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UCF alumni-founded company wins prestigious Air Force contract to drive innovation

UCF alumni-founded company wins prestigious Air Force contract to drive innovation

 


Helicon Chemical Company, founded by David Reid ’12PhD through UCF’s Business Incubation Program, was awarded a $1.9 million Tactical Funding Increase contract from the U.S. Air Force in May to accelerate research and production of advanced solid rocket propellants.

Helicon is the second company to be awarded a strategic capital increase contract while leveraging the guidance and services of UCF’s business incubator. The first was Red Six Aerospace, Inc., which was awarded a contract in 2022 to develop an augmented reality system.

Reed said he is proud to continue developing propellant technology and to once again work with the U.S. Air Force.

“This is an important step in making Helicon's technology available for government and commercial use,” he said. “Helicon is expanding on previous work with the Air Force to use our technology to improve the performance of solid rocket motors for a range of systems. The underlying nanotechnology has broader commercial space applications, improving the high-temperature performance of semiconductors and also improving the performance of solar cells.”

The tactical funding increase was awarded by the Air Force Research Laboratory and AFWERX, the Department of the Air Force's collaborative innovation arm.

The contract is intended to make innovative technologies like Helicon's rocket propellants available quickly to the Air Force and other Department of Defense customers, Reed said.

The program is specifically designed to help companies bring critical technology across the “valley of death” — where promising technologies often have trouble moving from research to the production realm — and get that technology into the hands of actual soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, he said.

Reed founded Helicon under the guidance of Materials Science and Engineering Dean Sudipta Seal during his final year of graduate school at UCF, and subsequently assumed the role of chief technology officer from CEO in 2022.

Helicon is a UCF incubator company and continues to work directly with UCF students and staff to advance and expand the use of its technology, Reed said.

Carol Ann Logue, director of programs and operations for the Innovation District and Incubation Program, said helping Reed and the rest of the Helicon team navigate the challenges of growing their business has been extremely satisfying.

“That certainly speaks to the quality of work coming out of UCF,” she said. “They're still with us and they're still in the process of growing.”

Now in its 24th year of operation, the business incubation program manages nine incubation facilities in Central Florida and adjacent counties. The program provides specialized assistance to help incubate and grow emerging businesses, Logue said.

“In addition to supporting many entrepreneurs in the region, we also help commercialize innovations developed by faculty and graduate students,” she says. “We help the university fulfill its promise to positively impact the growth of diverse industries and advance its learning goals. For example, UCF students often work part-time for these companies, gaining hands-on experience in the fields they earned their degrees in and exposing them to the world of business dynamics.”

Logue estimates that at any one time there are about 130 to 150 clients who meet the program's specific criteria and have applied and been accepted. They stay in the incubation program for an average of two to six years, receiving comprehensive support in establishing and growing their business, Logue said.

“We have very specific criteria for evaluating companies that come to us for advice,” she says. They have to solve an existing problem or a problem that's visibly growing. Student-run companies are a no-no. UCF students have started companies that continued to grow after they graduated. Helicon is a good example.

Reed has had access to specialized facilities, benefited from mentorship and gained valuable insight from marketing experts in the UCF Business Incubation Program, Logue said.

“David has been through our programs multiple times. He came to us with his PhD in one hand and a small business grant in the other, wanting to commercialize his research. Helicon is a great example of a company that took advantage of the business management and sometimes challenging operational support we provide.”

Logue said it was fantastic that Helicons was awarded this highly-regarded contract and demonstrates the vital importance of the company's technology to the field of defense innovation.

She said winning the award speaks to how critical this innovation is to the needs of the Air Force, as national security continues to demand that critical solutions be brought to market faster.

Anyone interested in starting or growing a business is encouraged to explore eligibility and apply at incubator.ucf.edu .

Sources

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2/ https://www.ucf.edu/news/company-founded-by-ucf-alumnus-earns-prestigious-air-force-contract-to-propel-innovation/

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