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Video marketing company builds business model around Air Force intelligence tool

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Live-stream video has emerged as a popular marketing tool to reach millennial audiences, leading to a boom in companies such as Arizona-based VidFall.

When launching VidFall in 2014, co-founders Joel Robinson and Steve Messa wanted a "hook" to set the company apart. That led the duo to the Air Force Research Laboratory's (AFRL's) Information Directorate in Rome, New York.

Finding the most popular video influencers for live-stream events is easy, but hiring them is a costly proposition. To identify influencers before they become stars in the industry, and hire them at a more affordable price, VidFall built a tool based on AFRL-licensed technology. Originally created for intelligence purposes, the technology identifies groups of people based on their social interactions.

Using the tool, VidFall develops a report on up-and-coming influencers that might be a fit for clients. For example, a nonprofit looking to expand its youth outreach recently turned to VidFall to host a streaming video event that featured two rising stars in the online video world. More than 17,000 people registered for the one-hour "brand party," which provided a wealth of exposure to a highly-targeted audience.

"Brands are banking on influencers growing an audience for themselves and the brand at the same time," VidFall's Robinson said.

Now, the company is in preliminary talks with institutional investors and plans to raise a round of funding this fall.

VidFall is just one example of the new businesses being built around Air Force technology. Last fall, its founders went through the Commercialization Academy in Rome, N.Y., a partnership between AFRL and the Griffiss Institute.

Operated by Wasabi Ventures, the academy brings in teams of businesspeople who fit one of two categories: They expect an AFRL-developed technology can be combined with their own invention to make it better, or they envision a product that can be built around intellectual property licensed from AFRL.

"The overarching goal is to take technology developed in the lab and get it to a marketplace for the public good, by growing jobs, or to spur its continued development so there is additional military value," said William 'Bill" Harrison, director of small business for AFRL. "What we see is that technologies now being widely used, such as smartphones, have a lot of components with military origins. There's no telling how companies like VidFall might contribute to future commercial and military products."

AFRL - headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio - manages a multi-billion dollar science and technology portfolio to address specific needs, but also is required to meet technology transfer benchmarks. The Commercialization Academy is one of the newer, more aggressive models for getting Air Force intellectual property into the market.

Attending the Commercialization Academy was a great experience for VidFall's Robinson and Messa. Not only did it connect them with a relevant AFRL technology, the academy allowed them to work on a solid pitch for customers and investors.

"It's really helped us become a stronger business," Robinson said.

For more background on how student and business teams are being assembled near AFRL locations to find new applications for AFRL technology, form companies and secure funding for ventures built around AFRL's intellectual property, click here.