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Bios

Program directors

  • Henry Ahn

    Henry Ahn joined the National Science Foundation in July 2016 as an SBIR/STTR Program Director. Prior to joining NSF, Henry managed seed/early stage investment programs for TEDCO for 12 years including Technology Commercialization Fund, TEDCO’s flagship seed funding program for technology-based companies in Maryland. During his time at TEDCO, Henry was actively involved with various entrepreneurs and entrepreneur support groups as a guest speaker, an advisory board member, a judge, a mentor, among others. Additionally, Henry was part of the licensing/supplier relations team at a biotechnology company called Upstate, where he successfully negotiated, licensed and commercialized approximately 190 biomedical research reagents from around the world. Henry has also done approximately five years of research, mostly in the field of immunology (including graduate work). Henry has an MBA from Rice University, an M.S. in biotechnology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a B.S. in biomedical engineering from Boston University.

  • Peter Atherton

    Peter Atherton comes to the NSF with a broad background in the physical sciences, and extensive experience in technology development and commercialization. Before joining NSF Peter was originally CEO, and most recently CTO, at MIKOH Corporation Ltd, a publicly traded company that he founded in Sydney, Australia. While at MIKOH Corporation he was instrumental in developing and commercializing technologies in a range of fields including diffractive optics, laser-based marking, radio frequency identification and internet-based personal authentication.) Prior to MIKOH he spent approximately seven years at the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC Australia) where he managed optical fiber communications R&D, including approximately 14 months in the UK at British Telecom’s Martlesham Heath R&D laboratories. (While at OTC his research group made world-leading advances in high-speed optical communications technologies, some of which were commercialized via spin-off companies. He also managed the externally contracted development and commercialization of a number of optical fiber and optoelectronic technologies, and was instrumental in establishing a commercialization center for specialized optical fibers at the University of Sydney. He moved to the United States in 1998 to further develop the company’s technologies and markets. Peter holds a Ph.D. in physics (Quantum Optics), and a BEng (Mech) – both from the University of Queensland (Australia).

  • Anna Brady-Estevez

    Anna Brady-Estevez joined the National Science Foundation as a SBIR/STTR Program Director in 2016. In this role she brings breadth of background across entrepreneurship and venture capital, innovative research, and direction of corporate strategy and investments. Anna has served as a collaborator with numerous startups having worked as an inventor for an early stage venture-backed start-up providing low-cost, low-energy portable water treatment, and a Principal Investor for an early stage venture firm. Anna’s contributions were recognized in 2009 when she was selected as one of about 30 Kauffman Fellows from around the globe, for leadership in innovation and venture capital. She served as Director of Corporate Strategy for leading multinationals including The AES Corporation and Cummins Inc., and advised numerous clients while serving as a management consultant for The Boston Consulting Group. Anna’s work in these roles resulted in over $6B of infrastructure investments with enhanced returns, identification of $B+ cost reduction opportunities, contributing to a core transformation team of a $T+ entity in oil & gas, and the implementation of several new technologies spanning nanotechnology, advanced manufacturing, Big Data and Internet of Things, along with new equipment that enabled transforming energy economics. Earlier in her career, she performed research at the intersection of innovation and international relations with the Office of Naval Research at the U.S. Embassy in Chile. Anna holds a PhD from Yale University in Chemical and Environmental Engineering, where she held a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship; and a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and B.A. in Spanish from The Johns Hopkins University.

  • Steve Konsek

    Steve Konsek joined the National Science Foundation’s SBIR/STTR program in 2012 and has served as both a Program Director for the SBIR/STTR and the Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) program. Prior to joining NSF, Steve was the Chief Technology Officer at Illumitex, a venture-backed company developing light emitting diode chips, packages and fixtures for general illumination. He previously served as Chief of Technical Staff at Glo, recognized as one of Europe’s top LED startups. Prior to Glo, Steve was the Director of Device R&D at Nantero, a memory startup. Throughout his career, Steven has developed innovative, game-changing technologies across a range of semiconductor applications. He holds numerous patents and publications in LEDs, memory, process integration and nanoscale devices. Steve has a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Washington and a B.S. in Mathematics from Purdue University.

  • Rajesh Mehta

    Rajesh Mehta has been a SBIR/STTR Program Director since 2012. Prior to joining NSF in 2012, he was a senior research technologist at Kodak where his 26-year career spanned work at Kodak Research Laboratories, and Manufacturing Research and Engineering Organization. His work covered a broad range of materials science based technologies related to photographic film and paper manufacturing, thermal, inkjet, and electro-photographic printing, and OLED device manufacturing. He has a B. Tech. degree in Chemical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Chemical Engineering from Penn State, a post-doctoral fellowship at Imperial College, and a M.S. degree in New Product Development from Rochester Institute of Technology.

  • Linda Molnar

    Linda Molnar has more than 20 years of experience in the life science and chemical industries, integrating her scientific research and engineering background with commercialization for startups, and international, government, and business environments. She joined NSF as an SBIR/STTR Program Director in 2017. Previously, she was co-founder and CEO of Simpatica Medicine, Inc., an artificial intelligence precision medicine company based in San Francisco, California. Linda founded and worked with life science startup companies from many universities. She has also provided strategic consultancy to venture capital firms, public companies, non-profit institutes, and the federal government. Her background includes positions as Managing Director in the Life Sciences Merchant Banking group and Venture Group at Burrill & Company, Executive in Residence at Momentum Biosciences, Program Officer for the National Cancer Institute in the Office of the Director (Center for Strategic Scientific Initiatives), and research and business development roles at Caliper Life Sciences, NASA Ames Research Center, and Rohm & Haas Co. Linda completed the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Executive Management Program and holds a Ph.D. from the Program in Polymer Science and Technology (Materials Science and Chemical Engineering) from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a B.S. in Chemistry (Biology) from the University of Pittsburgh.

  • Alastair Monk

    Alastair Monk joined the National Science Foundation as an SBIR/STTR program director in November 2019. Prior to NSF, Alastair was an active member of the startup ecosystem in Virginia as a mentor, judge, and entrepreneur. He has been directly involved in medical startups for the last 10 years. Most recently, Alastair was the Vice President of Medical Products at Cupron, Inc. where he led the development, protection, and commercialization of a platform copper antimicrobial technology. He also founded and ran Chrysalides Consultants, a consultancy firm mentoring and providing strategic support to medical startups. Prior to Cupron and Chrysalides Consultants, Alastair was Head Scientist at Biocontrol Ltd (now Armata Pharmaceuticals) developing and commercializing bacteriophage therapy for clinical applications. Alastair had an active academic life as a microbiology postdoc at Virginia Commonwealth University in Internal Medicine, and has authored a number of published papers, conference abstracts, and oral presentations. Alastair has a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Bath UK, and a BSc in microbiology from the University of Birmingham, UK.

  • Murali S. Nair

    Murali S. Nair has been a SBIR/STTR Program Director since January 2003 . Prior to joining NSF, he was the Founder CEO of a Bluetooth wireless product company. In this capacity, he raised equity capital for worldwide operations in the U.S., China and India. Murali designed, planned and implemented the product development cycle, and managed the marketing strategy, strategic alliances and business development processes. Before that, he was a Senior Systems Engineer at L-3 Communications where he provided strategic advice to the Executive VP for a complete re-plan of the Hughes contract for real-time, embedded ground control software for the $350M PANAMSAT communications satellite. Prior to joining L-3 Communications, Murali was a Mission Planner at Motorola Iridium where he was involved in all aspects of satellite operations including orbit determination, generating guidance targets and orbital slot placement. Before joining Iridium, Murali was a faculty member at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where he developed an entire Space Systems Design Lab from concept inception to fully operational mode and national prominence, and supervised five space system designs, three of which were winners in the National AIAA/Loral Design Competition. Murali is a recipient of a number of awards including NSF’s second highest award for meritorious service and the President’s Innovation Award for Space Systems Design courses while at Embry-Riddle. Murali is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology and the University of Texas. He is a registered professional engineer in the State of Florida.

  • Erik Pierstorff

    Erik Pierstorff joined the NSF as Program Director in November 2019. Prior to NSF, he was Chief of Operations and led Research and Development at O-Ray Pharma, where he focused on integrating biology and biomedical engineering for the goal of drug development and sustained drug delivery for the treatment of hearing loss and other ear disorders. During his time working at early stage companies, he helped secure both Angel investment and non-dilutive funding in the form of licensing and co-development deals. Additionally, he served as Principal Investigator on several Phase I, II and IIB SBIR grants from the National Institutes of Health and NSF. His research interests have focused on the intersection of the biotic and abiotic, spanning molecular and cell biology, materials science, gene therapy, nanomaterials and drug delivery. Erik has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a B.S. in Biology from Emory University.

  • Ben Schrag

    Ben Schrag is the Senior Program Director for the SBIR/STTR programs. He joined the NSF as a Program Director in 2009, leading the Advanced Materials and Instrumentation. Prior to NSF, he was the Director of Research and Development at Micro Magnetics, where he led a development effort to commercialize a new family of high-performance magnetic microsensor products for demanding consumer and military applications. During this time, he also served as a visiting scientist at Brown University and as the Principal Investigator on a number of federal grants and contracts, including NSF Phase I and Phase II Small Business Innovation Research projects and an Advanced Technology Program award from NIST. Ben received his Ph.D. in Physics from Brown University.

  • Rick Schwerdtfeger

    Rick Schwerdtfeger joined the National Science Foundation in August 2016 as a SBIR/STTR Program Director. Prior to joining NSF, Rick was the CTO and Co-Founder of the Advanced RenewableEnergy Company, a clean-tech and semiconductor equipment company, where he led the technology development and customer deployment of nearly $200MM of equipment in the first four years. Additionally he was the COO of Pica Solar, a DOE-funded solar cell technologies startup. Rick is also an advisory board member of ClearCove Systems, a waste water and renewable energy company. In addition to these entrepreneurial ventures, Rick was a Senior Project Scientist at the non-profit Edison Materials Technology Center, a Senior R&D Scientist at Saint Gobain, and the Crystal Growth Group leader at Alpha Spectra. He started his career as a Staff Scientist doing solar energy research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Rick has grown some of the largest sapphire, calcium fluoride, sodium iodide, and copper indium diselenide crystals in the world, which have been used to lower costs of technology for energy, lighting, radiation detection and other industrial and photonic applications. Rick has spent his career taking the “art” out of science, and replacing it with good engineering, experimentation and automation to solve challenging problems in the renewable energy, clean water, smart grid and high-tech world. Rick holds a Ph.D. in Materials Science from the Colorado School of Mines, an M.S. in Applied Physics from Pittsburg State University, and a B.S. in Physics and Science Education from the University of Dubuque.

  • Ruth Shuman

    Ruth Shuman joined the National Science Foundation in August 2009 as a SBIR/STTR Program Director. Before coming to NSF, she was the founder, president, and CEO of a successful venture-backed life science company, Gentra Systems, Inc., that developed, manufactured, and sold products for genetic testing and research to clinical and research laboratories worldwide. Following Gentra’s acquisition, she held various consulting/advisory positions with startup companies, and was CEO-In-Residence for Life Science with the University of Minnesota’s Venture Center evaluating the business potential of University-developed technology. She began her career as a faculty member at North Carolina State University and was a pioneer in the development of gene transfer and genetic engineering technology. Ruth holds a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in the area of Genetics and Cell Biology.

Executive staff

  • Andrea Belz

    Andrea Belz joined the National Science Foundation (NSF) in May 2019 as the Division Director of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP), which manages America's Seed Fund powered by the NSF, the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps™), Partnerships for Innovation and Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers (IUCRC). Previously, Andrea served as Vice Dean for Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the University of Southern California (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering, as well as Entrepreneur-in-Residence (Technology) of Industrial and Systems Engineering. She was previously a Visiting Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the California Institute of Technology. From 2014 to 2019, Andrea was the Founding Director of Innovation Node-Los Angeles, a regional hub for the NSF I-Corps program. She has worked with many university startups and investors, most recently representing a major angel investing group on the board of a Caltech spinoff laser manufacturer until its acquisition in 2018. For nearly 20 years, Andrea has advised universities, corporations and other organizations on commercialization opportunities as managing member of the Belz Consulting Group. Her recent research has focused on technology ventures, from startups through publicly funded launch programs to private funding. Andrea has authored or co-authored dozens of refereed articles, peer-reviewed conference presentations and proceedings on technical topics and innovation, and she authored a book on product development. Belz earned her bachelor's degree at the University of Maryland at College Park and doctoral degree at the California Institute of Technology, both in physics; she earned her master's degree in finance at Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business.

  • Graciela (Gracie) Narcho

    Graciela (Gracie) Narcho serves as the Deputy Division Director for IIP. She has 25 years of experience in science and engineering administration and management. Gracie came to IIP in 2013 from the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) where her most recent position was Staff Associate in the Office of the Assistant Director. During her 10 year tenure at CISE, she served in multiple senior positions including Deputy Assistant Director for the CISE Directorate, Deputy Division Director for the Division of Computer and Network Systems, and Special Assistant to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Grants at the Department of Health and Human Services. She was also the program manager for several large CISE grants, including the Global Environments for Networking Innovation (GENI), the National Center for Women in IT (NCWIT), and the Computing Community Consortium (CCC). Prior to joining CISE, Gracie was a Grants Officer in the NSF Division of Grants and Agreements, where she provided business oversight of NSF's Federally Funded Research and Development Centers and large facility projects. Gracie holds a MPA in Government Contracting from George Washington University and a B.A. in Economics from Tufts University.