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Q&A: Statheros keeping Air Force pilots safe from radar-based missiles 

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of posts about companies LaunchTN has supported through the SBIR/STTR Matching Fund. 

Launch Tennessee supports companies, like Statheros, by helping them apply for the Small Business Innovation Research program. 

The SBIR/STTR programs, colloquially known as America’s Seed Fund, are the country’s biggest source of early-stage funding for research and development. 

Through its Microgrant Program, LaunchTN provides technical support to founders applying for federal SBIR/ STTR funds.

LaunchTN supports founders’ applications to the federal programs, and if the founders land that funding, then LaunchTN invites the company to apply for matching funds to further accelerate their business development.

With LaunchTN’s help, Statheros has received a $1.2 million in Phase II SBIR. LaunchTN also provided a match of $300,000 to support the business. 

 Statheros has received multiple Phase I and Phase II SBIRs and follow-on contracts with LaunchTN’s support.

LaunchTN has provided two SBIR matches totaling $600,000 to support Statheros’ advancement of multiple Phase II SBIR technologies.

Q:  Explain in the most laymen terms possible what your company does.

A: Statheros develops AI and automation software that helps keep our U.S. Air Force pilots,  and their crew, safe from radar-based missiles.

If you have seen “Top Gun: Maverick,” you will remember the scene where the missiles are shooting at Maverick and his strike fighter group. In the movie, Maverick and crew use evasive maneuvers and shiny flares to avoid the missiles. The problem is that the aircraft are slower than the missiles and they have a limited number of flares; once those flares are used up, the aircraft is defenseless against the cheaper, faster, and more agile missiles.

Our automation and AI software preempts the use of limited chaff/flares by manipulating electromagnetic radio frequency waves to confuse, blind, and misdirect these missiles. Unlike flares, we can create an unlimited number of radio frequency waves to deceive those missiles and keep our aircrew safe.

Traditionally, this activity, known as “Electronic Warfare,” has been a game of real-time wits between aircrew and adversary radar operators, akin to a game of speed chess. However, our software is designed to give our aircrew an asymmetric advantage by helping them make better decisions, more quickly, and more accurately than the radar operators on the ground. We employ the power of machine intelligence to improve aircrew survivability.

Q:  How long have you been in business and how did you get started?

A: I bootstrapped Statheros in January 2021. Prior to starting Statheros, I was serving as the Chief Operating Officer of a small (~75 people) Defense contractor in Washington, DC, and I realized that I had the knowledge and the relationships required to start my own business and run things my way. 

On top of that, the market was ripe with Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations (EMSO) opportunities, and the Air Force had recently introduced AFWERX Open Topics, an accelerated SBIR process that would help capture cash flow quickly and allow me to bootstrap the company and establish positive net profits from year one.

I didn’t want to take on debt or give up equity, so early stage cash flow was extremely important to me. 

I initially started by consulting for other businesses to generate income while waiting on our first government awards. 

By year two, I ceased all consulting and shifted focus purely to government contracts. 

Now that we are a little over three years old, we’ve executed several Phase I and Phase II SBIRs, both open topic and traditional topic. 

We’ve also received a few direct contracts via Commercial Solutions Openings and Other Transactions Agreements, and we’re starting on our first Phase III award next month.

Q: Who or what is your work impacting?

A: Our work directly impacts our soldiers serving in the U.S. Air Force by providing technologies that keep them safe from the constantly evolving radar-based missile threats. 

Modern militaries across the globe recognize that air superiority is a crucial determinant of victory. That’s why we saw Russia attempting to destroy all of Ukraine’s radar-based missile sites on Day 1 of the Russia/Ukraine conflict. 

By employing AI and automation, our software can shorten decision cycles by rapidly recounting years of intelligence, calculating complex algorithms, and identifying non-obvious opportunities that manual operators would miss in a high stress environment. This will help the US establish air superiority while bringing our airmen back home safely to their families.

Q: What has this SBIR funding helped you do?

A: SBIR funding has helped Statheros rapidly address warfighter needs while providing non-dilutive funding to develop important technologies with intellectual property protected by SBIR data rights. 

It has also provided sole source contract vehicles that facilitate and expedite the contracting process, while helping us avoid pursuing time-eating indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity multiple award contracts. 

The Open Topic solicitations, in particular, have enabled us to collaborate with our clients to identify high priority technology gaps, and present those to the Air Force for funding, rather than reactively responding to standard published topics. And the accelerated periods of performance enable us to develop, test, and field those technologies more rapidly.

Q: How has LaunchTN supported your business? How valuable were the matching funds?

A: LaunchTN has supported Statheros in numerous ways. 

LaunchTN has provided matching SBIR funds, a summer intern stipend, IRS Section 174 advocacy, and numerous networking opportunities that have delivered valuable relationships with other Tennessee small businesses. 

We are so grateful for LaunchTN’s services and their excellent staff who go above and beyond to make Tennessee startups successful.

LaunchTN’s matching funds have helped us accelerate our technology development efforts and improve our product capabilities. We could not have gotten our products to market without LaunchTN’s matching funds. 

With these matching funds, we have been able to secure a Phase III SBIR and prepare our software for a 10-year enterprise license with a key Air Force System Program Office.. 

We have also built technologies that have resulted in winning additional Phase I SBIR contracts and have helped us establish technical baselines to compete on future large proposal pursuits.

Q: Why Tennessee? Why are you located in Tennessee, and do you see benefits of being here. 

A: I’m a Tennessee boy through and through. I grew up in Kingston, went to school in Oak Ridge, and went to Tennessee Tech for my undergrad. Tennessee is home, and it runs deep in my roots. 

My career took me to a few different states, and while I enjoyed living in Florida and Texas, Tennessee kept calling me home. I missed the change of seasons, the mountains, and the small town camaraderie of East Tennessee. We moved back in 2017 and plan to stay here indefinitely.

There are numerous benefits of being in Tennessee: cost of living, easy access to numerous city hubs both in and out of state, collaborative universities, a population raised on the value of hard work, and of course, tremendous support organizations like LaunchTN, APEX, the Cumberland Business Incubator, and the Knoxville Chamber.

Q: Anything else you want people to know about your company and work?

A: If you are reading this and see an opportunity to work together, please reach out! Let’s chat about how we can combine our competencies to better serve each other’s clientele.

You can get in touch via email at innovate@statheros.tech or phone(931) 201-9886.

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