Soctera wins $1M SBIR Award for Semiconductor Innovation 

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Soctera wins $1M SBIR Award for Semiconductor Innovation 

Soctera, a member of the Praxis Center for Venture Development at Cornell University recently secured a $1 million SBIR Phase II award from the National Science Foundation. The SBIR award supports the commercialization of Soctera’s power amplifier which will help boost signal range and incentivizes broadband coverage in more rural areas through reduced costs. The commercialization of Soctera’s amplifier will work to improve the digital divide and improve connectivity between smart devices. 

Founder Austin Hickman started the company after developing high frequency nitride transistors through his Ph.D. research at Cornell University. Now, Soctera is building on that academic research to create power amplifiers that operate at lower temperatures and at greater efficiency when compared to today’s state-of-the-art solutions. 

In 2019, Hickman completed an I-Corps regional course and the national I-Corps Teams program through the university’s Commercialization Fellows program.  

“That was really my very first introduction to entrepreneurship, or the idea of starting a company based on graduate student research,” Hickman said. 

Across both I-Corps programs, Hickman conducted more than 120 customer discovery interviews to validate his customer segment and value proposition.  

According to Hickman, I-Corps “set us up with the correct mentality for how to understand that you’re not trying to make something that’s just great at what it does. You’re trying to make something that solves a problem for somebody.” 

Beyond I-Corps, Hickman participated in several entrepreneurship programs at Cornell; he completed the eLab student startup accelerator in 2019 and joined the Praxis Center for Venture Development, an on-campus business incubator, in 2021.  Hickman was also a recipient of the Activate Fellowship to further develop Soctera’s technology. Through the support of the fellowship Soctera’s power amplifier will have with a wide range of new application spaces for a host of high-speed communication systems. 

Hickman attributes his journey with Soctera to his experience within Cornell’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. The SBIR/STTR Assistance Program, administered by the Cornell Center for Regional Economic Advancement, helped the startup secure a $256K SBIR Phase I award in 2021, as well as this recent award. 

For the future, Hickman plans to expand on Soctera’s work in amplifier technology. Soctera will look into using different substrates that could change systems outside of just wireless communication.  

“I still have to do customer discovery today,” Hickman said. “One of my priorities this year is continuing to get traction with customers and get real sorts of interest.” 

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