Targeted at entities with revenues less than $5 million, the Entrepreneurial Challenge offers a year of incubation support, technical and business mentoring and an investment evaluation as the prize. The first round was launched in February 2012 with five questions seeking ideas in wireless sensing, signature control, software, energy storage and avionics cooling.
The first winner was Pankl Aerospace Innovations, a California-based company set up by Austrian automotive and aerospace manufacturer Pankl Racing Systems. Pankl's solution addressed the second challenge—adaptive signature control and active survivability—by proposing a set of technologies packaged into a concept rotorcraft called Hero. “It was the complementary transformational technologies, not the product, that drew us,” Vigeant-Langlois says.
These include a lightweight, stretchable skin made of a fiber-reinforced, polyurethane-coated Lycra fabric, used by BMW in its Gina concept car. An alligator-inspired “wagging” tail allows faster turns, says Pankl Aerospace Systems CEO Sonya Zierhut. The skin is covered with thin-film bendable displays for active camouflage and carbon-nanotube loudspeakers for active noise cancellation.
Sikorsky decided two other contestants also were worthy of incubation support: Ottawa-based Smart Rotor Systems, with a new pitch-link control technology; and inventor Drew Lambert, with a mobile network weather information concept.
“We are halfway through the incubation period with the winner and the others,” says Vigeant-Langlois. At the end of the year-long prize period, the ventures will be assessed by Sikorsky to see if they are ready to move to the next level of investment. “We expect not all will lead to a formal relationship downstream,” she says.
Sikorsky believes the venture has been valuable to both sides. “The winner has used the visibility to leverage interest with the investment community and others,” says Hartman.
For the second round, Sikorsky adapted the challenge “not only to look upstream to the supply chain, but to include downstream companies that could be users of the products and services we offer,” says Vigeant-Langlois. Questions focused on a different set of challenges: manned/unmanned vehicle operations, preserving damaged structures, lead-time reductions using 3-D manufacturing, reducing cost and time to develop new vehicles, and using vertical flight to open new markets.
“In the first round, we had a half-dozen fully qualified submissions. In the second, we had 16,” says Vigeant-Langlois. “The number is not huge, but it's a balancing act between broadening the questions to reach a wide audience versus finding alignment with topics addressing aerospace and focused on rotorcraft.”
The second-round winner is ExoLux Transportation, for a social-media platform offering connectivity in the urban VIP helicopter market. ExoLux coordinates a non-scheduled system of helicopter shuttles in south Florida. Rescale, a San Francisco-based company, gets a special mention for a cloud simulation platform that can accelerate design cycles.