Juneau, Montana groups join to push development

Partnership aims to help Alaska business get funds for technology

Posted: Tuesday, July 01, 2003

The Juneau Economic Development Council has combined forces with TechLink, a nonprofit organization based in Bozeman, Mont., to help small businesses in Alaska develop and use new technology.

The Northern Technology Partnership will help Alaska businesses access government funding for developing and marketing new technology. Though the partnership was formalized this month, JEDC and TechLink have been developing a relationship for years, said Lance Miller, executive director of the JEDC.

Triverus, a design and development engineering company based in Anchorage, already has taken advantage of TechLink's services. The company won a $100,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a system for cleaning the decks of aircraft carriers.

In addition to providing funding to help defray the cost of writing the grant proposal, TechLink also connected Triverus with a scientist from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration who reviewed the grant, said Hans Vogel, vice president of research and development for Triverus.

Triverus received a $100,000 grant for the initial planning of the deck cleaner. TechLink then hired a consultant to conduct a marketing study for the cleaner's use in private industry, which helped Triverus win a second, $750,000 grant to develop a prototype of the cleaner.

"You can go a long ways with $850,000 if you're serious about commercialization," said Vogel. "The end game for Triverus is to build these and deliver them for the Navy."

The economic impact of such manufacturing development could be a big boost for Alaska, he said.

"It means we're bringing a high-gross amount of skilled labor to the state," Vogel said. "We're bringing that cash and creating jobs for the assembly, construction and support of the vehicle. We're helping existing vendors in the state, and the shipping industry, too."

TechLink is funded primarily by the Department of Defense and NASA to help the federal agencies develop productive relationships with private industry in the Northwest, said Will Swearingen, executive director of TechLink.

The organization facilitates three types of relationships between small businesses and the federal government: Private companies can license technology developed by the Department of Defense and NASA for private industry development; private businesses can win government contracts to develop new technology for government use; and small businesses can get government money to develop technology for use in private industry, Swearingen said.

The JEDC partnership with TechLink could fill an important gap in the state left by June's closing of the Alaska Science and Technology Foundation, a state government-funded agency that provided seed money to manufacturing and technology startups in Alaska, Miller said.

JEDC already is working with a handful of businesses to write proposals for Small Business Innovation Research grants, Miller said. He hopes to combine forces with several other organizations in the state helping businesses acquire SBIR grants, such as the Technology Research and Development Center of Alaska, a program of the Alaska Small Business Development Center.

"I see this as just another way to actually help diversify the economy," Miller said. "Through this partnership, bringing this kind of technological capacity to our state will help get us on the path to economic vitality."

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.

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