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FIBA company ventures into space while deepening Tampa connections

Margie Manning

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The Tampa Bay Lightning’s team logo was included above the U.S. and Israeli flags on a mockup of a StemRad vest.

A vest designed by StemRad to protect astronauts from dangerous deep space radiation will be part of a SpaceX flight this summer.

The SpaceX flight will be followed by a NASA mission in preparation for a mission to Mars, said Jack Ross, vice president of North American operations for StemRad, based in Tel Aviv and among the most successful participants to date in the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator in Tampa.

The company develops, manufactures and provides what it says are the only radiation protection solutions in the world for first responders, firefighters, military personnel, astronauts and physicians. The company improves users’ lives, Dr. Oren Milstein, CEO, told The Jerusalem Post in a May 1 interview.

“Until the advent of our technology, the assumption was that you have to protect the whole body to achieve meaningful benefit. StemRad is saying, hey, you can’t protect the whole body, it’s going to be too heavy or too cumbersome, but you can selectively shield the most sensitive tissues in the body, like breast tissue and like bone marrow, so that you are able to achieve a meaningful benefit,” Milstein said.

Rakefet Bachur, director of marketing and strategic partnerships for FIBA, talked with Jack Ross of StemRad during the May 22 Innovation Fusion.

Ross, who gave up his job as executive director of FIBA to join StemRad, gave a sneak peek at what’s ahead for StemRad during FIBA’s Innovation Fusion on May 22.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” since StemRad joined the FIBA’s inaugural cohort of companies in 2017, said Ross, who also is an investor in the company. Among the highlights:

• Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik led a funding round that raised $6 million in late 2017. The Lightning’s team logo was included above the U.S. and Israeli flags on a mockup of a StemRad vest Ross displayed during the presentation.

• StemRad struck a deal with AGORA, a St. Petersburg-based manufacturer, to make products in the United States, a requirement for some of its work with the Department of Defense.

• The company built up its advisory board. Recent additions include Andy Weber, former assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, as well as Nobel Prize winners Michael Levitt, Aaron Ciechanover and Roger Kornberg.

• Milstein and his family are moving to Tampa and the company itself will move from the FIBA office at the Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center to Embarc Collective in downtown Tampa when that facility is completed.

The company operates in five industries, and Ross highlighted several of them during the FIBA event, including the scheduled July launch from Cape Canaveral, when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch a Dragon spacecraft mission on an operational cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station. The StemRad vest on board, dubbed the AstroRad shield, will undergo ergonomic and human factor testing. Lockheed Martin partnered with StemRad on the AstroRad shield.

The NASA mission, a stepping-stone to travel to Mars, will follow in 2020.

“We are manifested on the [Exploration Mission-1] orbital mission to go 70,000 miles past the moon, with two phantoms [anatomically accurate human mannequins] donated by the German space agency, and our shield purchased by the Israeli space agency. It’s a collaborative project between NASA and those two agencies,”  as well as Lockheed Martin, Ross said. “One phantom will be naked and one will have our shielding with the Lightning logo and it will measure the radiation exposure and the efficacy of the shielding. Assuming that road tests bear out, as it has in all simulations, we will be the enabling technology for human space travel.”

StemRad also operates in the medical industry, with Dr. Bruce Zwiebel as lead consultant. Zwiebel is director of interventional radiology at University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital. StemRad just completed a successful test of its products at TGH.

“This November we will run a beta test in five Florida hospitals, among 20 conventional radiologists and cath labs. And in 2020 — Feb. 1 is our timing — we will launch this solution which I can’t talk about in any detail, but we believe it will disrupt globally conventional radiologists and cath lab physicians and tech operators and their protective devices,” Ross said.

In the military segment, StemRad is working with the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in Tampa on an exercise to see which units would benefit from the protective devices if they encounter a gamma event.

In the nuclear industry, Florida Power & Light has acquired StemRad’s shielding and deployed it to St. Lucie and Turkey Point plants in Florida. The company also has partnered with Southern Company (NYSE: SO), one of the nation’s largest nuclear energy operators, to develop a new shield.

Additionally, StemRad is working at the state, local and municipal levels in seven states to create awareness of its products for first responders.

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