From Garage Hobby to Military Contracts, Small Business Engine Research Associates Grows New Market Segment

Tammy Allen, Director | Marketing & Programs, The NIIC
Jeff Erickson, Co-owner and Principal Investigator, Engine Research Associates and Erickson Motors

For immediate release 

Contacts: Jeff Erickson, Co-Owner and Principal Investigator, Engine Research Associates/Erickson Motors, jle.erickson@frontier.com, 260-338-1010 ext. 102; Tammy Allen, Director | Marketing & Programs, The NIIC, tallen@niic.net, 260-407-1731

April 15, 2020, Fort Wayne, Ind. — Taking a family hobby and turning it into a successful business venture is not easy. Ask Jeff Erickson and his brother Rick, co-owners of Engine Research Associates (ERA) and its commercial arm, Erickson Motors. That is exactly what they have done. This is thanks to hard work, ingenuity, and timely funding from Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants.

The late Fred Erickson had an idea for a quiet, efficient, cool-exhaust, twin engine. It was initially used for model airplanes. His sons Jeff and Rick, plus George Lewis, took Fred’s idea and turned it into a viable option for several contracts through the United States Department of Defense (DOD). “When we won an SBIR Phase II contract with the Navy, we were able to go full time with dad’s invention,” said Jeff Erickson.

Several years after the Navy program, ERA teamed with Aerojet Rocketdyne, the prime contractor for a Great Horned Owl (GHO) contract from Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). ERA, Ultra Electronics -USSI and two other subcontractors were on Aerojet Rocketdyne’s GHO team. ERA was responsible for the MCC engine development for GHO. This contract allowed ERA to move into The NIIC.

Moving all their machines and testing equipment out of their dad’s garage and into lab space at The NIIC helped greatly. “We developed a new MCC engine for the Great Horned Owl drone program, named for the nocturnal bird that flies very quietly,” said Erickson. ERA’s MCC engine met IARPA’s low sound requirement. “Our MCC engine was the only one that made it through testing out of six contractor teams. All the other contractor team’s engines blew up or did not produce power,” he said.

While their company has won three more SBIR Phase II contacts since the Navy program, he says there’s been plenty of turbulence along their way. “Trying to bring a new technology engine to the market has been a daunting task with countless technical, financial, and business challenges,” said Erickson.

ERA recently took advantage of the FAST-IN Program that is provided through The NIIC. This program is funded by the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) Federal State and Technology (FAST) Partnership Program. The NIIC’s program is designed to increase the number of successful grant applications by Indiana entrepreneurs to the federal Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Programs. “Increased funding from these programs will lead to more research, development, and innovation in Indiana,” said Erickson. “SBIR grants are essential to our company’s growth and research in developing covert, fuel-efficient engines for unmanned aerial vehicles.”

Erickson stated working through The NIIC’s FAST-IN Program Consultant Kristen Parmelee saved his company over 100 hours of work time. “That is a big deal for a small company like ours. It made a huge difference for us. Typically, we complete our proposals minutes before the deadline. But working with Kristen and The NIIC, I think it’s our best proposal yet due to their SBIR grant expertise. We got it done six days early, which is awesome for us,” explained Erickson.

With the patented Erickson Migrating Combustion Chamber (MCC) engine, ERA has begun to open a whole new sector in engines that are efficient, with a cool and quiet exhaust. The noise factor alone makes this engine an ideal option for military applications, especially when the DOD is looking for covert, high power, high efficiency, and higher durability engines.

While the Ericksons are focused on military research now, they are looking forward to commercial applications for the MCC engine. “We can see our engine in quiet, fuel-efficient generators, low-vibration chainsaws, and a wide range of lawn and garden products. We want our innovation to drive new manufacturing opportunities here in Indiana. We want to create jobs.”

When it comes to commercialization, Erickson plans to enter joint ventures as much as possible. “We want to work with companies who need engines, because we can provide them a quiet engine with good efficiency.” Erickson says he hopes to develop a production site in Fort Wayne, creating opportunities for other regional manufacturers in the process.

It all started with SBIR funding.  With support from The NIIC and leveraging that strategic SBIR investment, the Ericksons have built their company from innovation, hard work, and an idea that started in their dad’s garage.

For more information about Engine Research Associates and Erickson Motors, visit their website. Ericksonmotors.com

For more information about NIIC FAST-IN Program, visit The NIIC website.

About Engine Research Associates and Erickson Motors

Erickson Motors is the MCC engine commercial development company, which also provides commercial engineering and machining services.  Engine Research Associates, Inc. (ERA) owns Erickson Motors and mainly focuses on MCC engine related military and government research and development programs including SBIR Phase I and Phase II programs.  Both companies are located in the same facility at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center (The NIIC).

Erickson Motors was awarded 2016 Torch Award for Entrepreneurs of Integrity by the Northern Indiana Better Business Bureau. It was also awarded the 2013 Innovator of the Year Award from the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly.

About The NIIC

467 new products launched, 189 patent applications submitted or granted, and 2,290 jobs created—that is what entrepreneurs have achieved through The NIIC since its inception two decades ago. The NIIC has also connected Northeast Indiana companies to attract $91 million in grants and capital.

The NIIC is a non-profit, vibrant entrepreneurial community designed to advise entrepreneurs to plan, launch, and grow successful business ventures. The NIIC bolsters innovative companies to move ideas into action. The NIIC is located in a designated U.S. Small Business Administration HUB Zone. In April 2018, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb designated The Northeast Indiana Innovation Park Campus as an Opportunity Zone through the U.S. Treasury. The NIIC is the country’s only ISO9001:2015 registered business incubation and acceleration program. TheNIIC.org. Click here for The NIIC press kit.



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