, if all options are exercised.

Hexagon Wins $107 Million Navy Contract

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Hexagon US Federal has won a $107 million U.S. Navy engineering contract for the Naval Sea Systems Command Situational Awareness, Boundary Enforcement and Response program.

Most of the work on the SABER contract will be performed in Huntsville, with additional work in Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Norfolk, Virginia, and San Diego, California.

“We’re very pleased to be working with the Navy on this engineering contract,” said Tammer Olibah, Hexagon US Federal CEO. “Our extensive technical expertise and renowned ruggedized solutions are an excellent fit to provide for fleet protection for years to come.”

Hexagon works in sensor, software and autonomous solutions and has held contracts with the U.S. military for more than 25 years.

The firm has more than 1,300 employees in Huntsville.

Calhoun Hosts Annual Job Fair

Calhoun Community College will host its annual Fall Job Fair tomorrow, October 17, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Sparkman Building on the college’s Huntsville campus.

Open to the public, the job fair will feature employers from all industries, including utilities, engineering, health care, finance, real estate, insurance, local municipalities and more.

“With over 50 employers registered to attend, this is one of the largest job fairs in the north Alabama region and proves to be an awesome networking opportunity,” said Kelli Morris, director of Career Services and Cooperative Learning for Calhoun. “Employers will be looking to fill part-time and full-time vacancies, so job seekers should come dressed for success with a current resume in hand.”

For a listing of employers scheduled to participate, visit calhoun.edu/events/job-fair-huntsville.

Moon Launch Bailout Engine

On August 28, Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully tested the jettison motor at the Redstone Test Center in Huntsville. The jettison motor is one of three motors on the Orion spacecraft’s launch abort system. Photo courtesy of NASA

The motor for the launch abort system of NASA’s Orion spacecraft will be put through its final test on October 16 at the Redstone Test Center in Huntsville.

NASA, with the help of contractors Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne, is certifying the jettison motor for human spaceflight on the Artemis II mission — Orion’s first flight with astronauts aboard and an important milestone in NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.

The jettison motor is one of three motors on the launch abort system, but it is the only motor that activates on every mission, according to its manufacturer, Aerojet Rocketdyne. It performs the critical task of separating the launch abort system from the crew module after a successful launch, allowing the crew members to continue on their journey.

If there is an occurrence during launch or an ascent anomaly, Orion’s launch abort system will rapidly separate the crew capsule from the launch vehicle. Providing 40,000 pounds of thrust, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s jettison motor helps pull the launch abort system away from the crew module, enabling the parachutes to deploy and begin slowing Orion’s descent towards a safe landing.

During the final test, the jettison motor will fire for just under two seconds on the ground.

“The Orion spacecraft has undergone extensive testing to ensure the flight vehicle is prepared to manage the punishing environments of deep space,” said Roger McNamara, Launch Abort System director at Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of Orion. “Testing the launch abort system and the jettison motor’s performance is no exception, as safety of astronauts is paramount.”

NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program includes sending a suite of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to the Moon, landing the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface by 2024 and establishing a sustained presence by 2028. The agency will leverage its Artemis experience and technologies to prepare for the next giant leap — sending astronauts to Mars.

Torch Technologies at Entrepreneur’s Topmost Tier

Torch Technologies President and CEO John Watson, at company headquarters in Huntsville. Photo by Dennis Keim

Entrepreneur magazine in October named three Alabama companies to its annual listing of the 360 top companies “mastering the art and science of growing a business.”

Huntsville-based systems engineer Torch Technologies is placed #8 on the Entrepreneur 360 list for 2019. At #29 is R2C Inc., a Huntsville engineer certified as a Service Disabled-Veteran Owned Small Business, and #270 is Fairhope-based Altaworx LLC, a Voice over Internet Protocol business telephone systems operator that operates in the BellSouth Business Partner Program.

Torch Technologies, an employee-owned company working primarily in the defense and aerospace sectors, was ranked by Entrepreneur #11 in 2018 and #16 in 2017.

The magazine says it evaluated companies based on 50-plus data points organized into five categories: revenue and customers, management efficiency, innovation, financial evaluation and business valuation.

Torch Technologies was featured in “Defense Contractor Attains Employee-Owned Propulsion,” in our most recent focus on privately owned companies, in the July issue of Business Alabama.

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