Morgantown-based Vertx Partners aims to connect West Virginia tech businesses with federal entities, contractors.
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MORGANTOWN — Hoping to increase the Mountain State’s presence in the country’s defense supply chain, Morgantown-based Vertx Partners is aiming to connect West Virginia entrepreneurs and researchers with U.S. Department of Defense contracts.
Vertx Partners began operating in June after its founder and president, Sean Frisbee, returned to West Virginia after working for several years with the Ohio Federal Research Network. The network aimed to connect technologies from universities and small businesses across the Buckeye State with federal contracts, and Frisbee said that once he returned to West Virginia, he noticed that a similar initiative was missing in the Mountain State.
“We’re focused on helping solve national security challenges by finding innovative technologies and researchers and entrepreneurs in Appalachia and connecting those researchers to the U.S. Air Force and others that could apply to some of the gaps and challenges that we may have for the nation,” Frisbee said.
Vertx Partners now has five employees and six contractors. It focuses on identifying small businesses with interesting new technologies before connecting them with the U.S. Department of Defense or federal contractors like Lockheed Martin or Boeing.
Frisbee said this process “lowers the hurdle” for these small businesses, many of which find working with government agencies intimidating or confusing.
“We’re focused right now on the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs and looking at how we can help companies identify which of those opportunities would fit their technologies, and then kind of teach and hold their hand through the process to help them be successful,” Frisbee said. “Sometimes companies, if they’re not in the defense space already, may have a challenge in recognizing that a technology they have could be applied to a problem, so we do that and talk with them and help identify the right people for them to speak with and get an idea as to whether or not their technologies would solve those problems.”
In just the eight months since the company’s inception, Vertx Partners has connected 20 small businesses across the state with 87 SBIRs. Frisbee said that while not all of these contracts will receive proposals, the Vertx team will work with the businesses to figure out which contracts best suit the companies’ strengths and skills.
The end goal, Frisbee said, is to build a federal workforce in Appalachia and strengthen West Virginia’s place in the country’s defense supply chain.
“It’s really important for the nation that we find a way to connect all of the brain cells in America to solve these real challenges, to keep America safe and maintain the national security that Americans expect,” Frisbee said. “There are a lot of smart people out there and a lot of innovation and technology out there.”
Vertx Partners Vice President of External Relations Scott Rotruck shares Frisbee’s excitement for the company’s goals.
“This is a truly unique opportunity to connect so many dots that can make such a difference, both to our national defense and national security but also to our state that can help create these businesses that can participate vigorously and robustly in this process,” Rotruck said. “We can help build viable companies that can address the things Sean mentioned while still leaving these companies the opportunity to work in the private sector, as well. … I’ve never seen a better opportunity from all of those vantage points than Vertx.”
One of the 20 companies that Vertx has been working with is Morgantown-based AmeriCarbon, which can take coal ore and convert it directly into coal tar pitch, an ingredient used in a wide variety of carbon-based products that the defense supply chain needs such as graphite and lithium batteries.
Frisbee said by connecting AmeriCarbon with federal entities and contractors to sell their product, the company, the nation and the state will benefit.
“Right now, most of the coal tar pitch that’s coming to America to make these products is being imported from China, and it’s a byproduct of the coking process in steel-making,” Frisbee said. “We have a company in Morgantown that has developed the ability to go directly from ore to coal tar pitch, which is tailored to the end product we need.
“They can do it more efficiently and more environmentally friendly than what you get from the steel-making process, and we can onshore this technology to America. If you think about what our natural resources are and how we can use these to create these advanced carbon materials that we need across many industries, including the Department of Defense, that’s a critical role we can play in West Virginia and the rest of Appalachia.”
In this example, Frisbee said the company and its customers obviously benefit form the exchange, but if it takes off, it could have wide-reaching effects for all of West Virginia, as well.
“Think about how this could really change the environment in our southern coal communities,” Frisbee said. “They can use the gob piles that currently exist and have been building up for years in southern West Virginia to create this as well, so you can clean those up and use our natural resources to create those advanced materials, and when you (do that), it attracts the companies that want to utilize those materials, and now you’re starting to looking at what we can do with advanced manufacturing and things of that sort. You can have a real snowball effect with those resources.”
While Vertx Partners is a relatively new company, Frisbee said he and his team have already picked up a good amount of momentum, and he’s looking forward to creating more win-win situations for small West Virginia businesses that will — he hopes — lead to prosperity across the entire state.
“The primary goal is to pilot these programs in West Virginia to go find entrepreneurs and researchers to solve these problems,” Frisbee said. “We want to expand that tenfold. The other thing we want to see is a significant increase in the number of contracts we’re seeing in West Virginia. I don’t think we’re getting our fair share of SBIR contracts throughout history, and I think we can significantly increase that.”
Fairmont News Editor John Mark Shaver can be reached at 304-844-8485 or [email protected].
To learn more about the services that Vertx Partners provides, visit: https://vertxpartners.org/our-services/
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