Today@Sam Article

Partnership To Enhance Space Corridor Innovation

Aug. 12, 2022
SHSU Media Contact: Campbell Atkins

SHSU students Katrina Santos, Kelly Castillo, Khushi Gupta and Jeet Gohil (not pictured) are working on a device to assist people living in medically underserved communities.

Sam Houston State University is partnering with Expanding Frontiers of Brownsville, Texas to launch unique opportunities for innovators and astropreneurs and to develop Texas’ Space Corridor between Brownsville and Huntsville by identifying uses for various NASA patents. The partnership runs through SHSU’s Center for Innovation & Technology (CIT), sponsored by the College of Business Administration.

Expanding Frontiers is a non-profit organization focused on underserved communities that provides educational experiences and hands-on training for students, veterans and aspiring entrepreneurs. The goal is to create and accelerate the growth of an innovation ecosystem in Brownsville with an emphasis on space and energy technologies.

“This is just the beginning of our collaboration,” Fredrick Jenet, founder and executive director of Expanding Frontiers, said. “The importance of this agreement is to show there is a commitment to work together and that we appreciate the capabilities that each party brings to the collaboration. We are using this platform to initiate additional programs and to seek funding sources together.”

There are three levels to the concept of astropreneurship, the simplest of which involves developing new technologies used specifically for space. The second involves gathering data by sending technology into space. Lastly, the most innovative level includes using the technologies and patents that have been designed for use in space and finding commercial uses for them on earth.

“There has been a shift in the way we see what is happening,” Alma Miller of the Expanding Frontiers Board of Directors said. “In this new economy, the new wild west is space. The private sector moving into space exploration makes sense. The technologies that have been used and have been successful at NASA now could be licensed to private citizens.”

CIT Director and SHSU Professor Pamela Zelbst, who has worked with NASA and these types of technologies in the past, knows the importance of combining the business side and multiple disciplines willing to work together in order to break barriers in this field.

“It is very exciting to be involved with Expanding Frontiers, especially when you consider what my area of expertise is,” Zelbst said. “I’m a supply chain professor and I started out with an interest in tech because supply chain is turning more and more into a technological area. It takes both scientists and business-minded people. You can have the technology, but if you don’t have the business expertise with it, you are not going to go anywhere. That is my role.”

Jenet, along with Jane Lea Hicks of Expanding Frontiers, have their own connections to NASA that allow them to access their inventors and technology. Hicks believes this connection, and the agreement with SHSU, could help the local space corridor thrive, especially considering the area’s local leaders. One of these leaders includes Professor Zelbst.

“Dr. Zelbst and I have shared this vision since we first met in 2013 while I was working with the Houston Technology Center’s NASA office,” Hicks said on the opportunities available to create value from the technologies that have been developed at NASA and are readily for licensing. “But you need the tech component to understand the business aspect. I love seeing and working with these underserved communities because these kids and these young adults are so bright and motivated, the only thing they have lacked is opportunity. Now, through this collaboration, we are creating these opportunities, certainly between Huntsville and Brownsville, and it may extend further. We are going to be leaders in this industry.”

The Space Corridor development is focused on supporting commercial space flight and the development of products for space flight, as well as identifying uses for various NASA patents on earth.

Jenet sees this space exploration and development as the “guiding star” behind the partnership.

“There are infinite supplies of resources up there, we just need to figure out how to get there,” Jenet said. “This corridor is tapping into the talents of the region, opening opportunities and making sure they’re involved in a meaningful way.”

An example of one current project within SHSU that supports this partnership consists of five computer science students developing a device that will assist people living in medically underserved communities. In theory, the device would be able to help diagnose issues with infants without medical personnel present. The SHSU students are participating in Expanding Frontiers’ 2022 Entrepreneur in Residence Apprenticeship program, an immersive entrepreneurship curriculum with access to mentors and coaches who help them transition their technology into a thriving business that will ultimately make these products available to families and communities.

“(CIT) has the tools to help them develop their prototype,” Zelbst said. “They have been working here to develop that prototype and they also have the benefit of the business side and having people ask how much this is going to cost and how are we going to show that this is actually going to have a benefit to society.”

Expanding Frontiers hopes to continue its collaborative work with organizations throughout the area in an effort to launch the space corridor. Officials believe they are on the verge of liftoff.

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