MITRE Phase I evaluators: Jon Salisbury, Stephen Dillon, Keith Miller, and Adam Bairos. Not pictured: Christian Fiore, David Long, and Jeff Smith
Technology is accelerating at an ever-increasing pace and is more widely accessible than ever before. This creates better, faster, and cheaper capabilities but also poses new challenges to the Department of Defense (DoD). To keep pace with commercial industry’s technology development and harness its great potential, the defense innovation ecosystem is evolving its business models to more closely mirror industry best practices.
One such effort is being led by AFWERX, the innovation arm of the Air Force, whose mission is to be “a catalyst for agile Air Force engagement across industry, academia, and non-traditional contributors to create transformative opportunities and foster an Air Force culture of innovation.” AFWERX, in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, has revamped the traditional SBIR program to be more startup friendly.
Through a quicker application process (five pages), faster award timeline (approximately two months), and a shorter period of performance for Phase I SBIR efforts (three months), the AFWERX SBIR Open Topics are lowering the barrier of entry for nontraditional industry to engage with the DoD.
Seeing an opportunity to drive a culture of entrepreneurial thinking and innovation, the Air Force Cyber Operations Portfolio has built innovation activities into FY20 direct work and is leveraging AFWERX/SBIR resources to engage with companies outside the traditional defense industrial base.
Specifically, the team is working with the AF’s Cryptologic & Cyberspace Systems Division from the Command, Control, and Computer Information and Networks Directorate (AFMC/HNC) and Cyberspace Resiliency Office for Weapon Systems (AFLCMC/CROWS) to carry out a joint Pitch Day, in which MITRE has played a central role by fostering the collaboration across multiple sponsors and stakeholders and ensuring the activity is deliberate and impactful, with technically sound solutions.
After submitting Focus Areas to AFWERX to be included in the SBIR Phase I Open Topic call, the HNC and CROWS teams (which included 19 evaluators, eight of which were MITRE) evaluated around 600 Phase I SBIR proposals over the course of four days. Of the 600 proposals, the HNC and CROWS teams jointly chose 29 proposals to be considered for Phase I awards. SBIR Phase I awardees will receive $50,000 for a three-month period of performance with the goal of identifying Air Force end-users who will sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for a potential Phase II award. James Barnett, the Chief Engineer for HNC, said “MITRE’s partnership in this endeavor has been key to the advances we’ve already achieved and will be instrumental in helping us develop a model for Phase II focused pitch days to maximize our return on investment – ultimately increasing warfighter capability.”
—Marissa McCoy, Cyber Operations Portfolio
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