Connect, San Diego’s oldest startup accelerator, recognized seven companies with ground-breaking technologies on Nov. 29. Pared down from a pool of 23 finalists by a team of judges, this year’s winners designed products that are better, faster and stronger than the competition.
Read more about the products that were given the title of “Most Innovative.”
Melanie Lang, co-founder and managing director of Formalloy, said “It was a big surprise and honor” when her company was called to the stage to receive its award.
Formalloy was recognized for its L-series 3-D printer, which uses a blue laser to manufacture complex metal components. Formalloy developed the product in 2017.
Lang and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Riemann co-founded Formalloy in 2016. With Lang’s background in aerospace engineering, and Riemann’s in industrial machine design, the pair sought out to create a system that could be used to make components in the aerospace industry. In particular, they were looking to find a solution to the long lead times and expense of creating products for the industry with traditional manufacturing methods.
Generally, 3-D printing has been more commonly used in the industry for prototyping, rather than developing actual parts. But speeding up the process could change that.
“Now we see a shift where 3D printing is being used for actual parts,” Lang said. “Our tech helps accelerate that adoption.”
Formalloy’s main claim is the ability to develop complex components significantly faster than other types of manufacturers. For example, Lang said, a component that might take a week to manufacture traditionally could be manufactured by the company’s system in a day.
She gave the example of a rocket nozzle with internal coolant channels in its walls, made from a different material.
“That would be very difficult to manufacture traditionally, so an additive process would be used,” she said.
In fact, Formalloy had manufactured the nozzle as one of several research and development projects for NASA.
“It was really exciting, especially being an aerospace engineer, getting to do work for NASA that’s going to help them move forward on what they’re going to send to space next,” Lang said.
Right now, Formalloy has a team of four in San Diego, bolstered by subcontractors. The company is self-funded, bringing in money from R&D projects, as well as machine sales. Lang said the company plans to grow its workforce as it releases new products.
Qubitekk’s Quantum Transceiver might sound like a gadget from a science fiction novel. But the device could shape up to be a critical component for cybersecurity.
Right now, most utility companies use public key infrastructures to encrypt and decrypt information. However, the process can be relatively slow, compared with other methods of encryption.
Qubitekk’s device uses quantum mechanics to create the secret keys needed to secure communications. Instead of using algorithms, the device uses pairs of entangled photons to accomplish this. The Quantum Transceiver, a piece of hardware installed onsite, is used to transmit and receive security keys.
Corey McClelland, vice president of business development for Qubitekk, said the company is the only U.S. manufacturer of entangled photon cryptography; its primary competitor is in Switzerland.
“Today, key management and certificate management is a maintenance overhead issue. It’s complicated, and takes a lot of time and energy,” McClelland said. “This takes that away.”
McClelland said the company is focusing on utility companies in particular, because they have certificates that last for months before they are refreshed. It’s also a big market, at roughly $20 billion.
Qubitekk was founded in 2012 by physicist Duncan Earl, who now serves as the company’s chief technology officer.
“He worked at Oak Ridge National Labs for 18 years before he started Qubitekk back in 2012 with the idea that this would be a great application,” McClelland said. “He has a brilliant mind. It’s been a lot of fun to work with him.”
Currently, the Vista-based company is working on a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The company conducted its first demonstration for Pacific Gas and Electric.
In 2019, the company will implement its systems for a utility company in Tennessee, which McClelland anticipates could bring more business to the company.
“People are waiting to see what happens in our installation,” he said. “It sounds like it will open a floodgate of companies who are ready to jump in and start installing the product.”
Qubitekk currently has 14 employees, but McClelland expects that number to double by the end of 2019. The company is angel-funded, but is not currently seeking another round of funding.
“That might change, depending on how quickly equipment orders come in,” McClelland said. “We’re planning for success.”
Product: Citadel Titan
Citadel Defense’s technology uses machine learning algorithms to detect and classify drones that could pose a threat to combat troops. The system detects communications between unmanned aerial vehicles and controllers, and can be used to cause drones to leave the field.
Primo Wind’s EnergiPlant is a small turbine that can be installed in public spaces. It can be used to power Wi-FI, charging, lighting and security cameras.
Product: Banyan BTI
Banyan Bio is based on research that found a way to detect concussions using biomarkers. The company’s product is a diagnostic blood test meant to help diagnose patients with concussions without the radiation exposure of a CT scan. The company recently gained Food and Drug Administration approval for its product as a breakthrough device in February.
Biological Dynamics is pursuing FDA approval for the use of its cancer screening technology, Omniverita, for lung cancer. The system is able to isolate biomarkers, such as cell-free DNA, without sample pre-processing, allowing for test results in less than an hour. In June, Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs joined the company’s board.
Product: microBrain 3D Assay Research Plate
Stemonix develops assays of microtissues that can be used for drug discovery, safety testing and disease monitoring. Its microBrain 3D assay research plate contains 384 “spheroids” made of neural cells that can be used for these purposes, as well as to test neurotoxicity.