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Tough Tech Today with Meyen and Miller
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Tough Tech Today with Meyen and Miller

Author: Jonathan Miller and Forrest Meyen

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This is the premiere show featuring trailblazers who are building technologies today to solve tomorrow's toughest challenges.
15 Episodes
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Just a quick Tough Tech Today update as we take a bye week and prepare for our guest in two weeks.
In one sentence: When the frontiers of geology overlap with the frontlines of contested regions, international collaborations help protect minerals core to our civilization.—————Overview:There’s a world of minerals in every electronic device. Anything that cannot be grown must be mined, Emily King tells us. A global mining expert and founder of Prospector Portal, Emily shares stories and advancements in the finding, protecting, and stewarding of minerals.From digitizing and structuring disparate datasets sourced around the globe, to mobilizing with armed teams to identify and secure minerals critical to humanity’s future, our conversation takes a journey from the rocks beneath us to the rocks above us, where advanced space technologies further our understanding of lunar regolith, Martian soil, and frozen asteroids – as well as the legal and commercial implications of their mining.—————Show Notes:→ Episode page, transcript, and podcast listening links: https://toughtechtoday.com/mine-prospecting/→ Emily King on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/emily-scott-king/→ Prospector Portal (company): https://www.prospectorportal.com/→ On the Rocks (podcast): https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/on-the-rocks/id1536817770→ Watch this show on Youtube: https://youtu.be/mcE96CrNgpo
In one sentence: Unlocking new mRNA treatments will save lives, but it's not as simple as that.—————Overview—————Jake Becraft of Strand Therapeutics is an expert in designing and programming mRNA, critical strands of genetic material that provide instructions for making proteins. As one suite of tools in the emerging synthetic biology toolkit, mRNA is a twenty-first century harbinger of life. Yet, with all powerful tools, there are risks of accidental or intentional misuse. It is this shared responsibility among the scientific, private, and public realms that Becraft advocates for thoughtful, anticipatory stewardship of these influential technologies. Stunningly, it's no longer science fiction to consider pre-making vast numbers of vaccines for every conceivable pandemic vector and their mutations. This, the 'Manhattan project for vaccines', is a matter of national defense, Becraft argues.We are joined by contributing expert Malvika V. Miller for an episode featuring a wide-ranging discussion on synbio, STEM advocacy, national security policy, and more.—————Show Notes—————Episode page, transcript, and podcast listening links: https://toughtechtoday.com/programming-mrna/Jake Becraft on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacob-becraft-biotech/Malvika V. Miller on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/malvikavmillerStrand Therapeutics (company): https://www.strandtx.com/A National Strategy for Synthetic Biology (publication): https://www.jstor.org/stable/26937411Subscribe with your favorite podcast service: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1169378/7631545-programming-mrna-with-jake-becraftWatch this show on Youtube: https://youtu.be/6NAyFuCkC-U
In one sentence: A needle shaped like a hockey puck is a ‘revolutionary’ medical device that can deliver epinephrine during a severe allergic reaction on Earth or in space.  —————Overview—————EpiPens and other emergency auto-injectors have changed little for decades, though there are known limitations in their accidental (mis)use. Conor Cullinane, co-founder of Pirouette Medical, shows us his team’s surprisingly non-needlelike auto-injector that is shaped smooth, flat, and round, and easily totable so those at risk can have, in the company’s words, “freedom without fear”.Following a patient-centered design process supported by the founders’ expertise in human factors engineering for bioastronautics applications, the team is shepherding their medical device through the US Food & Drug Administration review process. We have a front row seat in how they are managing the translational process of medical device design and development.—————Show Notes—————Episode page, transcript, and podcast listening links: https://toughtechtoday.com/making-injections-effortless/Conor Cullinane on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/conorrcullinane/Pirouette Medical (company): https://www.pirouettemedical.com/Subscribe with your favorite podcast service: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1169378/7277551Watch this show on Youtube: https://youtu.be/AMX2ans63UA
A chat to review the first year of Tough Tech Today.
In one sentence...Human health upgrades may be unlocked by a data storage expert focused on probing the proteome. Overview:It’s not everyday that one hears about the crucial relationship between digital data storage and biology, yet this is core to Sujal Patel’s work leading Nautilus Biotechnology. By any measure already an accomplished tech entrepreneur, Sujal’s experience building Isilon Systems (acquired by EMC for $2.5 billion) became a perfect, if non-obvious, ingredient for disentangling the complexities of proteins.If successful in analyzing the proteins within thousands of cells, Patel, his co-founder Parag Mallick, and their team may discover new drugs for present and emerging diseases. Pioneering the birth of this new proteome sequencer instrument involves deep and broad interdisciplinary collaboration. Patel says, “On our staff are mechanical engineers, software engineers, electrical engineers, and biophysicists working side-by-side with biochemists, organic chemists, bioengineering majors – all these disciplines come together to build a complete solution.” 
In one sentence...Living on the Moon requires infrastructure that Justin Cyrus of Lunar Outpost knows can be helpful here on Earth.OverviewEarth’s moon is viewed as the upcoming base of operations for humanity’s further exploration of the cosmos. Justin Cyrus, founder of Lunar Outpost, shares what it is like building a suite of technologies that not only meet space objectives, but also address terrestrial challenges.Incredible initiatives are underway to develop our moon into a pied-à-terre for humans on their way to Mars. These initiatives require concerted efforts between public organizations and the private sector to develop necessary technologies, revenue models, and other components that must work perfectly enough for our species’ spacefaring ambitions to come to fruition. Show NotesEpisode page, transcript, and podcast listening links: https://toughtechtoday.com/moon-robots/Subscribe with your favorite podcast service: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1169378/6633799Watch this show on Youtube: https://youtu.be/TETPLg9ghBEJustin Cyrus on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/justin-cyrus/Lunar Outpost on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thelunaroutpost/Lunar Outpost’s homepage: https://www.lunaroutpost.comTopic Timecodes 00:50 Starting a lunar rover company02:27 What’s in regolith and how does this help us get to Mars?03:45 Advanced instrumentation and robotics04:42 The hassles of regolith06:25 Tough Tech Today exclusive: 2021 launch date set!09:25 What are valuable payloads?11:21 Swarm robotics12:46 At UC Boulder with a love for space13:24 Improving Earthlings’ environments with lunar tech20:26 Are there needs for space security services?22:44 Instagram: @thelunaroutpost25:17 When can we have rover races on the moon?27:10 Working with family to build a company29:27 What did your parents think about this?37:01 Peeking twenty years into the futureTagstough tech today,jmill,Jonathan Miller,Forrest Meyen,deep tech,hard tech,startup,entrepreneurship,venture capital,tough tech,tough technology,technology,podcast,Lunar Outpost,moon,rover,regolith,ISRU,Justin CyrusTranscripthttps://otter.ai/u/OrI6VxsKdm8tmODNCQI6CJzwmgA
Banshees of the United States Air Force hunt for mission-enhancing technologies. The world's largest startup accelerator, MassChallenge, teamed up with the Air Force Labs to establish the Banshees training program. Members are U.S. Department of Defense acquisitions officers who are learning how to find tough tech and nurture dual-use ventures. Such startups are jointly serving the private commercial sector and the government as clients.Forrest and jmill discuss tech commercialization challenges and #protips from several stakeholders' points of view: as entrepreneurs, as investors, and as government liaisons. 
In one sentence...A helicopter rescue mission gone awry fuels this man’s mission to bring heroes home safely with drones built for aircraft load stabilization.OverviewAs a Black Hawk helicopter’s rotors whop-whop-whopped overhead in their fight for command of the winds amid a stormy – and ultimately failed – rescue mission, a teenage Caleb Carr had a life-shaping experience that led him, many years later, to launch Vita Inclinata, a mission-focused company pioneering aerial load stabilization.Whether for medical evacuation, construction, firefighting, or many other applications, tethering loads to aircraft has always suffered from issues. Pilots of rotorcraft and fixed-wing aircraft alike must balance opposing forces to hoist humans and cargo safely. We learn from Caleb about the difficult decisions he’s faced in building a tech company with one mission: bringing heroes home.Show notesEpisode page, transcript, and podcast listening links: https://toughtechtoday.com/bringing-heroes-home/Caleb Carr on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cbcarr/Vita Inclinata (company): https://vitatech.co/Watch this show on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lc1NHIft1sMTagstough tech today,jmill,Jonathan Miller,Forrest Meyen,deep tech,hard tech,startup,entrepreneurship,venture capital,tough tech,tough technology,technology,podcast,Caleb Carr,Colorado entrepreneur,Vita Inclinata,search and rescue,vita inclinata technologies,helicopter load stabilization,hanging load stabilization,drones,ducted fan,load stabilization drone,AFWERX,tech stars airforce
He built a mass spectrometer from scratch and reinvented it in the process!Bearing a smile, Mazdak “Maz” Taghioskoui says he immigrated to the United States from Iran for a good education and same-day shipping, two key features that have supported his focus on building – from scratch – a sophisticated next-generation analytical tool: the Trace Matters SPion mass spectrometer.Maz is the Founder and CEO/CTO of Trace Matters, and we sat down with him for show-and-tell to discuss how he and his company is reinventing the mass spectrometer to save lives here on Earth and to advance our scientific understanding of the cosmos beyond our planet.Show NotesEpisode page, transcript, and podcast listening links: https://toughtechtoday.com/bootstrapping-mass-spectrometry/Mazdak on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mazdakoskui/Trace Matters (company): https://www.tracematters.com/Greentown Labs (workspace): https://greentownlabs.com/Harvard’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx): https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsr2022263Subscribe with your favorite podcast service: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1169378/5983345Watch this show on Youtube: https://youtu.be/2wsX9bWqTj4Topic Timecodes00:54 A lesson in high school chemistry03:44 History and benefits of mass spectrometry for space and medical applications04:53 Screening newborn babies’ blood for disease mitigation06:18 Instrumentation Startup: A tiny company in a world of corporates07:15 Creating a mass spectrometer… from scratch08:56 The fallacy of“if your system is complex and it’s working, you don’t change it”10:11 How I built this12:16 A case study in the 10,000 Hour Rule and brute force science13:38 Seeing years of work finally come to fruition17:24 Seeing SPion and the frog18:53 Expediting mass spectrometry-assisted brain surgery23:36 Show-and-tell in Maz’s lab24:48 Inventing a lab-scale fabrication process28:20 Following a vision or a wandering path?30:08 Getting addicted to solving challenges32:01 Immigrating to the United States for a great education and… quick shipping33:26 The resources at Massachusetts’ Greentown Labs34:37 Bootstrapping a scientific instrument company37:32 A shift in how we build instruments?39:36 Who could be first to benefit from next-generation mass spectrometry?40:52 Integrating learnings into a tech roadmap41:23 The Harvard Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) program and COVID-1942:12 Advice to a younger self: persistence, love, and remembering to eatTagstough tech today,jmill,Jonathan Miller,Forrest Meyen,deep tech,hard tech,startup,entrepreneurship,venture capital,tough tech,tough technology,technology,podcast,Mazdak Taghioskoui,Trace Matters,Trace Matters LLC,Mass Spectrometry,SpIon,Spectrometer,Greentown Labs,Green town labs,Maz,NASA Mass Spectrometry,Mass Spec,Mass Spec surgery,NASA,Science,Physics,quadrupole mass spectrometer,how does a mass spectrometer work,how a mass spec works,meyen
While aboard a plane nosediving into Baghdad, one may be forgiven for pondering how one’s life path could lead from vacuum cleaners to minesweeping robots. Yet, not only does Orin Hoffman, of MIT’s The Engine venture capital firm, share this humbling connection, but also how it advances an overarching narrative of the United States national industrial innovation base, VCs, and the crucial roles served by tough tech entrepreneurs. Public-private partnerships may not be what immediately comes to most people’s minds when asked about frontier tech, though government funding for basic scientific research has been commonplace in the United States for a century. “Patient capital” – a class of investors with a temperament to nurture big-bet science and engineering ventures – is helping to bridge gaps in the national “capital stack”, Orin shares on Tough Tech Today. We learn from Orin about how his team at The Engine cultivates their investment thesis, about whether a technical founder should find a business-savvy partner, and work-in-progress ideas for improving the United States as a whole by nurturing deeply technical startups via diversified, trusted capital networks.Show NotesEpisode page, transcript, and podcast listening links: https://toughtechtoday.com/investing-in-americas-innovation-engine-featuring-orin-hoffman-of-the-engine/Orin Hoffman on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/orin-hoffman-a7489230The Engine: http://engine.xyz/Subscribe with your favorite podcast service: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1169378/5761015Watch this show on Youtube: https://youtu.be/WEj-SC5wfpQYou may also like...Tough Tech Today’s episode “Venturing with federal tech”, featuring Will Dickson and Trinity Torres of FedTech: https://toughtechtoday.com/venturing-into-federal-tech-featuring-will-dickson-and-trinity-torres-of-fedtech/Tough Tech Today’s episode “Launching dual-use ventures”, featuring Katy Person of the MIT Innovation Initiative: https://toughtechtoday.com/launching-dual-use-ventures-featuring-katy-person-of-the-mit-innovation-initiative/jmill’s article, Who’s Your Ally? How Tech Startups Navigate Venture Capital and Federal Funding: https://medium.com/@iamjmill/whos-your-ally-e2ff6068cd3a
What happens to the ideas generated across the United States federal government’s research initiatives? Will Dickson and Trinity Torres walk us through the pathways of taxpayer-funded technological advancements and opportunities for a diverse pool of private citizens-entrepreneurs to find commercial success licensing patents owned by the U.S. government.The United States government generates vast amounts of intellectual property across its many research organizations, national laboratories, and other technical divisions. Unbeknownst by many citizens, novel technologies are available for licensing and may be a boon to ‘proto companies’ (not-quite-yet-born startups). FedTech is an organization that conducts programs oriented to supporting the exploration of tech commercialization through federal partnership with the private sector.Our discussion spans how to find federal intellectual property, the integration of complementary non-engineering skillsets into an engineering-driven culture, and considerations for how various groups such as NavalX and the Defense Innovation Unit are changing government funding for and acquisition of tough technologies. For audience members interested in dual-use ventures and public-private partnerships and funding avenues, check out our interview entitled “Launching dual-use ventures”, featuring Katy Person of the MIT Innovation Initiative.Show NotesEpisode page, transcript, and podcast listening links: https://toughtechtoday.com/venturing-into-federal-tech-featuring-will-dickson-and-trinity-torres-of-fedtech/Will Dickson on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/williamfdicksonTrinity Torres on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/trinitytorresFedTech Venture Studio: https://www.fedtech.io/Subscribe with your favorite podcast service: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1169378/5536735Watch this show on Youtube: https://youtu.be/dg2KW5C5nSEYou may also like...Tough Tech Today’s episode “Launching dual-use ventures”, featuring Katy Person of the MIT Innovation Initiative: https://toughtechtoday.com/launching-dual-use-ventures-featuring-katy-person-of-the-mit-innovation-initiative/jmill’s article, Who’s Your Ally? How Tech Startups Navigate Venture Capital and Federal Funding: https://medium.com/@iamjmill/whos-your-ally-e2ff6068cd3a
Dual-use ventures – tough tech startups pursuing commercial relationships with the private sector and federal government, are a unique class of companies with whom Kathryn "Katy" Person, of the MIT Innovation Initiative, works daily."[Working with the United States government, such as the Department of Defense,] is not for everyone and not for every business. It depends on whether you come in mission-focused... and it depends on your business strategy," says Katy. As a military veteran with a background in U.S. Army acquisitions, Katy observes "the trough of disillusionment occurs between Phase II and Phase III" of government contracts, and there is a delicate, strategic relationship that may harm or benefit a dual-use venture and with whom it chooses as allies, whether prime contractors, venture funds, government liaisons, university research hubs, and other entities.In this episode, we discuss the challenges tough tech entrepreneurs face balancing the myriad of funding opportunities and challenges afforded to dual-use ventures serving the private sector and federal government.---------------Show Notes* Episode page, transcript, and podcast listening links: https://toughtechtoday.com/launching-dual-use-ventures-featuring-katy-person-of-the-mit-innovation-initiative/* Katy Person on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katyperson/* MIT Dual-use Ventures Incubator program: https://innovation.mit.edu/mission-innovation-program_incubator/ * jmill’s article, Who’s Your Ally? How Tech Startups Navigate Venture Capital and Federal Funding: https://medium.com/@iamjmill/whos-your-ally-e2ff6068cd3a---------------Topic Timecodes00:46 Introducing Katy and the MIT Innovation Initiative02:23 What are “dual-use ventures”?03:25 Examples of dual-use ventures04:14 Updating legacy systems05:47 Origins of dual-use technology06:41 Defense-oriented startups: in Boston and beyond08:51 DOD funding of “innovation”09:15 AFWERX and its Open Topic Solicitation10:18 The unique approaches by each branch of the U.S. military11:32 How the U.S. government thinks about “acquisitions”13:07 About Open Topics and integrating startups into defense14:21 Taking advantage of the “Small Business Set-Asides”15:58 Venture capital, DOD contracting, and dual-use startups17:54 New technological trends like robotics, hypersonics, and medical research19:14 Influences of DARPA and BARDA20:13 Where are the undersubscribed federal government contracts?21:52 Katy’s motivation for serving mission-oriented organizations23:43 Beware the government contracting ‘trough of disillusionment’24:22 The three phases of dual-use venture contracting26:09 Draper is a contractor ally for space startups27:40 Contrasting the DOD with NATO and non-US defense organizations30:30 The pervasive nature of ITAR regulation31:09 Evaluating national ‘innovation’ approaches31:52 The need for more students entering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)32:46 A U.S. Space Force opportunity?34:11 Putting together the puzzle of government innovation cells and tech entrepreneurs34:56 MIT’s ‘Dual-use incubator’ and Louisiana Tech’s STTR program37:30 Resources for aspirational dual-use entrepreneurs
No longer the domain of strictly nation-states, 'new space' is undergoing a wave of commercialization and growth. Two key engineering challenges, observed Louis Perna, are in-space communications and propulsion. He and his co-founder, Natalya Bailey, launched Accion Systems to provide cost-effective electrospray propulsion for satellites.While the complexities of space travel are something that many members of society may recognize, less obvious may be the terrestrial challenges spacefaring tech developers face: designing and manufacturing hardware, cultivating an interdisciplinary team, and working through unit economics of complicated systems. Louis details his insider's view of the privatization of space, one electrospray ion thruster at a time.Show Notes– Episode page, transcript, and podcast listening links: https://toughtechtoday.com/commercializing-satellite-propulsion-with-louis-perna/– Louis Perna on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/louis-perna-6b237621Topic Timecodes01:10 Electrospray propulsion is...02:54 Transitioning tech out of a lab04:50 The Global Founders' Skills Accelerator05:36 Space industry inflection point06:54 Lowering satellite costs07:31 Failure as an option08:53 Two challenges: communications and propulsion09:53 Designing for mass manufacturability12:01 Making thousands of thrusters12:53 Kessler Syndrome responsibility14:54 Avoiding a 10,000-year delay on spaceflight16:51 Maneuvering in space19:01 Cubesats and modular design20:55 What if a low-cost satellite threatens a billion dollar satellite?22:35 How to recruit a team to build complex systems26:39 Rocket science is tough, but commercializing rocket science is tougher29:00 Making something manufacturable30:32 Learning supplier relations and quality monitoring31:34 An entrepreneurial seed?33:53 Having a partner at your side37:32 Space to remain the domain of nation-states?39:42 The Earth-focus of commercial space41:04 Manufacturing thruster components in space43:14 Water propellants43:59 Space-testing thruster tech45:54 The enticement of Very Low Earth Orbit47:09 Air-breathing satellite propulsion48:36 Advice for a fellow scientist-engineerTagsSatellite Propulsion, Ion Thrust, Electrospray, Louis Perna, Accion Systems, MIT
The building blocks of life, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), can be used for computational advantage, posits Dr. James Banal, postdoctoral research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Biological Engineering, in the Bathe Lab. “I work on the wackiest things in computing and storage right now, which is quantum computing and DNA data storage,” says James.From ultra-dense, ultra-long storage of digital data (think: storing exabytes for fifty years) to building a 'frozen zoo' or 'species time capsule' to preserve living components of our planet in case of catastrophe, DNA storage and computing leverages the life within all of us to improve not only our lives, but those who will inherit our future Earth.Show NotesEpisode Page (including Transcript): https://toughtechtoday.com/computing-with-the-building-blocks-of-life-with-james-banal/James Banal on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-banal/Topic Timecodes02:16 Entering Mark Bathe’s Lab03:50 Compressing a datacenter into a sugar cube06:15 Writing DNA data08:17 Archiving data for decades09:49 How data is stored and accessed with DNA14:22 An advantage: High replication15:28 Working on ‘super hard’ problems16:30 Commercializing DNA storage18:06 Evolving a PhD research statement19:51 Ten-Year-Old James: “You’re crazy!”20:45 Counting cells for Mom and Dad23:26 On failure, quitting, and the low points 27:22 Abraham Lincoln and being skeptical of a positive signal31:08 Applying machine learning to DNA datasets33:35 Who may buy this34:45 ‘Datageddon’ and the post-silicon world39:44 Storing the world’s annual data in a cubic meter42:17 When will we see DNA computing deployed?45:25 Taking a snapshot of all species in the world46:33 ELI5: Never have to delete anything again49:12 The ‘Frozen Zoo’, ‘Frozen Ark’, and Australian wildfires53:59 Final points
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