FedTech caught up with Ekhi Muniategui of Direct Kinetic Solutions (DKS), a FedTech alumni company, to discuss their recent SBIR award and how their FedTech experience set them up for success.
DKS was formed during the Spring 2019 FedTech Startup Studio by three founding members, Isabella Taba, Ehki Muniategui, and Joanna Patsalis. Today, DKS is still led by its CEO, Ekhi; and its COO, Joanna. DKS’ technology is a “radio isotopic power source utilizing a chip the size of a stamp,” said Muniategui. The strength of the power in such light hardware opens up numerous technical applications. Muniategui explained that the technology is similar to that of a solar panel, and will extend the lifespan of your devices to 5-10 years.
DKS found great success when participating in the FedTech Startup Studio. They took first place in the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN)-sponsored hackathon, winning a $30,000 prize. Muniategui said the FedTech Startup Studio was instrumental in preparing DKS to apply for SBIR opportunities. The co-founders felt they were given access to numerous connections, and the “lab liaison was invaluable in telling us what to focus on.” The founders gained first hand exposure to end-users and explored what their needs are, which is critical to understanding demand. Lastly, capital infusions are important to any startup scaling and Muniategui emphasized that “people don’t understand the funding power of the government and FedTech opened those doors for us.”
Recently, DKS was awarded a U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to conduct research and development (R&D) work on developing a Quantum Power Chip Component. Muniategui said, “This award will allow us to do more research and keep the science going.” The team has their sights set on scaling and exploring additional applications for their technology, such as space. They have gone from the founding team of 3 to 7 highly technical members of the team.
As for DKS’ next steps, Muniategui says they are “nurturing their relationship with DoD” and exploring the commercial side. To date, DKS has raised $3.675 million and are actively raising funds for a seed round to complement their Phase II award. They are currently working on a Phase II with the Air Force and participating in a startup bootcamp in Australia.
We asked Muniategui what advice he would give to other entrepreneurs and he said that by participating in the FedTech Startup Studio, the team “owned the tech from the beginning, which is critical to your success and your passion to push the project forward. That mentality ensures you will put in the leg work and show your passion when talking about the project.” He also spoke to the competitiveness of applying for SBIRs and encouraged people to apply to different agencies. In closing, Muniategui advised, “if you get rejected it doesn't mean there isn’t interest or a good technology—don’t give up.”