Techstars, Air Force Reveal First Boston Accelerator Investments

[Updated 2/1/18, 9:52 am. See below.] Techstars today announced the companies participating in the inaugural session of its new autonomous technology startup accelerator program in Boston, and, as advertised, there are a lot of drones involved.

Six of the 10 participating companies are focused on unmanned aerial vehicles, including businesses focused on designing and making drones, helping them avoid collisions, securing and boosting their communications capabilities, and tracking their activities. And one of the companies makes graphene, a material that can be used in the production of a drone’s hull, says Warren Katz, the program’s managing director.

“I had a fantasy of having some ‘super drone’ created out of my whole class, where every company would have [contributed] a little piece of it,” Katz says. “There’s still a chance of that happening.”

The accelerator is run by Techstars in partnership with the U.S. Air Force, hence the emphasis on drone tech.

“They want to get access to the most state-of-the-art technology coming out of startup companies in this new, hot area,” Katz says of the Air Force.

The other participants in the program’s inaugural group include two supply chain companies and a radiation monitoring startup.

Katz’s group is the second Techstars accelerator program in Boston. The other, launched here in 2009, supports a wider variety of tech startups, primarily focused on software. (Techstars Boston, led by new managing director Clément Cazalot, also announced its latest group of investments Thursday, as did the rest of Techstars’ programs.) [Added info about latest Techstars Boston session—Eds.]

Techstars opened its flagship program in Boulder, CO, in 2006, and has since formed accelerator outfits around the globe, some focused on specific industries and technologies, and others run in partnership with other companies and organizations. Its first defense-focused accelerator is located in Australia and is a collaboration with Boeing and other private defense contractors.

The main goal with the new Boston accelerator is to help companies deliver products and services that generate demand from private-sector customers, but are also of interest to the U.S. Department of Defense, Katz says.

“The idea there is that the company doesn’t become dependent on the DoD for their livelihood,” he says.

The Air Force isn’t making equity investments in the companies participating in the Boston program, but it’s providing an undisclosed amount of funding to cover the accelerator’s operational expenses. Techstars’ venture fund will invest $20,000 in each company in exchange for a 6 percent stake, plus $100,000 in convertible debt financing. Companies will also receive mentorship and access to local office space and other resources over the next three months. The session culminates with a demo event in April.

The participating companies hail from nearly every region of the U.S., with one based overseas (Portugal). Two of the 10 companies are led by women, four of them have at least one woman on the founding team, and half of them have at least one person of color on the founding team, Katz says. He says he’s happy with the group’s diversity. That’s something Techstars has said it’s trying to improve across its programs, amid a woeful lack of diversity in the broader tech and venture capital industries.

Without further ado, here are more details on the 10 companies:

14bis Supply Tracking, Houston: This company aims to help supply chain managers in the aerospace and defense industries track parts and root out unapproved ones using blockchain technology.

Blind Tiger Communications, Atlanta: The company is developing wireless security and analytics software to help customers defend against cyber attacks deployed by mobile phones or drones located nearby. Its target clients include government agencies, hospitals, and correctional facilities.

Graphenest, Paradela do Vouga, Portugal: This nanotechnology startup produces graphene for customers in industries such as consumer electronics, energy, and composite materials.

Guardion, Boston: The company is developing sensors for monitoring radiation levels in cities.

Notch Technologies, Cambridge, MA: This company is developing tech for boosting the communications capabilities of drones and guarding against attempts to jam their radio-frequency signals.

OmniPreSense, San Jose, CA: This company is developing radar technology to help drones avoid collisions.

Robodub, Seattle: This company is developing drones intended to be more reliable and agile than conventional drones, with rotors that adjust their position to compensate for a lopsided load, for example.

SecureMarking, Rapid City, SD: The company aims to root out counterfeit parts in the aviation industry. SecureMarking makes a nanoparticle-based “ink” for labeling parts, which can only be illuminated with an infrared laser, the company says. The part is then tracked by a system of connected devices and blockchain-based software.

SICdrone, Portland, OR: This company is developing drones capable of flying at fast speeds, over longer distances, and in more difficult conditions than typical drones.

URSA Secure, Exeter, NH: This company uses machine learning and other methods to collect and analyze data about drone usage that could support investigations by law enforcement, insurance companies, intelligence agencies, and other clients.

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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