Competitive Advantage

NASA initiative offers technical expertise to small businesses

Most people don’t know that NASA technology has anything to do with the food we eat, but Wendell Turner, owner and CEO of Diversified Services Corp., knows better. Based in Cleveland, the food distribution and packing company uses NASA technology resources to enhance the flavor of its prepared food products.

“The thing that really excited me the most was the technology itself and the transfer from government to private industry,” says Turner. Through the NASA Glenn Garrett Morgan Commercialization Initiative (www.nasagmci.org; 216-898-6400), Diversified Services was able to use Fantesk, a multiuse starch-based product patented by the Agricultural Research Service. This exclusive patent license enabled Diversified Services to develop and commercialize NutriGras, a nutritional fat replacement and flavor enhancement product the company uses in its Heritage Fare product line.

Turner learned about GMCI’s three-year program, created to assist small, minority-owned, and women-owned businesses, through other industry professionals. The highly selective application process is designed to make sure enrolled companies have realistic needs and the right NASA resources available to help them. “Frequently, we introduce them to scientists and engineers at NASA Glenn and other centers to facilitate partnerships for further technology development,” says GMCI Program Manager Gail Wright, who works with an average of 20 companies during each three-year period. Thirty of the 80 companies that participated during the three-year period Turner participated were black-owned. “We facilitate numerous partnerships for technology development and testing often in one of NASA Glenn’s facilities. In the case of Heritage Fare, GMCI provided a broad range of assistance including technology acquisition and development and introductions to potential customers and strategic partners, such as the NASA Food Technology Commercial Space Center, for taste tests and performance studies.”

In addition to helping small companies grow by leveraging NASA technology, GMCI, which started in 1998, provides a variety of services for clients including grant and proposal writing, marketing analysis, strategic planning, and business opportunity assessment.

“We work with companies that are interested in obtaining NASA technology as well as those that want to utilize NASA’s state-of-the-art facilities and development capabilities to test or enhance their own technology or products,” says Wright. GMCI does not charge its clients for basic services and consultations, however, businesses that wish to benefit from the program must be located in one of the 13 states the program currently services.

Wright says that the program sends a positive message to minority business owners. “GMCI’s emphasis on diversity and inclusiveness allows us to encourage and support outstanding men and women across a broad spectrum whose creativity and resourcefulness are key to innovation and the vitality and sustainability of our nation.”

ACROSS THE WEB