Startup Quest® graduate creates company using NASA technology

LifeNet Systems Co-Founder to Travel to Houston for Licensing Signing This Week

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Gainesville, Fla. — Less than a year after the Startup Quest® entrepreneurship training program taught her to develop a business plan for a company using a cutting-edge NASA technology improving roadway safety, Mary Ohlfs is signing the licensing agreement to commercialize the product — exemplifying why Startup Quest® is a new model in workforce development for job creation and small business development. Her local workforce investment board trained participants in learning these skills to help them become better employees as well as possible entrepreneurs for tech companies or lifestyle businesses.

® graduates sign licensing agreement with NASA at Johnson Space Center on June 27, 2014.” width=”500px” style=”PADDING-LEFT: 5px” title=”Signing” />
LifeNet Systems members and Startup Quest® graduates sign licensing agreement
with NASA at Johnson Space Center on June 27, 2014.

Traveling with Ohlfs to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for the Friday, June 27, signing is her Startup Quest® team mentor, Mark Davidson, Ph.D.; fellow Startup Quest® team member and LifeNet Systems, Inc. Vice President of Marketing, Yolanda Castillo-Baron; Startup Quest® Co-founder Angela Pate; and CareerSource North Central Florida Executive Director Kim Tesch-Vaught.

“The entrepreneurial skills and knowledge I gained during the Startup Quest® program helped me to pursue owning my own company,” said Ohlfs. ”With my new skill set, the strong mentorship of Mark Davidson and the support of my Startup Quest® team I look forward to building a successful, profitable business.”

Ohlfs’ team took second place in 2013 in an investor pitch competition, the final event of the 10-week entrepreneurial training program. Now her Florida-based company, LifeNet Systems, Inc., will commercialize the NASA technology their mentor chose for their team project. Using the technology developed by Johnson Space Center inventors, the business will create net roadway barriers to replace concrete and steel barriers. LifeNet barriers are taller and softer than existing barriers. Concrete and steel barriers are dangerous and often cause extensive vehicle damage and fatalities. LifeNet barriers will stop a vehicle traveling 80 mph within eight feet safely and securely.

Startup Quest® advances an additional model for workforce development by growing self-employment through entrepreneurship, shifting the mindset from “find a job” to “create my job.” The program aims to create opportunities by developing new pathways for both employment and self-employment — giving participants the tools and training they need to create new businesses and stimulate job creation. During the training program, highly educated degree-holding professionals who are unemployed or underemployed work with mentors to form a simulated startup, learning skills for self-employment or employment with a new or existing company.

“Startup Quest® provides NASA with another valuable outlet for technology transfers,” said David R. Makufka, Kennedy Space Center, manager, Technology Transfer Office. “With this program, our agency collaborates with regional workforce boards in Florida to provide publically-funded technologies to talented teams of aspiring entrepreneurs, who have the potential to commercialize our technology into a new high-tech business and positively impact local economies.”

Successful CEOs and entrepreneurs serve as Startup Quest® volunteer mentors, leading participant teams to create business plans that utilize inventions from Florida universities and NASA. Startup Quest® began as a pilot program in 2011 with 83 participants. The program was formed with partners including CareerSource North Central Florida, the University of Florida Office of Technology Licensing, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, and dozens of successful entrepreneur mentors and investor judges. The pilot program, funded by the state workforce board, CareerSource Florida, resulted in:

  • 20 participants becoming self-employed
  • 14 startup companies formed
  • 26 additional jobs created from those that became self-employed
  • 73 participants becoming employed by 35 businesses
Startup Quest<sup>®</sup> graduates and LifeNet Systems members Mary Ohlfs and Yolanda Castillo-Baron traveled to the Johnson Space Center in Houston Friday, June 27 to sign a licensing agreement with NASA. Their team mentor, Mark Davidson, Ph.D., Startup Quest<sup>®</sup> Co-founder Angela Pate, and CareerSource North Central Florida Executive Director Kim Tesch-Vaught accompanied LifeNet Systems.” title=”Orion” width=”500px” style=”PADDING-LEFT: 5px” /><figcaption>Startup Quest<sup>®</sup> graduates and LifeNet Systems members Mary Ohlfs and Yolanda Castillo-Baron<br /> traveled to the Johnson Space Center in Houston Friday, June 27 to sign a licensing agreement<br /> with NASA. Their team mentor, Mark Davidson, Ph.D., Startup Quest<sup>®</sup> Co-founder Angela Pate, <br />and CareerSource North Central Florida Executive Director Kim Tesch-Vaught accompanied <br />LifeNet Systems.</figcaption></figure>
<p> The success of the pilot program led to a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) expansion grant of almost $12 million over five years through the DOL Education and Training Administration’s Workforce Innovation Fund. This allowed Startup Quest<sup>®</sup> to become available across seven additional workforce regions in Florida, opening the door to more new business formations and job creation. </p>
<p> “Startup Quest<sup>®</sup> is a program that will impact the economic prosperity of Florida and that of the nation, for years to come,” said Mark Davidson, Ph.D., president and co-founder, The Tech Toybox, Inc. and Startup Quest<sup>®</sup> mentor. “Combining qualified professionals who have the drive to run their own business with successful entrepreneurs and innovative technology that is waiting to be turned into a job-creating business is a recipe for economic advancement.” </p>
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<p>   <strong>About Startup Quest<sup>®</sup></strong> </p>
<p>   Startup Quest<sup>®</sup> is part of an evaluation study funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. Participants will be selected from among eligible applicants. Data collected will remain confidential and will be used for statistical purposes only.  Startup Quest<sup>®</sup> is an equal opportunity program. Auxiliary aids and services are available upon request to individuals with disabilities.  All voice telephone numbers on this website may be reached by persons using TTY/TDD equipment via the Florida Relay Service at 711. For more information, visit startupquest.org.</p>
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