Pat East is executive director of The Mill in Bloomington.

Pat East is executive director of The Mill in Bloomington.

Here at The Mill, we’re in the business of helping founders maximize their innovations. Entrepreneurs come to us with high-potential new ideas, and we help them launch and accelerate their startups through individualized support and entrepreneurial programming.

In the case of our new PROPELS partnership with NSWC Crane, however, we’ve flipped our usual model. In the PROPELS Accelerator, Crane provides the high-potential ideas and The Mill acts as matchmaker (and coach) to entrepreneurs who can commercialize them. PROPELS offers ambitious entrepreneurs an amazing business opportunity on a silver platter, and we can’t wait to see where it leads.

Another Mill project: It’s Your Business: Creating companies from IU innovations

The PROPELS Accelerator is the result of many conversations with Crane about how we can better leverage their scientific innovations and technology to benefit our community and drive the creation of new companies and jobs. It used to be said that NSWC Crane was our region’s best-kept secret, but these days, it’s no secret that Crane wins billions of dollars in government contracts and regularly develops ground-breaking intellectual property. What still remains a bit under wraps, however, is how eager the Navy is to transfer that IP to the private sector.

The Tech Transfer Office at NSWC Crane, directed by Jenna Dix, has done a yeoman’s job of making the process more accessible, but for many novices, doing business with the federal government remains a daunting prospect.

Enter PROPELS. In August of 2021, The Mill and NSWC Crane formalized a partnership to spur innovation by connecting entrepreneurs with the naval base’s intellectual property. Then we wrote a grant with Crane, Dioltas (a defense-disruptive technologies strategic advisory), the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF, a nonprofit organization that promotes innovation in the national security community) and others to underwrite a new accelerator program. Crane selected some particularly interesting tech to put on offer, and on April 14, naval scientists unveiled their innovations at the PROPELS Tech Expo at The Mill.

What a night! The Event Hall was packed with about a hundred people from across the entire state of Indiana, thanks in large part to the hard work of our partners Jeremy Brilliant and Heath Murray from Dioltas. (A video of the event is available at

To give you a taste of what’s on offer, one of the most exciting and versatile innovations was a data pre-processing tool, ideal for messy data collected from multiple sources and incompatibly formatted. The tool automates data cleaning tasks and provides analysis of dataset using natural language processing and machine learning methods. Frankly, everyone wants to get their hands on this kind of tool. Pick an industry, and we bet it’s got dirty data and an aggravated team willing to pay for a good cleaner.

Another innovation centers on long-range heat-detection. It’s a software system that can use any thermal imager to instantly detect temperatures, and it works at a distance, indoor or outdoor, in various weather conditions, and on stationary or moving objects. Greene County General Hospital has been using it for 18 months to identify individuals with fevers as they enter the hospital. This tech could have broad applications in livestock and herd management, wildfire detection and thermal runaway in electronic equipment.

Another Crane connection: It’s Your Business: Sustaining southern Indiana’s defense and agricultural economies

A third innovation has been completely prototyped and is ready to launch: specialized caps for chem-light signaling. Imagine a kind of neon glow stick that can leave a mark and blaze a trail for others to follow, and you’ve got the idea.

The next step for PROPELS is the actual six-week pre-accelerator program that kicks off at The Mill on May 4. Participants will work in teams for six weeks to develop a commercialization plan, with support from experts in defense and entrepreneurship. They’ll perform customer discovery, analyze the competition, define a unique value proposition. Then they’ll create financial models, business plans, marketing and sales plans, a pitch deck for investors. In June, at the end of the PROPELS Accelerator, they’ll showcase their solutions to a panel of experts, and eventually will pitch at the Radius Indiana Crane IP Defense Innovation Competition for a chance at a prize package.

But most importantly, participants can then take that Navy tech and fully develop a new product, platform or business. We hope to see some great new startups emerge from PROPELS. And no doubt there were will be many new collaborations between The Mill, NSWC Crane, Dioltas and our other partners.

Registration to participate in PROPELS closes Saturday. No previous experience working with Crane or the Department of Defense is necessary, and neither is expertise in the tech itself. All that’s required is entrepreneurial drive. The Navy, The Mill, and our partners — Dioltas, a defense-disruptive technologies strategic advisory, and DEF, a nonprofit organization that promotes innovation in the national security community — will support participants through the process of planning and commercialization.

Learn more about PROPELS at

Pat East is executive director of The Mill, an entrepreneurship center whose mission is to launch and accelerate startups and whose vision is to become Indiana’s center of gravity for entrepreneurship.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: The Mill, Crane partnership offers business possibilities in PROPELS