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Forging Private-Public Relationships Across the State, Country, and Universe

NASA Chief Technologist AC Charania, Tech:NYC President Julie Samuels, and Prepared Co-founder Michael Chime share their perspectives on building effective tech partnerships as public servants.

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June 21, 2024
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4 min

AC Charania

We’re going back to the moon—but this time we’re doing it with commercial industry, in a way that would blow the minds of the people at NASA 20 years ago.

——AC Charania, NASA Chief Technologist

Michael Chime

You have to meet any market where it’s at. Sometimes having 10x better technology alone isn’t enough.

——Michael Chime, Prepared Co-founder & CEO

Julie Samuels

I fundamentally believe that the Empire AI project will spur the kind of broader economic and tech growth in New York that we saw centered around Stanford and Silicon Valley for 20 years.

——Julie Samuels, Tech:NYC President & CEO

At our Future Perfect conference this year, we brought together three innovators with a unique and important skill set: getting private and public companies to work together. 

As co-founder and CEO of Prepared, a company building the next generation of public safety, Michael Chime knows the importance of meeting government infrastructure, systems, and budgets where they’re at. As President and CEO of nonprofit organization Tech:NYC, Julie Samuels understands how different entities can work together to support New York City and State. And as Chief Technologist of NASA, AC Charania is ushering in a new era of collaboration between the private tech industry and the nation’s storied space agency—including literal moonshots. 

Here’s what our panelists shared about their experience navigating the overlapping worlds of public and private stakeholders. 

Meeting public entities where they’re at 

Michael Chime’s interest in public safety came early, when an active shooter event in a neighboring town became a catalyst for his interest in helping make schools safer. Years later, he and his co-founders built Prepared, an AI-powered assistive 911 tech company. Today, 30% of the American population is protected by Prepared’s tools for operators that reduce call process times, translate caller audio from 140 languages, transcribe calls in real-time, and equip first responders with live video that helps save lives. 

Building a solution for a public entity like the National 911 Program brings unique challenges for a tech startup. “For your regular SaaS company, if you can provide 10x better technology, you have a good chance of success. That’s the bar: 10x better tech,” says Michael. “When we were building Prepared, we walked into 911 dispatch centers and realized they had technology that was from the 80s. So it wasn’t only a matter of better technology being available; it was a matter of financial constraint, government procurement processes, and switching costs.” 

Drawing inspiration from companies like Slack and Yammer, known for championing a bottom-up business model, the Prepared team decided to offer their solution to dispatch centers for free or a low initial cost. Only after the center was up to speed on Prepared did they start to have procurement conversations. 

“You have to meet any market where it’s at,” says Michael. 

Julie agrees: “For a long time, we saw startups and tech companies come in and be like, I can fix this, it’s so easy to fix tech in government. But it’s actually not the technology that’s hard to fix, it’s all those other things Michael talks about. Meeting government where it is, especially at the local level, is key.” 

Empire AI: A case study for successful private-public projects 

Julie Samuels’ organization Tech:NYC sits at the intersection of the tech sector and civic space in New York City. As the landscape shifts and technology becomes the largest sector in New York, Tech:NYC works to make sure the tech industry is supporting the city, and vice versa.

One recent noteworthy win is the Empire AI project, a $400M public and private consortium to promote responsible research and AI opportunities focused on public good. With a new expert-designed supercomputer being built in Buffalo, universities will have access to the level of compute needed to compete with the private sector and do cutting-edge research across computer science, climate tech, astrophysics, and more. 

The massive project was made possible only through collaboration between public, private, and philanthropic entities, and is a shining example of what can happen when these entities work together. “We got this through the state budget process in a matter of months,” says Julie. “This kind of thing just does not happen that quickly, so it has been amazing.”

These collaborations can yield transformative results. Julie shares, “I fundamentally believe that the Empire AI project will spur the kind of broader economic and tech growth that we saw centered around Stanford and Silicon Valley for 20 years—becoming a new center of gravity for the best faculty, post-docs, students, employers, and startups.” 

NASA's new era of partnerships

AC Charania spent much of his career in private space and aviation companies like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and Reliable Robotics, describing his job as “taking ideas from the back of a napkin and turning them into reality.” Today, he is NASA’s Chief Technologist and oversees meaningful partnerships between the private sector and America’s premiere space organization. According to AC, “My job is to take 20+ years of public-private partnership and technology development at private companies and translate that to working for the government.”

One major project at hand? Returning humans to the moon. The Artemis Program will include an expedition around the moon and later a week-long stay on its surface, and it will bring the first Canadian, woman, and person of color to this kind of lunar exploration. 

“We’re going back to the moon,” says AC, “but this time we’re doing it with commercial industry, in a way that would have been incredible for those thinking about a lunar return 20 years ago. The way we’re going about it contractually, and the architectures and collaborations we’re doing with commercial industry, are incredible.” 

NASA works with private entities through licensable technologies, contracts, and collaborations, as well as by publishing its list of technology gap priorities it is searching for other organizations to close. For example, there is solar arrays technology that was built by a startup and is widely used by NASA now: “It started with a small business idea that we incubated, and now we’re using it all over the solar system," says AC.

He concludes, "The wave of commercial industry collaborations with the government is probably an unstoppable force in the 21st century, because of the talent and capital that industry can bring to the table." Simply put, "Industry can innovate more rapidly." 

AC Charania

We’re going back to the moon—but this time we’re doing it with commercial industry, in a way that would blow the minds of the people at NASA 20 years ago.

——AC Charania, NASA Chief Technologist

Michael Chime

You have to meet any market where it’s at. Sometimes having 10x better technology alone isn’t enough.

——Michael Chime, Prepared Co-founder & CEO

Julie Samuels

I fundamentally believe that the Empire AI project will spur the kind of broader economic and tech growth in New York that we saw centered around Stanford and Silicon Valley for 20 years.

——Julie Samuels, Tech:NYC President & CEO

At our Future Perfect conference this year, we brought together three innovators with a unique and important skill set: getting private and public companies to work together. 

As co-founder and CEO of Prepared, a company building the next generation of public safety, Michael Chime knows the importance of meeting government infrastructure, systems, and budgets where they’re at. As President and CEO of nonprofit organization Tech:NYC, Julie Samuels understands how different entities can work together to support New York City and State. And as Chief Technologist of NASA, AC Charania is ushering in a new era of collaboration between the private tech industry and the nation’s storied space agency—including literal moonshots. 

Here’s what our panelists shared about their experience navigating the overlapping worlds of public and private stakeholders. 

Meeting public entities where they’re at 

Michael Chime’s interest in public safety came early, when an active shooter event in a neighboring town became a catalyst for his interest in helping make schools safer. Years later, he and his co-founders built Prepared, an AI-powered assistive 911 tech company. Today, 30% of the American population is protected by Prepared’s tools for operators that reduce call process times, translate caller audio from 140 languages, transcribe calls in real-time, and equip first responders with live video that helps save lives. 

Building a solution for a public entity like the National 911 Program brings unique challenges for a tech startup. “For your regular SaaS company, if you can provide 10x better technology, you have a good chance of success. That’s the bar: 10x better tech,” says Michael. “When we were building Prepared, we walked into 911 dispatch centers and realized they had technology that was from the 80s. So it wasn’t only a matter of better technology being available; it was a matter of financial constraint, government procurement processes, and switching costs.” 

Drawing inspiration from companies like Slack and Yammer, known for championing a bottom-up business model, the Prepared team decided to offer their solution to dispatch centers for free or a low initial cost. Only after the center was up to speed on Prepared did they start to have procurement conversations. 

“You have to meet any market where it’s at,” says Michael. 

Julie agrees: “For a long time, we saw startups and tech companies come in and be like, I can fix this, it’s so easy to fix tech in government. But it’s actually not the technology that’s hard to fix, it’s all those other things Michael talks about. Meeting government where it is, especially at the local level, is key.” 

Empire AI: A case study for successful private-public projects 

Julie Samuels’ organization Tech:NYC sits at the intersection of the tech sector and civic space in New York City. As the landscape shifts and technology becomes the largest sector in New York, Tech:NYC works to make sure the tech industry is supporting the city, and vice versa.

One recent noteworthy win is the Empire AI project, a $400M public and private consortium to promote responsible research and AI opportunities focused on public good. With a new expert-designed supercomputer being built in Buffalo, universities will have access to the level of compute needed to compete with the private sector and do cutting-edge research across computer science, climate tech, astrophysics, and more. 

The massive project was made possible only through collaboration between public, private, and philanthropic entities, and is a shining example of what can happen when these entities work together. “We got this through the state budget process in a matter of months,” says Julie. “This kind of thing just does not happen that quickly, so it has been amazing.”

These collaborations can yield transformative results. Julie shares, “I fundamentally believe that the Empire AI project will spur the kind of broader economic and tech growth that we saw centered around Stanford and Silicon Valley for 20 years—becoming a new center of gravity for the best faculty, post-docs, students, employers, and startups.” 

NASA's new era of partnerships

AC Charania spent much of his career in private space and aviation companies like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and Reliable Robotics, describing his job as “taking ideas from the back of a napkin and turning them into reality.” Today, he is NASA’s Chief Technologist and oversees meaningful partnerships between the private sector and America’s premiere space organization. According to AC, “My job is to take 20+ years of public-private partnership and technology development at private companies and translate that to working for the government.”

One major project at hand? Returning humans to the moon. The Artemis Program will include an expedition around the moon and later a week-long stay on its surface, and it will bring the first Canadian, woman, and person of color to this kind of lunar exploration. 

“We’re going back to the moon,” says AC, “but this time we’re doing it with commercial industry, in a way that would have been incredible for those thinking about a lunar return 20 years ago. The way we’re going about it contractually, and the architectures and collaborations we’re doing with commercial industry, are incredible.” 

NASA works with private entities through licensable technologies, contracts, and collaborations, as well as by publishing its list of technology gap priorities it is searching for other organizations to close. For example, there is solar arrays technology that was built by a startup and is widely used by NASA now: “It started with a small business idea that we incubated, and now we’re using it all over the solar system," says AC.

He concludes, "The wave of commercial industry collaborations with the government is probably an unstoppable force in the 21st century, because of the talent and capital that industry can bring to the table." Simply put, "Industry can innovate more rapidly." 

The views expressed here are those of the individual M13 personnel quoted and are not the views of M13 Holdings Company, LLC (“M13”) or its affiliates. This content is for general informational purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal, business, investment, tax or other advice. You should consult your own advisers as to those matters and should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of this content. This content is not directed to any investors or potential investors, is not an offer or solicitation and may not be used or relied upon in connection with any offer or solicitation with respect to any current or future M13 investment partnership. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Unless otherwise noted, this content is intended to be current only as of the date indicated. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects, and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in funds managed by M13, and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results. A list of investments made by funds managed by M13 is available at m13.co/portfolio.