Artist's concept of a Ceres Robotics commercial lunar lander on the Moon. Ceres Robotics, one of five companies NASA selected in November for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, was one of the Founder Institute's first space companies. Credit: Ceres Robotics

SAN FRANCISCO – The Founder Institute, an accelerator with operations in 180 cities globally, is establishing a new program with ties to the NASA Ames Research Center.

The Founder Institute announced open applications Dec. 3 for the Advanced Technologies Accelerator for aerospace, space and frontier technologies firms that have not yet raised seed funding. (Frontier technologies is a broad term that encompasses artificial intelligence, drones, quantum computing and other emerging technologies.)

Through the accelerator, startup founders will be matched with mentors and advisors like Sean Casey, managing director of the Silicon Valley Space Center, Michael Sims, Ceres Robotics CEO, and Arundhati Banerjee, commercialization specialist at NASA Ames.

In addition, the Founder Institute will help entrepreneurs identify whether NASA Ames technology could further their businesses and, if so, help them license the technology.

“NASA has had a long history of finding new, innovative uses for its space and aeronautics technologies,” Kimberly Minafra, a software specialist in the NASA Ames Strategic Partnerships Office, said in a statement. “We are excited to work with Founder Institute to help connect NASA technology to start-ups that can effectively commercialize the technology for the betterment of life on Earth.”

This is not the first time the Founder Institute, based in Palo Alto, California, has opened its doors to space entrepreneurs. In 2017, it established the Star Fellow Program, which waived the usual fees for space entrepreneurs to participate in its intensive three-and-a-half-month curriculum.

The Star Fellow program has led to more than 50 space startups, Founder Institute CEO Adeo Ressi told SpaceNews, including Ceres Robotics, a firm NASA selected to participate in the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. Ressi, who spent nine years on the board of the XPrize Foundation, says the space ecosystem needs far more entrepreneurs.

“If we want to colonize Mars in the next decade or at least land humans on Mars in the next decade, if we want to have a moon base in the next decade, we will need thousands of companies working on space,” Ressi said.

Many fledgling space companies could benefit from work NASA has already performed. However, entrepreneurs may not be aware of all the research and technology related to “life support, propulsion and everything else that is available for license today,” Ressi said. Or, entrepreneurs may not know how to approach the space agency, he added.

“What we’re saying is, “Don’t be intimidated, NASA Ames is eager to work with you and we’re going to help make that interface as easy as possible,’ ” Ressi said. “By providing an easy interface to find technologies and opportunities, we hope dozens, if not hundreds, of startups will take technology that is ready to be commercialized today and turn it into products and services to make the world better.”

Anyone interested in learning more can contact the Founder Institute or go online to

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...