Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shaun Tinoco a SATOP Technical Consultant Talks about NASA Support Startups

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Thousand Oaks in Southern California enjoying the great weather, beaches and mountains. The Dallas Cowboys used to hold their training camp in T.O., so I was always a fan and now I can watch them every weekend here in Texas. It’s still nice to visit my family out there, but it’s just not affordable anymore.

What university did you go to?

After being a Nuclear Plant Watch Officer in the Navy, I went to UC San Diego to get my BS Mechanical Engineering degree. I also attended the IC2 Institute here at UT-Austin in 2002 to obtain my MS in Technology Commercialization. This is the program that has led me down my present day path.

What brought you to Austin?

As I mentioned before, the affordability of California is difficult and the other side of my family, at the time, had family in Georgetown so we headed east. The timing was good and I landed a position at Applied Materials, but had to endure two separate layoffs in 1996 and again in 2001. So let’s say, I’m not looking to work there anymore.

What is your passion and strength?

Being in the Tech Commercialization field I thoroughly enjoy working with entrepreneurs, inventors and small businesses. These people have such great ideas, but unfortunately not always novel. I attempt to find another use or twist for their technology to keep the possibilities alive, but not at a financial or time cost. If it’s not good I recommend that they stop and move onto something else. I have covered many deserving technologies through IC2 and working at NASA Johnson Space Center’s Tech Transfer Office. By seeing so many it becomes easier to find ways to improve and implement them.

What need does it fulfill?

My desire helps to solve the need or “pain” that the people I work with have. Many are obviously engineers with tremendous intellect for solving technical issues, but don’t have the expertise to solve the business aspects to complete the technology’s lifecycle. I have been an engineer involved with design, quality, manufacturing, implementation, customer support and many other tasks, but now I am on the other side addressing market and risk analysis, partnerships, marketing and licensing.
I am able to understand my customers and then provide services to satisfy them.

What exactly do you bring to startups?

Presently I bring opportunity both through my expertise and with the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP).

Recently I was in Corpus Christi and spoke at the Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center promoting SATOP. There are a number of start-ups housed at their incubator and they were so excited learning about the 40 hours of FREE technical support from NASA that they could get by simply signing up. I had a waiting line after the presentation and signed up three companies that afternoon with three more now working a little more diligently to get their technology ready to be reviewed.

By sitting with them I was able to understand what they were working on, but also heard that they needed technical and business support. They weren’t sure what the next step best may be.

What type of startup would benefit from your strengths?

I’ll start with, definitely not a software or an IT company. I’m a hands-on person and have worked from the bottom of ships to the highs of NASA space technologies.
I enjoy learning about new technologies and how best to apply them. They can be in materials, systems, biotech, nanotech, energy, etc. It doesn’t really matter because I absorb it all and bring the best methods to the table.

Being at NASA has me constantly thinking of ways to use space technologies originally designed for the rigors of harsh environments and how to now implement them down here on Earth. Let’s say I want to bring technology to earth.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up a business?

Getting paid. I have done plenty of pro bono work while starting up, but now it’s paying off. When you’re on your own you have to constantly be looking for the next customers to work with. Through the SATOP program I have been traveling and telling as many organizations and networking groups about it. This has been double good; small entities are getting free assistance to get them over a barrier and I get to network and develop relationships where I can continue with them during commercialization.

I look forward to talking with any of your entrepreneurial network members to determine what services I can provide for them.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Take advantage of real free opportunities and sign up for the SATOP program at It’s funded by NASA with no cost to you. For once, a free government program that you can take from.

Network and get known. You never know when the next opportunity will happen.
What Austin-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?

My strongest relationship in Austin is with the IC2 Institute. Our alums are in so many different industries that there is always someone that can provide a quick answer.

Of course the Austin Entrepreneur Network and Austin Inventors & Entrepreneurs Association have been helpful in supporting my work with SATOP.

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