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Arlington accelerator aims to bring government technology to market

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

Ben Solomon didn’t have a STEM background when he graduated from Princeton University.

But now he runs a company that brings deep technology — such as artificial intelligence, robotics and other innovations — into the marketplace.

Solomon, the founder of FedTech, graduated with a history degree and worked as a news researcher for NBC Sports and Bloomberg News. But he wanted to work closer with the government and technology.

“I always have this motivation to be working more closely with government and partnering with technology,” Solomon said. “I ended up coming to business school down here in University of Maryland.”

That was the place where Solomon met staff that commercialized technology, which inspired him to start Ballston-based FedTech.

FedTech is an accelerator that provides programs for startups working in deep technology to found their companies and put their products into the commercial market.

“Before I started doing work in this field, I was surprised to see that the U.S. government is really the biggest research and development investor in history,” Solomon said. “A lot of times those technologies can be really breakthrough and game changing for both commercial industry and even government use.”

FedTech was founded in 2015 after being a part of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program, according to its website. It also has offices in Austin, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, Solomon said.

Solomon based his company in Arlington because of its proximity to many government agencies, big companies like Amazon and local universities, graduates of which the company would “love to hire” as much as possible, he said.

Moreover, Arlington has large office spaces, like the company’s new 9000-square-foot office suite at 4401 Wilson Blvd, that are close to D.C. Solomon added that Arlington also has a “really good social scene.”

“We spent a lot of time as a company going to the bars and the restaurants for kind of team building,” he said.

The company connects smaller private businesses with bigger corporations and government agencies that can use their technology through partnerships.

It hosted a three-day technology summit for the U.S. Army in 2020, which showcased novel technologies that the Army could potentially use.

Will Dickson, Lead of FedTech’s accelerator program, at the technology summit in 2020 (courtesy of FedTech)

FedTech is currently working with around 200 startups and these partnerships are “deeper than an investor or like a Shark Tank-type of investor,” Solomon said.

His company not only runs programs for startups that provide mentorship and training, but it also seeks out new technologies still being researched and brings those to entrepreneurs.

“If we find an invention in a research lab, we’ll go and recruit the founding team who can license that technology out of the research lab and create a new company around it, and we help that company be successful,” Solomon said.

FedTech also helps startups find customers and access capital. Its working relationships with startups can sometimes last for years, Solomon said.

Past winners of the Army’s TechSearch competition held at FedTech (courtesy of FedTech)

FedTech usually does not own any stakes of the startups benefiting from its programs. It instead receives contracts from government departments like the Department of Defense and NASA, as well as other corporations like consumer goods company Proctor & Gamble and defense company BAE Systems.

One startup FedTech has worked with is The Smart Tire Company, a manufacturer of bicycle tires using shape memory alloys so that the tires “will never go flat,” according to the startup’s website. These alloys, a superelastic material, were originally developed by NASA for the agency’s Mars rovers.

Smart Tire was born out of the FedTech NASA Startup Program in 2020, according to its website. FedTech helped the startup in finding the NASA technology and teaming its CEO with people possessing the technical knowledge, Solomon said.

“Over the course of six to nine months, we helped them create the company and license technology and go through the company-building process,” he said. “We kind of help incubate them and get them going.”

For 2022, Solomon is excited about returning to work in person in the new office and working with new clients. He hoped to expand the staff as well, even though hiring is a challenge for the company because it looks for people with an “entrepreneurial bent” to their mindsets, Solomon said.

“We’re really aiming to be a platform where we can be the best accelerator of early-stage technologies in the world,” he added.

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