Fall River tech firm OK’d for $1M undersea warfare project
A growing sonar technology company that’s been providing the Navy with undersea warfare solutions for the past eight years recently received its first backing from Congress.
The House approved a $1 million earmarked appropriation for MIKEL Inc. that the city-based firm would use to develop a passive emission system detecting threats from all directions, said company President Kelly Mendell.
The company designs and produces detection systems primarily for submarines.
They include combat systems, undersea tracking ranges and performance evaluation tools that can be transferred to other platforms.
MIKEL located in 2003 to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center and last year expanded its quarters next door to the ATMC at 275 Martine St.
Its latest technology will add incrementally more sensitive systems to detect the distance and conditions of quiet, underwater threats, Mendell said.
It also shows, through a computerized training tool, how well the crew is tracking the enemy.
“We’re trying to develop a clear, accurate, tactical picture so the commanding officer can make decisions with confidence,” Mendell said.
That could range from submarine maneuvers to firing weapons.
Having received prior funding through the Small Business Research Initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense, MIKEL was in line for grants of up to $100,000 then $750,000 with its concept and, subsequently, developing a prototype.
The company is now seeking funding under a third phase to implement the system at the fleet level, Mendell said.
“Congress is trying to get us the funding because the Department of Defense really wants this,” she said.
MIKEL presented the tracking system to U.S. Rep. Barry Frank, D-Mass., and he responded supportively, she said.
“We’ve never gotten support from the House, so I am thrilled they are able to help us with the earmark funding,” said Mendell.
MIKEL’s first employee, she took over as company president from her father, Brian Guimond, the founder and chief technology officer.
Mendell, born and raised in Westport where her family still lives, has an industrial engineering degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an M.B.A. from Babson College.
MIKEL is a majority female-owned company, which Mendell said helps with funding because “it’s a differentiator.”
Mendell said she remains hopeful the Senate and joint committee with the House “will come in with at least $1 million or better” in funding.
Peter Kovar, a spokesman for Frank, said it could be “a few months” before Congress acts.
“It isn’t easy now to project how long this will take,” Kovar said. “We’ll be pushing for the highest possible figure.”
Mendell noted that MIKEL has been developing half a dozen related system projects since setting up as a tiny incubator company at the ATMC.
Guimond had been a science adviser for the Commander Submarine Force Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
MIKEL retains small satellite offices in Hawaii and Middletown, R.I.
Its number of employees has grown from 10 a year ago to 16, and Mendell said she anticipates another boost in the next year of about five more highly paid professional jobs.
They include four in the technical project field like computer scientists and engineers and one finance person.
“My goal is to grow this to maybe a 50-person company,” Mendell said, “and I think we’re on our way.”
Mendell said receiving initial congressional support was motivating. “We take pride in feeling we have a purpose to what we’re doing,” she said, “providing technology to the United States government.”
She also lauded resources MIKEL tapped at the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, funded by UMass Amherst to help small businesses develop and grow.
E-mail Michael Holtzman of the Fall River (Mass.) Herald News at firstname.lastname@example.org.