MELBOURNE, Fla., April 30 (UPI) -- The new era of space exploration needs more innovation and more investment, AOL co-founder Steve Case said at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday.
Case and his investment company, Revolution, brought their "Rise of the Rest" bus tour to the Space Coast, stopping at the space center and aerospace companies like OneWeb and Rocket Crafters.
The day's schedule ended with a "pitch" contest in Melbourne, Fla., by companies from across the United States that are tackling innovative space technology.
Case announced the winner was Denver-based Atomos Nuclear and Space. It is developing spacecraft to move satellites and other craft between orbits and to other destinations using efficient electric propulsion.
"It was difficult picking only one company, but Atomos seems to have an innovative breakthrough idea, the kind that Americans used to win the last space race," Case said in an interview with UPI.
He said the Space Coast suffered economically during the Great Recession and after the space shuttle program ended, but that seems to have prompted more innovation. He said that includes the creation of Space Florida to market and promote the state's space capabilities.
"Space is not just what the government does," Case said. "That's the biggest takeaway from this day." He said Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, both deserved credit for showing what the private sector can do in space exploration.
Helicon Chemical Co., based in Orlando, was among those pitching, and its founder and CEO, David Reid, said Case gave an inspiring speech to the space coast community.
"He explained the importance of getting venture funding outside of Silicon Valley and the New York areas, and how space exploration is an important part of our future," Reid said.
His company develops and manufactures next-generation rocket fuel for military and commercial space industries.
The Florida tour was in Orlando on Monday and heads to Tampa on Wednesday. In Orlando, Case visited the Golf Channel, Electronic Arts and Disney World's Epcot, among other locales.
Orlando-area startup AireHealth won a $100,000 investment from the Rise of the Rest Seed Fund during the pitch competition there. AireHealth is developing a nebulizer for respiratory illness that connects to smartphone apps.
Revolution's bus tour has visited 38 cities and traveled more than 10,000 miles to see startup ecosystems that are "frequently overlooked by Silicon Valley investors," the company said.
Revolution said it has raised $150 million to back early-stage companies outside of the coastal tech hubs in California and New York. The fund is invested in more than 115 companies across the country.
The tour opened the Space Coast pitch competition to companies around the United States, and that made it stronger, Case said. But he said the local companies that pitched were excellent.
"There may be more investments as a result of this event," Case said.
Other companies pitching in Melbourne that offer glimpses of today's innovative space ideas included:
-- BoMax Hydrogen, of Merritt Island, Fla. It is developing a patented method to make large quantities of pure hydrogen using light waves to produce electricity.
-- Hermeus, of Atlanta. It is developing Mach 5 aircraft for first-class air travel.
-- Hydrosat, Washington, D.C. It brings satellite data and software tools to the agriculture industry.
-- Indemnis, of Anchorage, Alaska. It develops and manufactures parachute recovery systems for drones.
-- Tomahawk Robotics, of Melbourne, Fla. It provides software to control industrial robotics.