The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s AeroInnovate helps aeroinnovators from across the globe who are starting and growing aero-related businesses and bringing related new technologies to the marketplace. AeroInnovate’s goal is to facilitate the alignment of passionate, successful investors and industry leaders with the best aviation-related opportunities in the world to help get deals done. In this way, exciting new aircraft and aviation products and services will be commercialized and new opportunities created in aviation. AeroInnovate does this by bringing innovators together and offering top-notch educational forums, aligning the best companies with investors and industry leaders, exposing technology through technology showcases and connecting aeroinnovators to people and resources. AeroInnovate was conceptualized in 2007 by a small group of diverse people working for and with UW Oshkosh. Because of the success of AeroInnovate over the past several years, UW Oshkosh is collaborating with its partners to expand by adding an aerospace accelerator program. Additionally, AeroInnovate has been a catalyst for local and regional economic development. AeroInnovate has played a key role in the development of an aviation business park in it’s hometown of Oshkosh, WI as well as for a statewide aerospace consortium.
UW Oshkosh identified three (3) key problems that AeroInnovate seeks to solve. First, was the need to develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Northeast Wisconsin. Northeast Wisconsin has historically relied on manufacturing, specifically the paper industry to drive its economy. Given the shrinking paper industry over the past couple of decades and the need to grow and diversify its economy, there was a need to spark entrepreneurs to commercialize their ideas. Second, on the aviation side; changes in FAA regulations with regard to light sport aircraft and the industry need for technologies to make flying safer, more efficient, cost effective and easier. With regard to aerospace, the transition from federally funded space flight to private, commercial space flight increased the need for new technologies to be developed by entrepreneurs. Finally, one of UW Oshkosh’s strategic partners, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), reports that, of the more than 500,000 annual AirVenture attendees there are hundreds, if not thousands of entrepreneurs, investors and industry leaders specifically looking to connect with the goal of commercializing new technologies. However, many introductions and much of the networking of these individuals happen by chance.
While each of the issues described above has different needs and goals, UW Oshkosh’s team created AeroInnovate as a way to impact each of these challenges with one single initiative.
AeroInnovate started formally bringing entrepreneurs, investors and industry leaders together in 2009 for the first series of workshops and what would become its signature event, the Pitch & Mingle in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, at the EAA’s AirVenture, the “World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration.” AeroInnovate’s goal is to help aeroinnovators from across the globe who are starting and growing aero-related businesses and bring related new technologies to the marketplace. AeroInnovate facilitates the alignment of passionate, successful investors and industry leaders with the best aero-related opportunities in the world to help get deals done. It does this by bringing innovators together and offering top-notch educational forums, aligning the best companies with investors and industry leaders, exposing technology through technology showcases and connecting aeroinnovators to people and resources.
Educate. To build a pipeline of up-and-coming aeroinnovators
Align. Investors & industry leaders with quality opportunities
Expose. New aero-related technologies to the world
Connect. Aeroinnovators with people and resources
Throughout the year, AeroInnovate provides one-on-one resources and referrals to entrepreneurs and investors who seek assistance. Additional year round programming includes webinars and events with key partners including EAA, Space Angels Network, Defense Alliance and Sikorsky Aircraft.
The AeroInnovate programming has provided an opportunity for hundreds of entrepreneurs and investors in the aerospace industry to connect with each other, showcase their technologies, learn how to commercialize their ideas and in 39 cases pitch their idea to investors. AeroInnovate is aware of at least 10 companies that have received funding as a direct result of pitching at the annual Pitch & Mingle event. In 2012, AeroInnovate hosted 17 educational forums, 17 technology showcases, an Investor Roundtable (attended by 44 investors interested in aero-related technologies) and the Pitch & Mingle.
The success of AeroInnovate at EAA since 2009 was instrumental in bringing a new Innovations Pavilion facility to reality in 2013. In addition, AeroInnovate and its partners selected 15 startup companies to be featured in the Innovations Pavilion with complimentary exhibit space provided by EAA. This addition brought significant exposure to AeroInnovate and its startup companies in 2013.
Although AeroInnovate’s mission is global in nature, it has served as a catalyst for local economic growth. AeroInnovate has played a significant role in the development of a local aviation business park and incubator facility at the Wittman Regional Airport. In addition, it has brought a focus to aviation in the State of Wisconsin and is the impetus for the creation of the Wisconsin Aerospace Partners.
AeroInnovate has identified several areas for additional growth. First, there have been several requests to take our events “on the road.” These requests have come from both within the United States and abroad including Germany, New Zealand and Canada. These requests, bring opportunity to replicate and scale up our programs. Second, there is a need to provide more in-depth, hands-on programming and mentorship to aerospace entrepreneurs with the goal of getting them “investor ready.” AeroInnovate is currently working with its partners to develop an AeroInnovate Aerospace Accelerator program with a launch date in April 2015.
As AeroInnovate continues to help aerospace related startups succeed, more start-ups and early stage companies from across the globe continue to seek assistance from its leadership and partners. The partnerships AeroInnovate has developed over the past several years and the continued growth, demonstrates the program has staying power.
UEDA Awards of Excellence Finalists presented at the Annual Summit in Santa Fe on September 29-30, 2014. Summit attendees then voted for the best initiative in each category.