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Sunday, Apr 14, 2024

New EvoNexus Round Targets Defense-Tech

San Diego tech accelerator EvoNexus has gained a new corporate backer. Cubic Corp., a San Diego company that develops defense and transportation systems, will join the accelerator for the first time to launch an application round with Viasat Inc.

While EvoNexus has historically opened its application rounds to tech startups of all kinds, the company has also begun holding targeted application rounds appealing to a few particular sectors. For the current cohort, EvoNexus is seeking startups with technologies in cybersecurity, cloud computing and data analytics, which fall under Cubic’s and Viasat’s areas of interest. In exchange, the two companies may offer mentorship, funding and potential opportunities for strategic partnerships.

Melanie Hagerty
Kristi Jaska

“This is the first time we’ve ever done this,” EvoNexus CEO Rory Moore said. “(Cubic and Viasat) both have products in the DoD space and the commercial space. They’re very similar companies in many ways. We partner with them to help them find new technologies and new startups in areas that they can’t really grow in-house.”

Viasat has been a major partner for EvoNexus since 2015, along with longtime corporate sponsors Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) and the Irvine Co. Through the partnership, Viasat (Nasdaq: VSAT) has invested in EvoNexus startups and used their products in its test networks.

While Viasat executives had helped select and mentor startups in the past, this year, they will have more of an involved role.

“In this round, it’s more of that — more engagement with the startup companies,” said Kristi Jaska, vice president of engineering for Viasat. “The partnership brings a lot of energy to the round. Having us both here as sponsors, we’re hoping to attract interesting companies.”

Jaska and Viasat’s chief operating officer, Rick Baldridge, will help pick applicants that might match the company’s interests. Cubic’s senior vice president and corporate senior adviser, retired Vice Admiral David Buss, and the company’s vice president of corporate engineering and innovation, Melanie Hagerty, will field Cubic’s candidates.

Opportunities For Both Companies

Both Baldridge and Buss are on EvoNexus’ board, with Baldridge serving as chairman.

“Given that this is our first year with EvoNexus, we’re excited and thrilled to be part of this application round and working with Viasat,” Hagerty said. “We’re just really excited about the aspects of discovering a startup that will be a strategic partner with us, and support our internal research and development programs.”

In the past, Cubic (NYSE: CUB) has partnered with Connect, another local accelerator program, as well as engineering programs at San Diego’s universities. Through EvoNexus, the company hopes to work with startups that are further along in their development.

“For this time around, what we hope to do is really leverage the startups that have already gotten an idea forward to at least a prototype concept,” Hagerty said. “We think this will be beneficial not only to startups, but to Cubic. The more we can leverage new perspectives, new ways of approaching or utilizing technology, the more diverse our approach can be.”

Moore said the accelerator should also give both companies opportunities in dual-use technology, or technologies that have been developed for a commercial use but have applications in the military and government sectors.

The companies hope to find some candidates that meet both of their interests.

From One Startup to Another

Cubic and Viasat share another important trait: both are home-grown, San Diego-area companies. Cubic began as a small Point Loma electronics company in the’50s before it built out the combat-training systems and transportation ticketing systems that make up its two largest sectors.

Viasat was founded more recently, in Carlsbad in 1986. The company launched its first IPO a decade later, and now provides in-flight WiFi to more than 1,100 commercial planes, in addition to satellite communications for the defense sector.

“I’ve been at Viasat since there were six of us here. That’s my startup experience,” Jaska said. “I’ve felt like it’s always a startup here. It’s always the next thing … the next product or market.”

Jaska and Hagerty said they were looking for companies that already have a prototype, a go-to-market plan, proof that their product can work, and a solid team.

“We’re looking for companies that solve real-world problems,” Hagerty said. “They’re not going after a ‘who knew’ research topic, but want to bring value and make a positive difference for society and our customers.”

Applications for the program are open until Feb. 22. Participating startups will have access to space at EvoNexus’ offices in UTC for up to 24 months, with an average incubation period of 18 months. Companies will be able to receive up to $250,000 in seed funding from Viasat and Cubic in exchange for a 5 percent equity stake.

Moore said he hoped to see 80 to 100 companies apply, with about six to 10 selected for the program.

Startups and software reporter Elise Reuter can be reached at ereuter@sdbj.com or 858-277-6971.


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