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Technologically Speaking The Bouns S&T Podcast

Small businesses, particularly startups, provide a wealth of ingenuity and innovation when it comes to developing emerging technologies. Harnessing this is the powerful idea behind S&T’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program, which hosted a Demo Week this spring with 30 startups, venture capitalists, and operational agencies in attendance. In this episode, join us as we talk with startups on the Tech Expo floor at the event—hear about the early days of the program and how these industry partners found success pursuing a nontraditional approach. Government officials and startups agree that tapping into this source of technology development yields major benefits for the greater homeland security enterprise.

Run time: 05:09
Release date: August 9, 2023

Show Notes

Guests: Sean Singleton, America's Frontier Fund; Melissa Oh, SVIP Managing Director; Jacqueline Fiterman, CEO and Founder, Cignal; Eric Fiterman, CTO, Cignal; Galvin Widjaja, CEO, Lauretta.io; and Dan Cotter, S&T Special Advisor.

[00:00:00] Sean Singleton: So, there's a saying in venture, I'd rather invest in an A plus team than an A plus technology because technologies come and go, but the teams are the ones that you really want to focus in on.

[00:00:09] Dave: Hi, I'm Dave, editor at S&T and this is Tech Speak. That was Sean Singleton from America's Frontier Fund, investor and guest speaker at the recent Silicon Valley Innovation Program or S V I P demo week, which brought together 30 startups venture capitalists, or VCs, and operational agencies over the course of two days. Next, Melissa Oh, S V I P managing director and event host, reminiscences about the early days of the program,

[00:00:35] Melissa Oh: When we started S V I P about seven years ago, in late 2015, many VCs that I talked to said we're not interested in talking to you. The government was too slow. You know, you're causing our companies to pivot too far into government, and we need them to stay successful and in their commercial business and not be distracted. It was really challenging actually to have startups even be aware of our program, but we really worked well with startup communities, with accelerators, with VCs to help them understand our business model. And that really has helped attract a lot of new startups, particularly women and minority founders, to our program, to really wanting to apply and get into doing more work with DHS. Seven years later, we've got VCs that are actually focused on dual use and are having great successes. So that is a sea change that I'm seeing and I'm super excited for that.

[00:01:27] Dave: And as for the startups, we caught up with them at the event’s Tech Expo. They had a lot to say about the advantages of working with S V I P. Here's CEO and founder, Jacqueline Fiterman with CTO, Eric Fiterman from the company Cignal.

[00:01:36] Jacqueline Fiterman: We have really grown our technology and have been able to meet with different potential customers, receive very valuable feedback, and it's really helped us enhance our product.

[00:01:36] Eric Fiterman: The other great benefit is working with other great companies in the homeland security ecosystem. So, it's really opened a lot of doors. It really has and given us some great feedback and helped us make a better product that solves a hard problem.

[00:01:59] Jacqueline Fiterman: We absolutely would recommend anyone who's interested in exploring how they can apply their technologies to homeland security, whether they have an idea that's already in motion, maybe commercially or just a thought that they're ready to prototype should explore opportunities with S V I P. There's just a lot of great things that can be done when they're part of this program.

[00:02:16] Dave: Even globally, SVIP is a tracking innovators like CEO, Galvin Widjaja from Loretta.io, based in Singapore. Let's hear from him next.

[00:02:25] Galvin Widjaja: We started working with S V I P as a company in 2020. And during that time, we were looking for customers that really understood the technology of the business. And S V I P was one of the only ways as a international company, we could work with the US government. And so, it gave us, a way to open up, our aperture of possible technologies and possible clients to somebody who really understands, the value of the technology. And it helped the company a lot because what ended up happening was that we were able to build a higher quality technology based on a more strict demand that the government had.

[00:03:03] Dave: And what kind of problems were SVIP funded companies solving? S&T special advisor Dan Cotter spoke to this in keynote remarks.

[00:03:10] Dan Cotter: I think today we've had about 80 companies that, that we've engaged with. Melissa to mention a little bit, but the diversity of the problems sets that Silicon Valley has put out there, that you've raised up to is really impressive. Energy harvesting fabrics, particularly for our first responders, IOT security, canine wearables for canine health, language translation for U.S. Coast Guard, forgery, counterfeiting, of course, autonomy, unmanned aerial systems. You know, it's enormous.

[00:03:38] Dave: An encouraging note from government. Young companies are welcome. Here's our S V I P managing director again.

[00:03:43] Melissa Oh: So, we do our contracts through something called the Other Transaction Authority. It doesn't require a company to having had lots of government contracts in the past. In fact, our requirement is that they cannot have had a federal government contract totaling over a million dollars within the last 12 months. So, we're really looking for nimble small companies under 200 employees.

[00:04:03] Dave: Melissa and startups alike shared high hopes for the event. And what's next for the startups participating.

[00:04:09] Melissa Oh: So, through this event, I am really actually hoping to achieve these, organic collisions that might occur between our companies. I think that I've seen, a lot of interesting questions that are coming from our companies to other companies, and I can see already some of the beginnings of new partnerships.

[00:04:25] Dave: Here's Jacqueline Fiterman again on why her company has attended three demo weeks.

[00:04:30] Jacqueline Fiterman: This is actually the third demo week that we participated in, but the first in-person one. And it's been a fantastic experience. We really are having a great time interacting with fellow companies, with others in the S V I P, program managers. It's just great to interact in person learning a lot from what some of these other companies are doing too, and how they're part of the S V I P and what solutions they're providing.

[00:04:51] Dave: It's exciting to know that S&T is attracting the best of American and global ingenuity from the startup community to solve some of homeland security's biggest challenges. Thanks for listening and be sure to follow us at DHS.SciTech DHS, S C I T E C H. Bye.

Last Updated: 04/01/2024
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