Making Change: NASA Glenn Persues Earthly Goals
Julie Henry: Since 1982, Lavenia Ferguson has been running Logical Services, Incorporated... a small family business in Cleveland's Midtown neighborhood offering a variety of products and services... from selling and installing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems... to providing transportation services to manufacturers.
Now Ferguson's brother Louis Brown is an electronics whiz with a Navy surveillance background. And a few years ago, he came up with an idea for a portable security device for law enforcement officials... which he dubbed the Flashcon III. Lavenia Ferguson explains the concept.
Lavenia Ferguson, President
Logical Services, Inc.
It has LEDs that see in the dark, it has several modules. It has LEDs. It has white light, like a flashlight. It has a laser. Another module is pepper spray. It has audio and video, and it transmits from one unit to another, so there's a camera on each unit and there's a panel display on each unit. So that you can see from one unit to another what's going on. So instead of the police talking into their microphone when they're chasing a perpetrator, saying this guy's got on blue jeans and a red bandana, they can just flash the Flashcon and shoot the signal from one to the other and say, "There he is. Here's what he looks like."
JH: The trouble was, neither Ferguson nor her brother knew how to turn this idea into a reality. That is until their attorney put them in touch with the NASA Glenn Garrett Morgan Commercialization Initiative. Garrett Morgan was a Clevelander who invented the automatic traffic signal and the gas mask. The program that bears his name is designed to put NASA technology, resources, and expertise into the hands of small businesses, with a special emphasis on minority-owned and woman-owned companies. The Garrett Morgan program has helped more than 300 small businesses since its inception in 1998. And it provided Ferguson and Brown with the research and development know-how to move their project forward.
Gail E. Wright, Program Manager
The NASA Glenn Garrett Morgan Commercialization Initiative
They attended commercialization classes that we provided. They participated in many of our networking events so that they were able to interact with other successful businesses that were doing research and development. When they reached a point where they had a concept, we step by step helped them refine their concept, either through partnering with a NASA Glenn engineer to help them do some of the early drawings, some of the early designs. We subsequently provided fabrication services for them. We hired a company to actually help them design and build their prototype.
JH: That prototype is expected to be finished within the next few weeks. And then the Garrett Morgan program will help Logical Services test and market the product. The NASA program has also provided direct financial assistance to the company... assistance that Ferguson says was vital in developing the Flashcon III.
Lavenia Ferguson: We won a grant two years in a row. So the first year, then we wrote again and we were like "They're not going to finance us again." (laughs) And they did. So we were elated. And we are so grateful. And we would not be here without them.
JH: Larry Viterna is Chief of NASA Glenn's Commercial Technology Office. He says the federal government offers several programs through the NASA Glenn center designed to transfer space technology into consumer products. The idea is to give taxpayers a bigger return on their NASA investment. And it's no accident that many of these programs target small businesses for assistance.
Larry Viterna, Chief
Commercial Technology Office
NASA Glenn Research Center
We actually see about four or five times more inventions come out of small businesses than large businesses. So that's why we put such a focus on it.
Lavenia Ferguson: We have the capability to move around and do things that an established corporation wouldn't. They would have to get permission and pass and meet with the big board. But we can just be like a little gnat and we just move around and get it done. Because we've got to.
Web Exclusive Interviews:
Gail E. Wright, Program Manager for the
Great Lakes Industrial Technology Center (GLITEC). [Read Transcript]
Larry A. Viterna, Chief, Commercial Technology Office at the
NASA Glenn Research Center. [Read Transcript]