Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
June 05, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Statheros is a SaaS-centric firm supporting the Department of Defense

The not quite four-year-old firm won the fourth annual PYA-sponsored Ballard Innovation Award.

The 2024 first-place runner-up in the PYA-sponsored Ballard Innovation Award is a nearly three-and-one-half-year-old company comprising a small, but laser-focused group of technologists driven by unceasing curiosity and a desire to strengthen the security of the country.

Founded at the start of 2021, Statheros specializes in designing and developing highly performant, secure radio frequency (RF) systems and software for U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) electromagnetic spectrum operations (EMSO). EMSO is a broad technology domain that includes any activity that manipulates electromagnetic waves for transmitting information; examples include GPS navigation, RF communications, air defense radar systems, and a broad range of intelligence-gathering operations.

“We’re a SaaS-centric (software-as-a-service) firm supporting the DoD,” says Founder and President David Murray, speaking with an intensity, conviction, and pace that embodies his company’s “Relentless EMSO Innovation” motto.

How important is the company’s work for global security?

Murray explains that EMSO is the connective glue that binds together military operations across all land, air, sea, space, and cyber warfighting domains. Official government guidance under GAO-21-64 states that the DoD risks losing control of the entire battlespace if it loses control of the electromagnetic spectrum. Statheros’ technology is designed to help the DoD achieve and maintain control of the electromagnetic spectrum through the employment of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation SaaS, known in the DoD community as “missionware.”

A good indication of the importance of Statheros’ work is the recent and somewhat rare Phase III Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to extend its EMSO missionware. Created under an AFWERX Open Topic Phase I and subsequent Phase II contracts, Statheros’ container-based missionware is designed to automate, streamline, expedite, and improve the accuracy of EMSO activities.

The Phase III award was only the latest in a series of successful SBIR submissions, starting with a $50,000 award from AFWERX just months after Statheros was founded. Five awards followed, and Launch Tennessee also provided two rounds of $300,000 in funding under its SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer Matching program.

“We would not be where we are today without Launch Tennessee,” Murray said.

So, what exactly does the firm do? It is simple to say, but very complex to achieve, and the country has been at it for years.

“When Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, their military demonstrated EMSO capabilities that outpaced our own U.S. systems,” Murray explained. “Our focus, and that of the DoD, is to retake the lead in EMSO capabilities by leveraging the power of automation and AI to more rapidly and more effectively manipulate RF waves to confuse and impede our enemies to keep our warfighters safe. It’s all about deception.”

Murray’s enthusiasm and energy are infectious, but the nature of Statheros’ work prevents him from saying more specifically.

The current five-person team is headquartered in the Fairview Technology Center in the Solway area of Knox County, where the company clearly communicates and exhibits its three core values: integrity, diligence, and innovation.

An East Tennessee native, Murray grew up in Kingston and attended Oak Ridge High School. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tennessee Technological University with a B.S. degree in Computer Engineering in 2006 and later earned an MBA from the University of Florida while working for Harris Corporation. During his years with Harris, he was promoted from computer software to systems engineering, where he first gained experience designing and developing RF systems. He moved from Harris to the nonprofit Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, TX for five years, where he ran the Emerging RF Technologies business unit.

“I always wanted to be my boss,” Murray says, “because I wanted to run a company that values mission impact and client relationships and over financial performance.”  Murray believes that trusted relationships are the key to sustained business success, and it was this belief that led him to found Statheros.

“Look, we are headquartered in Knoxville while our competitors have office buildings right outside the gates of all the military bases,” Murray said, “We don’t have the luxury of geographical convenience, so we must differentiate ourselves on innovation and delivery.”

During questioning by one of the judges at his Ballard Innovation Award presentation, he was asked about growing the company, and Murray expressed some hesitancy to grow too fast. He elaborated on his answer during our interview.

“I’m not opposed to growth,” Murray said, “but growth is not my focus. My primary focus is our mission: to deliver technologies that help bring our warfighters back home safely to their families. That’s it. Growth will naturally come as a result of trust and performance.”

Murray’s approach appears to be working. Statheros has received nearly a dozen DoD contract awards in just 3.5 years of business, and the firm is now directly challenging large traditional DoD primes head-to-head. Relentless indeed.

Like what you've read?

Forward to a friend!

Don’t Miss Out on the Southeast’s Latest Entrepreneurial, Business, & Tech News!

Sign-up to get the Teknovation Newsletter in your inbox each morning!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

No, thanks!