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Helicon Chemical Company, a company using UCF’s Business Incubation Program and founded by David Reid ’12PhD, was awarded a $1.9 million Tactical Funding Increase contract in May from the U.S. Air Force to accelerate its enhanced-performance solid rocket propellant research and production.

Helicon is the second company to have been awarded a Tactical Funding Increase Contract while using UCF’s Business Incubator’s guidance and services. The first company was Red Six Aerospace, Inc. which received a contract in 2022 for developing an augmented reality system.

Reid says he is proud to continue developing his propellant technologies and collaborate again with the U.S. Air Force.

“This marks a significant step in making the Helicon technology available for government and commercial use,” he says. “Helicon is extending on previous work with the Air Force to use our technology to improve the performance of solid rocket motors for various systems. The underlying nanotechnology has broader uses for commercial space, improved high temperature performance for semiconductors, and improved performance for solar energy cells.”

The Tactical Funding Increase was awarded by AFWERX, a collaborative innovation arm of the Air Force Research Laboratory and Department of the Air Force.

The award is designed to help bring innovative technologies — like Helicon’s rocket propellants — into use by the Air Force and other Department of Defense customers on an accelerated timeline, Reid says.

“The program is specifically designed to assist companies in bringing a key technology across what is often referred to as the ‘Valley of Death,’ the place where promising technologies tend to have issues moving from the research to the production domains so that the technology can actually get into the hands of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines,” he says.

Reid founded Helicon during his final year of graduate studies at UCF under the mentorship of Department of Materials Science and Engineering Chair Sudipta Seal. He later transitioned to chief technology officer from CEO in 2022.

“Helicon is a UCF incubator company that continues to work directly with UCF students and staff to advance and expand the use of its technology,” Reid says.

Helping Reid and the rest of the Helicon team navigate the challenges of growing their business has been so gratifying, says Carol Ann Logue, director of programs and operations for the Innovation Districts and Incubation Program.

“It certainly speaks to the quality of work coming out of UCF,” she says. “They’re still with us and they’re still in the process of growing.”

The business incubation program is entering its 24th year of operation and manages nine incubation facilities in Central Florida and adjacent counties. The program offers specialized assistance to nurture and grow emerging companies, Logue says.

“In addition to supporting many entrepreneurs from the region, we support the commercialization of innovations developed by faculty and graduate students,” she says. “We’re helping the university fulfill its commitment to positively impact growth in diversified industries and advancing learning objectives. For example, UCF students often are working part-time for these companies, getting hands on experience in their degree field and getting exposure to that world of business dynamics.”

Logue estimates that there are around 130-150 clients at any given time who have applied and been accepted after meeting the program’s specific criteria. They are in the Incubation Program an average of 2-6 years while receiving comprehensive support in establishing and growing their business, Logue says.

“We do have very specific criteria for assessing companies that come to us,” she says. “They must solve a problem that exists or a problem that is visibly growing and they can’t be student-run companies. We do have companies that were started by UCF students who then graduated and continued to grow the company.  Helicon is a great example of that.”

Reid used specialized facilities, benefitted from mentorship, and gained valuable insights from marketing experts from the UCF Business Incubation Program, Logue says.

“David has participated in a lot of our programs,” she says. “He came to us with his Ph.D. in one hand and a small business grant in the other hoping to commercialize his research. Helicon is a great example of a company who took advantage of the assistance we provide with business management and the critical operational aspect that can sometimes be daunting.”

Helicon’s procurement of this highly regarded contract is impressive, and it shows that the company’s technology is crucial to the field of defense innovation, Logue says.

“The fact that they got this award speaks to how important this innovation is to the needs of the Air Force,” she says. “There is a continuous call to move critical solutions much quicker into use for national security.”

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