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MatterFab 3-D printer
Seattle-based MatterFab is working on a 3-D printer that looks like a walk-in freezer but can use laser microwelding to make metal components out of powder. (Credit: MatterFab)

Some aerospace ventures came to Starburst Accelerator’s shark tank in Seattle today to find investors. Others were looking for customers. But unlike the TV version of “Shark Tank,” none of them was sent away in defeat.

“There are no winners or losers,” Van Espahbodi, Starburst’s co-founder and chief operating officer, told GeekWire at the end of the all-day pitch session.

Instead, a dozen entrepreneurs got the chance to pitch their ideas at the Museum of Flight, in front of venture capitalists, aerospace executives and other industry types (plus a couple of journalists).

Starburst Accelerator

Today’s gathering marked the first Starburst event conducted in Seattle, which has been gaining more visibility as an aerospace industry hub – thanks to the likes of such stalwarts as the Boeing Co. as well as more recent entrants such as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture. Both of those companies had representatives in the audience today.

Three hometown aerospace ventures had spots on the schedule, including Seattle-based MatterFab, which is working on a 3-D printer that can create metal parts from laser-welded powder.

After years of development and millions of dollars in startup funding, MatterFab is on the verge of putting its machine to work. It’s already talking with Blue Origin as well as Boeing, SpaceX and GE about doing business.

“We’ve been told, ‘If you had anything today, you would be building our parts,'” MatterFab CEO Jonathan Saint Clair said.

RBC Signals’ CEO, Christopher Richins, is looking for investors as well as customers to add to his list. Richins founded RBC Signals, based in Redmond, Wash., last year to provide ground station services for what’s expected to be entire constellations of satellites in low Earth orbit.

So far, he and his fellow executives in Russia and Israel have knit together a network of 28 satellite communication antennas in 18 locations around the globe.

“We’re able to sign revenue-sharing deals, so we’re not taking on the costs of leasing,” Richins told GeekWire. “We’re able to maintain a very flexible network now, and then as our customers come to us and require dedicated assets, we’re able to either buy, build or lease dedicated infrastructure to meet their needs.”

Seattle-based Aerostrat is offering a slightly more down-to-earth service: a software platform called Aerros that’s designed to keep track of aircraft maintenance schedules from start to finish.

Aerostrat CEO Elliot Margul said the market for such software amounts conservatively to $250 million a year. Subscription revenue for each product could amount to as much as $30 million a year, he said.

The company was founded just a year ago. “We’ve been working now with eight airlines to really test and develop our product, We’ve actually just sent out contracts to two of those … and we expect to have those closed in early January” Margul said.

“The future for Aerostrat is really bright,” Margul said. “We have a lot of other products in our pipeline that we’d really like to build.”

The shark tank attracted nine other ventures from out of town – in a couple of cases, way out of town.

BOXARR, a startup based in England, offers a simple-to-use “boxes and arrows” production management platform that’s catching on with Boeing, Airbus and other industrial heavy-hitters.

Then there’s WiN MS, a French company that has developed a high-tech system to monitor cables and connections for potential problems. The current applications focus on aviation, but the system could be adapted in the future for electric cars, smart grids and oil and gas distribution systems.

The most interactive venture represented at the Starburst event was iQ3, headquartered in Woburn, Mass., which brought along an HTC Vive headset to show off its virtual-reality platform for web conferencing and collaborative computer-aided design.

Dan Burton, the CEO of DroneBase, touted his company’s 50-state network for capturing drone imagery. DroneBase has provided low-cost imagery for Zillow’s online real-estate service, surveyed damaged homes in Georgia for Allstate after Hurricane Matthew for Allstate, and counts lots of other high-profile companies (such as Tesla and Hilton) among its clients.

The Los Angeles-based company is paying drone pilots by the gig to cope with the demand.

“You can think of DroneBase as an Amazon Web Services for drones,” Burton told the Seattle audience.

Electric Power Systems, Evigia, Identify3D, Koolock and Pierce Aerospace rounded out the shark tank’s dozen. Attendees were given the chance to rate all the presentations online, but Starburst’s Espahbodi said the ratings wouldn’t figure in any sort of reward.

The true reward came during the breaks – when entrepreneurs had a chance to chat with potential backers, customers and advisers. And there’s a chance that some of today’s presenters will eventually get in on Starburst’s newly announced $200 million venture fund.

Today, everyone got a free piece of advice from Raj Singh, managing director at JetBlue Technology Ventures.

“My advice is, don’t fall in love with the technology. Find a business case,” Singh told the audience during a lunchtime panel discussion. “I see a ton of technology. I was at a VR/AR event yesterday, and all these guys had these wonderful predictions about how this is going to change our life, but not one of them could come up with a solid business case for a killer application that would allow them to get out there, flourish and make money. … If you’re going to be a business, find a customer.”

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