YBI Company Secures First Air Force Contract

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A portfolio company housed in the Youngstown Business Incubator has secured what could be a long-term contract with the U.S. Air Force, thanks to a partnership designed to help local companies participate in government defense programs.

EPI, a firm that develops radio frequency identification, or RFID, technology, plans to integrate its systems into military applications, says the company’s vice president, Justine Blank.

“It’s very exciting for us,” Blank said.

The contract is the first procured with the help of the Academic Partnership Engagement Experiment, or APEX.

The program was formed in 2019 between the U.S. Air Force and Parallax Advanced Research in Dayton to connect academic and industry innovators with the Department of the Air Force and accelerate the transition of science and technology solutions into U.S. Air Force capabilities. The YBI and BRITE Energy Innovators, a downtown energy incubator in Warren, are subcontractors of Parallax and help in the areas of SBIR/STTR proposal navigation and team matchmaking.

BRITE and YBI’s portion of the APEX program was funded with $2.1 million. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13, secured this funding in the fiscal 2019 and fiscal 2020 Defense Appropriations Bills. Ryan sits on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.

Blank said the company was awarded $150,000 for phase one of the project. But it opens up to more lucrative opportunities in the second and third phases of the effort, she added. “The Air Force formed this whole network to find companies who are already successful in the commercial world, but can modify and make a version for the Department of Defense.”

RFID technology essentially is an electronic form of identification that is read by remote scanners, such as EZ Pass tags on the turnpike.

EPI points to its work with Steris, a major supplier of sterilization supplies used in the health care industry, Blank said. The company launched a pilot program at the Cleveland Clinic that used EPI’s RFID tags on sterilized tools and supplies, making it easier to track medical devices used in an operating room, for example.

“We read them coming in and coming out,” ensuring that no devices are left behind or missing, Blank said.

The contract calls for developing similar technology for the U.S. Air Force, she noted.

Blank credits the staff at the YBI for helping to mentor the company and making connections with important contacts in the industry. “They’ve been just absolutely incredible,” she said.

BRITE Energy Innovators will serve as an advisor to EPI in navigating the military processes, Blank said. “They’re trying to de-mystify that, educate us and make these connection points for us.”

Rick Stockburger, president and CEO of BRITE, said the Apex program is designed to create an ecosystem that helps place local companies before major defense contractors, hoping to carve out future opportunities.

“Brite and YBI work together to make sure entrepreneurs have coaches and mentors so companies such as EPI can be part of the supply chain,” he said.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.