A bunch of start-ups delivered pitches in a helicopter flying over SxSW for a chance at funding

Start-ups in the sky?

Lockheed Martin made its debut at South By Southwest this year, with a big presence on the convention center floor, replete with a robotic exoskeleton controlled by a Lockheed engineer, and giant backdrop showing the red surface of Mars.

But it was Lockheed's venture capital arm that took its presence at the annual gathering of entrepreneurs to new heights — literally. To 1,000 feet in the sky above Austin. The aerospace and defense company invested in a costly, high-flying pitch competition to stand out from the crowd and draw the best startups as it looks to invest in more emerging companies.

Lockheed Martin Ventures hosted what it called the "HeloPitch," inviting applications from start-ups in fields ranging from aviation and cybersecurity, to space technology and virtual reality. The company received 45 applications, fielded a second round of pitches at its booth in the Austin convention center, then invited nine companies into the sky. The final round consisted of a pitch to Lockheed's VC fund and two of its partners, in a state-of-the-art Sikorsky S-76D helicopter.

"We're looking outside [Lockheed] because in the commercial space things evolve at a high rate of speed and we want to make sure that whatever products we're creating for Lockheed Martin and for our customers have those advanced technologies in them," said Lockheed Martin Ventures VP Chris Moran.

An exhibitor demonstrates a Lockheed Martin FORTIS exoskeleton at the 2017 South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, U.S., on Tuesday, March 14, 2017.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Lockheed Martin Ventures hasn't announced any investments that have come from the competition, but a spokesperson says it's a success: "The companies we heard from at South by Southwest shared innovative technologies ranging from artificial intelligence to insider threat protection software. Lockheed Martin and our venture fund partners plan to continue conversations with several of the companies that participated in the HeloPitch competition."

Lockheed, which has a $100 million fund, is targeting two to four investments a year. More than looking for a big exit in the form of an IPO or sale, the goal is to find companies that are a good strategic fit for the parent company.

"So the real thing is can we access that technology? Can we get a license to it? can we partner with the company to use that technology in products and systems that we're making as well," Moran said.

One of the companies that went up in the air, hologram company Fovi 3D, was thrilled at the opportunity. "The defense industry is our number one target for our technology and Lockheed is a fantastic partner to help us enter that industry," said Fovi 3D's Chief Marketing Officer Michael Masters. "And as far as getting into a helicopter, who wouldn't want to go up in a helicopter?"