How Wave Motion Accelerated Their Launch by Connecting With the Right People in Defense

Recently we talked with Dr. James Penna, COO of Wave Motion. Our collaboration with Dr. Penna and Wave Motion is a fantastic example of PNW MAC doing what it does best – supporting local, defense-focused businesses and start-ups through engagement and connection. Before we dive into the interview, here’s a little more information about Dr. Penna and Wave Motion.

Co-founded by CEO Finn van Donkelaar and Dr. Penna in 2020 and currently based in Everett, WA, Wave Motion specializes in innovative yet cost-effective launch systems using propulsion technologies within the realm of kinetic energy transmission. “Our goal is to remove cost and complexity behind the launch, both for space and point to point on earth. It also has defense applications. We’re very focused on defense but it could also work in space,” says Penna.

Before PNW MAC, how long had Wave Motion been trying to do business with the government?

In 2019, Penna and van Donkelaar entered several business plan contests to judge the commercial potential of their technology. They won the DWT Best Innovation Prize at the Student Engineering Business Association’s Student Technology Showcase (STS) as well as Best Technology/Innovation at the University of Washington Dempsey Startup Competition.

A professor at the University of Washington noticed their work and started introducing them to military contacts, including DARPA in 2019. Unfortunately, DARPA didn’t go for it. “At that time, we weren’t as developed and didn’t have our ‘Big Iron’ prototype.” After this larger demonstration prototype was developed, the professor introduced them to a Naval research contact. “The Navy is always looking for innovative solutions for long-range precision strike technology. They were really excited when they saw our idea. We were in the right place at the right time.”

How did you hear about PNW MAC? How did your involvement with PNW MAC move your efforts forward?

Penna was excited when he first heard about PNW MAC through CoMotion Labs. “Getting the government contract is half the battle,” he says. This is because the defense industry can move at a slower pace and a business’s ambitious goals and timelines can fall by the wayside while waiting on that next step. This is where MAC comes in, expediting issues by connecting people through in-person meetings. “Every week that you can save because your RFQ is not sitting in an inbox because you’ve met the person and exchanged business cards, really helps.” 

How did the Brown Bag lunch connect you with the “right” people?

Penna attended his first Brown Bag lunch in January 2022. “Like all of the MAC’s events, it brings together the people who will help you execute the win.” At the meeting, Penna connected in-person with representatives from NSIN, NUWC Keyport, TechBridge, and DIU.  

What is the most valuable component of your experience with PNW MAC?  

It’s the connections with people and information, says Penna. As a result of his collaboration with the MAC, Penna has connected with Washington State Representative Rick Larsen. “Actual business opportunities are few and far between because the DOD is such a large organization. It can still be very hard to find a problem owner that you have a solution for.”

How can others benefit from connecting with PNW MAC?

Grant programs like SBIR and STTR can be tough to compete for as a small business owner. The MAC gets people in front of the right people, or at least connected to the right people. The key to success is connections, getting in front of the right person who needs and understands your solution. This is what the MAC should be – and is – facilitating.” 

PNW MAC leverages the power of our network to bring innovators and the defense industry together. Thank you to NW Tech Bridge, NSIN, Impact Washington, and the PNDC for being an essential part of this process.