30 Sep Ideas take flight at AeroInnovate
AeroInnovate kicked off on July 27, the opening day of EAA’s AirVenture, as a forum to connect aerospace entrepreneurs and investors. Organized by the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Network (WEN) and UW-Oshkosh, AeroInnovate showcased emerging companies, investment trends and entrepreneurs with cutting-edge technologies.
In September 1953, EAA was started on the dream of a few people interested in building their own “experimental” aircraft. Today there is no doubt that EAA AirVenture serves as a global platform to showcase innovation, from the unveiling of John Moody’s ultralight powered hang glider in 1976; to the introduction of Glenn Martin’s JetPack in 2008; to the 2009 public flight debut of WhiteKnightTwo, the new space launch vehicle of Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space line. EAA’s AirVenture and Oshkosh have become household names globally in the aerospace industry.
Changes in technology, materials and regulations as well as trends in demographics, new wealth and corresponding sporting activities continue to fuel innovation for aerospace products and services. However, there has been no sizable venue for aerospace entrepreneurs to connect with investors. AeroInnovate provided that venue.
Attendees at AeroInnovate learned about the pitfalls of starting a business and traversing the complicated path of regulatory and funding issues at a Funding Your Dreams session. This session featured Carl Dietrich, CEO of Terrafugia, Diane Doers, CEO of DeltaHawk Engines and Bill Joos, a Silicon Valley consultant for early-to-mid-stage start-ups and founder of Go To Market Consulting. Bill Joos, then took center stage with tips for writing a business plan and advice on developing a hard-hitting, compelling business case. These sessions were geared towards helping start-ups and next year’s entrepreneurs.
After hours at the Pitch and Mingle Venture Cocktail, over 80 investors and entrepreneurs had additional opportunities to network and hear about exciting innovations from seven early to mid-stage companies. Intensive Q&A followed presentations by Diane Doers, Delta Hawk Engines; John McGinnis, Synergy Aircraft; Carl Dietrich, Terrafugia; Glenn Martin, Martin JetPack; Ray Browell, Helodyne; Michael Joyce, Next Giant Leap; and, Bill Steele, VirtualHUD.
For attendee Gretchen Jahn, Director of New Zealand-based Knotridge Limited and former CEO of Mooney Airplane Company, the journey to Oshkosh, Wisconsin was definitely worth the trip. Jahn states, “I found it extremely valuable to have the opportunity to connect with other entrepreneurs and potential investors, as well as those who have past experience with starting companies. The connections made at AeroInnovate led to other connections, which could have valuable outcomes in the future.”
One investor stated, “I’m a serial entrepreneur, angel and multi-VC fund limited partner and pilot from Silicon Valley. I’ve started, ran and financed lots of start-up companies, primarily in computer and biotech but would be enthused to invest in a good aero opportunity with smart people. “
What does all this interest in aerospace mean for Wisconsin? Perhaps someday the “paper valley” will be known as the “aerospace valley” supported by companies all over the state. Wisconsin already has an impressive supply chain of innovative small manufacturers, who are quietly supplying components to the aerospace industry, though it is scarcely known.
Wisconsin companies like Gulf Stream (Appleton), and Basler Turbo Conversions (Oshkosh) use incredibly skilled employees to build out luxury interiors, service Gulf Streams and convert Douglas DC-3s into unbelievable travel products. Still other companies like Sonex Aircraft (Oshkosh) provide state-of-the art sport aircraft and lead research activities in electric sport aircraft, while DeltaHawk Engines (Racine) develops and manufactures fuel efficient diesel aircraft engines. New companies like Morgan Aircraft are working on vertical take-off aircraft that could lead to hundreds of jobs and corporate headquarters in Sheboygan. Moreover, Madison-based Orbital Technologies Corp. was awarded over $150 million in government and industry contracts for aerospace subsystem development and integration, including the largest Phase III Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program in NASA’s history.
These examples illustrate that opportunities to apply technology and new ideas in aerospace are emerging, but they need capital to get started. AeroInnovate focuses on connecting early to mid-stage aerospace companies with investors and industry leaders to advance the industry. These efforts should encourage others in Wisconsin to get behind the cause and look at the state’s aerospace industry as an extremely underutilized asset.