The Sikorsky Innovations Entrepreneurial Challenge, now in its second year, saw a significant increase in entries over last year, a sign that the competition is gaining interest among its target audience: entrepreneurial companies looking “to understand some of the toughest issues facing the vertical flight community and to identify their technology as relevant to one or more of these issues.” The Challenge is open to any small company with revenue under $5 million, including newly formed and pre-revenue entities.
This year’s Challenge closed for entries on October 11. “We’ve received 16 submissions from three continents,” Laurence Vigeant-Langlois, director of business development and technology partnerships at Sikorsky Innovations, told AIN. The first Challenge attracted half a dozen applications, although one was disqualified for late submission, she explained. “We then invited three teams to compete in the final round and they all chose to attend the event.”
Ten judges reviewed last year’s entries. “Our internal judges were technical and business generalists, although we also invited our internal experts in the relevant areas to vet the technologies presented,” Vigeant-Langlois said. “Our external judges represented a mix of successful entrepreneurs and angel investors.” She said the Entrepreneurial Challenge itself was modeled after university-type business plan competitions, although Sikorsky “adapted it to its needs as a corporation.”
To enter this year’s Entrepreneurial Challenge teams had to select and answer one or more of five defined “Challenge Questions,” such as, “How can your business concept utilize vertical flight to better serve or create new markets?” and “How can your business concept introduce new approaches to preserve, stabilize or heal damaged systems and structures?” Vigeant-Langlois said all five of these Challenge questions received at least one submission. Detailed information about the Challenge, including the questions, can be found at http://www.sikorsky.com/Innovation/Network/Entrepreneurial+Engagement.
Interestingly, Sikorsky Innovations allows itself the options of selecting more than one winner or none at all. Last year, the company declared Pankl Aerospace Innovations of Cerritos, Calif., the winner, but awarded participation in a three-month education program to Smart Rotor Systems, of Ottawa, Ontario, and additional interaction with Sikorsky mentors to Drew Lambert, an individual inventor.
“The caliber of applicants for the first Sikorsky Innovations Entrepreneurial Challenge exceeded our expectations,” Vigeant-Langlois said. “We felt there is a value in maturing more than one of the innovative business concepts, so we decided to grant awards to two additional finalists.”
The Challenge comes with significant prizes. The winning team receives a year’s use of office space at the Stamford (Conn.) Innovation Center and access to the facility’s business services, mentoring programs, education programs and events, all for no charge. In addition, Sikorsky Aircraft, which is a founding member of the Innovation Center, provides team members a three-month education program at Sikorsky, giving them guidance in both technical and business strategy. Finally, upon completion of the maturation cycle, a Sikorsky panel will evaluate the team’s results for consideration of investment in the project by Sikorsky or introduction to other investors.
Plankl Aerospace Innovations, last year’s winner, began its “incubation” at the Innovation Center earlier this month. “Should a longer term relationship be identified as mutually beneficial, we may also elect to set up future agreements,” said Vigeant-Langlois.
Sikorsky Innovation, a division of Sikorsky Aircraft, can be found here at NBAA ‘12 at the exhibit of Sikorsky division Associated Aircraft Group (Booth No. 3395).