Grey Mat­ter a fi­nal­ist in mil­i­tary Proof Chal­lenge

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­ Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

A Dunkirk tech­nol­ogy firm was se­lected as a fi­nal­ist last week in a de­fense in­dus­try chal­lenge to de­velop a new warfighter suit to ward off chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal at­tacks.

Grey Mat­ter, founded by Tommy Lug­in­bill, is work­ing on com­mer­cial­iz­ing a chem­i­cal coat­ing that trans­forms any fab­ric into a bul­wark against chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal agents com­monly used in war­fare. Lug­in­bill said it’s now been suc­cess­fully tested against chlo­rine, VX (nerve agent) and mus­tard gas, three of the most com­monly used gases in war.

The first part of the next phase of de­vel­op­ment is to prove the coat­ing will scale up from lab­o­ra­tory test­ing to full-sized cloth­ing and suits that would be worn by sol­diers or emer­gency first re­spon­ders such as EMTs, Lug­in­bill said. The sec­ond part is to de­velop a plan to ei­ther li­cense fab­ric and cloth­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers to use the ma­te­rial or to man­u­fac­turer the chem­i­cal and sell into the tex­tile trade, he said.

The Proof Chal­lenge, a com­pe­ti­tion run by the mil­i­tary’s Joint Pro­gram Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice for Chem­i­cal and Bi­o­log­i­cal De­fense, called on stu­dents, en­gi­neers and en­trepreneurs to de­sign a “chem­bio” suit for sol­diers in the field. Grey Mat­ter is one of three fi­nal­ists and has re­ceived $55,000 to carry on to the next phases of de­vel­op­ment — which Lug­in­bill said should be start­ing next week — and Lug­in­bill re­ceived an ex­tra $5,000 for el­e­vat­ing the aware­ness of the com­pe­ti­tion.

“Them giv­ing us the funds to do this was the key to get this done,” Lug­in­bill said in a tele­phone in­ter­view this week. “All the pieces have re­ally come to­gether.”

“We were ex­cited to use the Proof Chal­lenge to reach out to the gen­eral pub­lic, be­yond our mil­i­tary re­sources and ex­perts, to source ideas and so­lu­tions for in­no­va­tion,” the mil­i­tary’s LeRoy Garey, the Proof Chal­lenge prod­uct man­ager, said in a news re­lease. “The think­ing, at­ten­tion to de­tail and fresh ideas were as­tound­ing, ex­ceed­ing what we ex­pected. This type of pub­lic col­lab­o­ra­tion is some­thing we look for­ward to tap­ping into in the fu­ture — join­ing forces with the Amer­i­cans we serve to help pro­tect this coun­try and our warfight­ers.”

Lug­in­bill started the com­pany in 2014 while he was at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Robert H. Smith School of Busi­ness. As part of the FedTech class, he was paired with the Naval Re­search Lab­o­ra­tor y to de­velop com­mer­cial — and mili- tary — prod­ucts from the mil­i­tary’s de­clas­si­fied re­search and de­vel­op­ment projects, or a process com­monly re­ferred to as “tech­nol­ogy trans­fer.”

The chem­i­cal coat­ing that Lug­in­bill lit upon was de­vel­oped and patented by Brandy John­son, a Naval Re­search Lab sci­en­tist, in 2006, Lug­in­bill said.

“She had in­vented it for the troops over in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “Orig­i­nally, it was go­ing to be used for the ma­te­rial in tents.” The idea was to make tents able to with­stand a chem- ical at­tack and pro­tect their oc­cu­pants.

Work­ing with oth­ers at the lab, he moved in the di­rec­tion of “per­sonal pro­tec­tion equip­ment” and some­thing that could go be­yond mil­i­tary use.

His fa­ther, Steve Lug­in­bill, be­gan run­ning Grey Mat­ter as pres­i­dent af­ter Tommy moved to South­ern Mary­land and took a job as the first di­rec­tor of the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land’s En­tre­pre­neur and In­no­va­tion In­sti­tute in La Plata. His dad runs day-to-day op­er­a­tions and Tommy now helps out where he can, though it is in­cor­po­rated at his home in Dunkirk.

Tommy said be­fore the com­pe­ti­tion and the Army test­ing of the prod­uct, which con­cluded last fall, he was work­ing ex­clu­sively to­ward li­cens­ing the prod­uct to other man­u­fac­tur­ers and hadn’t thought much about set­ting up shop and man­u­fac­tur­ing the coat­ing. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of var­i­ous eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and tax in­cen­tive pro­grams around the state and here in South­ern Mary­land has got­ten him re­think­ing that ap­proach.

“We are eval­u­at­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing the coat­ing. We’re look­ing at ac­tu­ally mak­ing it in South­ern Mary­land,” Lug­in­bill said. “We’re strongly con­sid­er­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing the ma­te­ri­als down here.”

Early on, Grey Mat­ter re­ceived fund­ing from the U.S. De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity through the state’s TEDCO pro­gram for de­vel­op­ing the pro­to­type coat­ing and swatches of treated cloth. TEDCO is a leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tive cre­ated by the leg­is­la­ture in 1998 to fa­cil­i­tate the trans­fer and com­mer­cial­iza­tion of tech­nol­ogy from the state’s uni­ver­si­ties and fed­eral labs into the mar­ket­place.

In his role as di­rec­tor of the CSM in­sti­tute, Lug­in­bill has got­ten a new class go­ing just like the one he took — FedTech — at the Univer­sity of Mar yland. The new CSM class, Tech Trans­fer Ed­u­ca­tion, will pair stu­dent en­trepreneurs up with sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers at Naval Sur­face War­fare Cen­ter (NSWC) In­dian Head and at Naval Air War­fare Cen­ter Air­craft Di­vi­sion (NAWCAD) Patux­ent River in hopes of spurring fur­ther tech­nol­ogy trans­fers from gov­ern­ment re­search to prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

“It’s like a roller coaster: some days you don’t know if this is go­ing to work and then things like [the Proof Chal­lenge] hap­pen and you keep go­ing,” Lug­in­bill said. “It’s been a crazy, crazy three years.”


Some of Grey Mat­ter’s pro­to­type swatches of uni­form fab­ric treated with a coat­ing re­sis­tant to chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal weapons.


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